The Picnic Basket offers
a true taste of Santa Cruz
Left: Co-creators: Picnic Basket owners Zach Davis and Kendra Baker.
Right: The Picnic Basket’s Market Salad.
Photos by Ted Holladay
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the city’s most iconic tourist attraction— drawing three million visitors each year—and yet its dining options don’t exactly scream “Santa Cruz.”
Despite the bounty of fresh local and organic foods in the area, the amusement park is unsurprisingly lined with funnel cakes, corn dogs, cotton candy and an astounding array of deep-friend specialties. Luckily for those who like their roller coasters—but prefer to fuel up on something other than deep-fried Twinkies afterward— the Boardwalk area now boasts a restaurant that actually embodies the region’s culinary potential.
The year-old Picnic Basket is the second gastronomic venture from business partners Kendra Baker and Zachary Davis, who opened Santa Cruz’s Penny Ice Creamery in August 2010. Baker is a graduate of the Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Rhode Island who got her start cooking for Santa Cruz’s celebrated Gabriella Café and has developed a reputation for being an extremely creative chef. Davis is a veteran of the Bay Area Internet startup scene and holds an MBA in sustainable enterprise from Dominican University of California in San Rafael. The two were friends for almost a decade before they opened the Penny, and launching The Picnic Basket has fulfilled a dream they’ve long shared.
“We’ve always been in love with the idea that we could personally know the people who grow and produce what we eat, and we wanted to see if that was still possible,” says Davis. “Now, knowing the people who bake the bread, raise the chickens, grow the fruits and vegetables, brew the beer, and make the wine, we feel like we’ve made our vision come true.”
The café’s unique creations (such as the popular Ricotta Beet Panini) are assembled with ingredients like local organic produce from Route 1 Farms, Happy Boy Farms and Dirty Girl Produce, bread from Companion Bakeshop (most notable is the Picnic Loaf— a multi-grain sourdough loaf created especially for the restaurant) and meats from nearby sustainable operations like el Salchichero and Rib King. Foraged ingredients add to the distinct neighborhood menu, as do the libations and desserts, which include Verve coffee and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery beers, and a rotation of nine ice cream flavors that are freshly made from local, seasonal and organic ingredients at the Penny.
The peak tourism months bring droves of out-of-towners to the Santa Cruz beachfront—and The Picnic Basket. But it’s also a favorite among locals—including its local artisanal suppliers.
“We definitely felt a degree of vulnerability starting a project that was so closely tied to our personal values,” says Davis, “so we feel tremendously grateful that folks appreciate what we are doing.”
Baker concurs: “It is pretty cool to see the pride and enthusiasm that our community has for what is happening here in Santa Cruz.”
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist based in Santa Cruz.
The Picnic Basket
125 Beach St., Ste. B, Santa Cruz
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist living in Santa Cruz, California. In this fruitful region and beyond, she finds the intersections of food, ag, health and the environment to be the most intriguing realms to write about. A bookworm and vegan foodie, the San Diego native has lived in Santa Cruz for a decade, relishing its redwood forests, fresh produce, delicious wines, and sparkling sea.