Bistro One Twelve—the café that serves The Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz—is not just a place to eat, it’s the heart of this one-of-a-kind arts community.
Here, residents and business owners can get breakfast, lunch or dinner, as well as coffee any time of day. In the afternoons, it’s a place where kids come to do homework or just to hang out. In the evenings, it’s a gathering place with a friendly pub atmosphere.
And not only does it have all this, owner/chef Shannon Madison also makes sure all the menu offerings are fresh, organic and made from scratch, with an emphasis on sourcing local ingredients.
“I’m a stickler for details,” says Madison, who handles many tasks for the bistro on her own—personally picking up food items from local vendors, for instance, because she wants to make sure her customers have the best food possible. She describes One Twelve as “bistro casual, but with fine dining attention to detail.”
The café’s motto is “Decidedly local, aggressively seasonal,” which Madison says sums up her philosophy. Even condiments and sauces are made in-house, and all items are sourced according to sustainability and locality. The menu is what Madison calls “plant forward,” with hearty vegetarian and vegan options available, as well as some gluten-free items.
With an ambiance that is artistic and eclectic, Bistro One Twelve captures the Arts Center’s vibe perfectly. From the industrial-style fixtures to the paper mache cow’s head, the cheerful space has both café seating and a long table that invites larger groups to visit. Patio seating is available outside as well.
The Tannery Arts Center, on the site of the historic Salz Tannery on River Street, opened in 2009 to better serve the artist and artisan community of Santa Cruz. Artists live and work there, with 100 apartments and 28 working studios. The campus also includes a theater, gallery, dance school and Arts Council offices.
Since the Arts Center’s inception, there has been a café in its courtyard and several different restaurants had come and gone when Madison appeared on the scene. She became aware of the possibilities presented there while doing food popups during its Thursday night art markets.
Madison’s background gave her a unique perspective on undertaking the restaurant business. She grew up in a globe-trotting family and learned about cuisine, culture and languages in numerous countries around the world. As an adult, she spent 30 years in high tech as an engineer and in management, but decided to make a career change and pursue her love of cooking.
She graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City (now the International Culinary Center), earning her Grand Diploma in Culinary Arts, and then began working at Bay Area restaurants. She received training under Top Chef Master and James Beach Award nominee Chris Cosentino at Cockscomb in San Francisco and from chef Sam Nuckols of Trois Mec, Liholiho Yacht Club and Petit Crenn.
She was drawn to Santa Cruz to work with chef Zachary Mazi at the experimental kitchen Lionfish, ultimately finding her true passion at The Tannery. She also serves on the board of directors for the American Institute of Wine & Food.
Madison realized that starting a café was much different from simply working at a restaurant and did extensive research before opening in January 2018. She was surprised to find out that not only do the Arts Center residents rely on the café for meals, but that also there are few dining options on that stretch of River Street. “There isn’t even a 7-Eleven within walking distance,” she says.
That’s why she decided to keep Bistro One Twelve open seven days a week and is turning it into a gathering place in the evenings, offering a selection of local craft beers like Shanty Shack, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and Corralitos Brewing Co., and California wines in a low-key pub atmosphere, with Thursday trivia nights and extended hours when there’s a play or dance production at the nearby theater.
In order to provide the greatest number of delicious options for customers, Madison relies on numerous local food partners, including Kelly’s French Bakery, Fogline Farms, Corralitos Market, Dirty Girl Produce, El Salchichero and many others. Online ordering is available for those who need food delivered.
The café opens for breakfast featuring such items as yogurt parfaits with housemade lactose-free yogurt, pastries fresh baked in-house or from a local partner, porridge with choice of toppings, breakfast burritos, and even a breakfast flatbread pizza. The house brew is 11th Hour Coffee, the beans delivered fresh from the roaster, and espresso drinks are also available.
Lunch and dinner offerings include sandwiches on French-style baguettes, such as the Monet (Corralitos smoked ham with butter and cheese), the Pepin (local roasted and pulled chicken breast with romaine lettuce and sliced organic tomatoes), and the Picasso (organic tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and pesto spread), as well as Italian-style flatbreads, salads and nibbles. Specials based on what’s in season are also available.
Madison says the specials are often “seasonally opportunistic,” noting that recently, a glut of strawberries that came her way from the UC Santa Cruz Farm were turned into strawberry cheesecake, jam and other delights.
Taco Tuesday is offered each week, all day Tuesday, with vegan and vegetarian protein options available in addition to authentically prepared meats; for instance, the mole has more than 20 ingredients and takes eight hours to prepare.
Bistro One Twelve is a Monterey Bay Area Green Certified Business, which means that Madison strives to prevent waste, reduce water use and conserve energy. Cloth napkins and reusable plates and utensils are offered, and instead of water bottles, there’s a water dispenser for refills. Those who need food to go are offered compostable utensils.
Despite the challenges, Bistro One Twelve has been enthusiastically received by Arts Center residents and visitors, and is now an integral part of the community there.
“My primary motivation is to serve the community and provide healthy, nutritious food that doesn’t harm the environment,” says Madison.
Bistro One Twelve at The Tannery • 1060 River Street, Santa Cruz • 831.854.7458 • bistro112sc.com
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.