All in the Family

Although big box stores do serve a need within a community, it is the little independent retailers and restaurants that give a community its charm. And extra points go to those independent businesses that are owned and run by locals: people who live in the very community that they serve. There may be no better exemplar of this ideal than the Borrone family.

Back in the late 70’s Roy and Rose Borrone, who were (and still are) residents of Redwood City, started a small eatery on Broadway, near Main Street. They called their new venture Cafe Borrone—appropriate, not only because it is their name, but also because their five children were often found working there. Cafe Borrone did good business, but after ten years of trying to help change our downtown’s “Deadwood City” image (particularly at night), Roy and Rose moved the business to its current location in Menlo Park (on El Camino, next door to Kepler’s Books). The move proved to be a good one: on any given day the place seems to always be busy, from its opening at 7:00am to its closing at 11:00pm (5:00pm on Sundays and Mondays). Their outdoor patio is an ideal location to enjoy the sunshine with a cup of coffee and a muffin, perhaps while enjoying a good book purchased from Kepler’s, and many a business meeting seems to take place there. Of course, there is a fair amount of indoor seating as well, for those colder, rainier days.

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Cafe Borrone serves a full menu: for breakfast you can get eggs, waffles, muffins and coffee cake, oatmeal, and fruit. For lunch and dinner there is a variety of soups and salads, plus quiches and lasagna, plus various meat and cheese plates. And as I can personally attest, all of it delicious!

Nowadays, Roy and Rose are retired—although Rose apparently still helps out at the cafe from time-to-time. Some time ago Marina, their middle child, took over the running of Cafe Borrone (her husband Josh is the executive chef). As if that isn’t enough, last February the pair opened the Borrone MarketBar, just behind Cafe Borrone in the space once occupied by Cedro Ristorante Italiano. The Borrone MarketBar has both an eatery, where you can enjoy Italian food, and a market area where you can purchase Italian food items that you can finish cooking at home. Because they use organic, sustainable ingredients from local farmers (as does Cafe Borrone), the MarketBar menu varies to reflect current conditions. But the menu I saw the other day listed salads, pasta dishes, some seafood (including scallops), and a hamburger.

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You may have noticed that after starting with an ode to local merchants who live and work locally, I’ve been going on and on about Cafe Borrone and the Borrone MarketBar, neither of which are actually located in Redwood City. The fact that Cafe Borrone started here gives it points in my book, along with the fact that Menlo Park is quite close, only a short drive down El Camino. And, as I noted earlier, Roy and Rose Borrone are Redwood City residents.

Also residing in Redwood City is their son Peter, who along with his wife Courtney own Vesta, the gourmet pizza place at 2022 Broadway in Redwood City. Vesta, as it turns out, is actually located in the very place that was once home to the original Cafe Borrone.

If you haven’t been to Vesta, go. I can understand it if you are not a fan of pizza from any of the chain stores: pizzas from Domino’s, Pizza Hut, or Mountain Mike’s are nothing like what you get at Vesta. Not only do they seem to use the highest-quality local and organic ingredients, but the combinations are like nothing you will find elsewhere. You won’t find a pepperoni pizza on Vesta’s menu, for instance. Instead, you’ll find things like the truly amazing Sausage & Honey pizza. Made from spicy Italian sausage, mascarpone cheese, honey, and serrano chilis, this pizza just has to be tasted to be believed. It is absolutely wonderful. As is the Wild Arugula salad, for that matter, and some of their small plates (I’ve only had a couple, and so can’t speak to all of them, but what I’ve had has been uniformly outstanding). Vesta has seating not only inside, but on the sidewalk and in a small backyard as well. My only complaint is that they are closed on Sundays and Mondays: on multiple occasions my wife and I have set out intending to go there for lunch, and then realized that it was a Monday and that Vesta was closed. Ah, well…

So Marina and her husband run Cafe Borrone and the Borrone MarketBar, while Peter and his wife run Vesta. Are you ready for another? Kristi, the youngest Borrone child, along with husband  Zu Tarazi opened Station 1 in Woodside back in 2010. Unfortunately for Woodside—but fortunately for us—Kristi and her partner could not agree on lease terms with the property owner, and so closed the restaurant at the end of 2013. Now, they are opening “Kristin Marie’s”, a very small cafe and bakery right at the corner of Broadway and Marshall:

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(They don’t have a website yet, but they do have a Pinterest board that should give you a feeling for what the interior may look like.) Formerly a salon, Kristi Marie’s will be a to-go cafe and bakery. It is ideally situated near the Redwood City Caltrain station, so they should get a lot of business from Redwood City commuters heading off to work as well as from people who live elsewhere but take Caltrain to Redwood City. Kristi applied for a permit to retrofit the vacant space back in March of last year, and renovations have been proceeding, albeit very slowly. I was there the other day and took this picture:

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Kristi Marie’s is scheduled to open in April, and I for one am looking forward to trying it out. These days we currently have no lack of places for coffee in Redwood City, and for breakfast sweets and lunchtime “grab and go” items we already have places like Pamplemousse and Cafe La Tartine. Not to mention Cafe Zöe and Bliss Coffee. But given the Borrone family’s track record (and the location!) Kristi Marie’s should do great.

Of course, Kristi Marie’s won’t be competing just with existing places such as those I mentioned. I’ve previously written about the newly renovated building on Broadway in the Bank of America parking lot before: upstairs is being built out as a local office of Shazam. But I’ve been speculating about who was going to take the downstairs retail space.

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Speculate no longer: as reader TomS noted in a comment to my previous post it will indeed be a Philz Coffee (Redwood City is listed on their website as “coming soon”!). They have a number of locations throughout the Bay Area including two in Palo Alto, one in San Mateo, and one at Facebook headquarters (this last is only open to Facebook employees and their guests, of course). And now Redwood City. Great—yet another place this non-coffee-drinker can’t really comment on! With all these coffee places coming to Redwood City maybe I need to find a coffee correspondent… Those of you who are connoisseurs of fine coffee, please feel free to try these places out and voice your opinions in the comments, below.

Kristi Marie’s isn’t the only local Borrone venture to be gaining some competition. I’ve also previously written about Howie’s Artisan Pizza coming to the space next to the Jefferson post office, previously occupied by Tarboosh Mediterranean Cuisine:

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Howie’s has an existing location in Palo Alto, in the Town and Country Village on El Camino at Embarcadero Rd. A week and a half ago my wife and I were in the area and decided to drop in and have lunch.

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Howie’s does have a pepperoni pizza on their menu, but they also have some more interesting pies: Prosciutto and Arugula, for instance, or Baked Potato pizza. We had the Sausage and Roasted Red Onion pizza, and it was very good indeed. My wife and I tried to decide if you would classify it as thin or thick crust. I concluded that it was somewhere in the middle. Whatever it was, it sure tasted good! Oh—and like Vesta, pizzas only come in one size (although Howie’s does sell some pizza by the slice, unlike Vesta). Perfect for sharing.

Howie’s menu can be found here, but when we grilled our server about the new location he let on that their new site will have an expanded menu—one that includes a burger—and an even better bar than the Palo Alto location. He told us, too, that there has been a lot of interest and excitement among their customers regarding the Redwood City location. Apparently, they get a lot of customers who live not only in our area but even farther north; those folks are looking forward to having a Howie’s that is closer to where they live.

As for an ETA, our server thought that the Redwood City Howie’s would be open in late March. After seeing very little activity for quite a while, I can report that there is plenty going on at the Redwood City location now. Overhead heaters have been installed on the outside patio, and there are satisfying construction noises emanating from the building’s interior. While I was originally skeptical about the need for yet another pizza place in Redwood City, having sampled the goods I’m much more optimistic about Howie’s prospects. Oh, and bringing it back to my original theme, it seems that the proprietor and chef of Howie’s, Howard Bulka, lives (where else?) right here in Redwood City!

Redwood City’s downtown is going through an interesting transformation at the moment. Giant buildings are springing up throughout, giving it a more closed-in, somewhat more oppressive feel. At the same time, however, we are getting an increasing number of small, locally-owned-and-operated cafes and restaurants that give us more and more reasons to spend time downtown. I, for one, look forward to trying each of these new places, and am glad that more and more of my restaurant dollars will be spent right here in my own community. And given the quality of the cafes and restaurants that we are gaining, it sounds as if those dollars will be very well spent.

16 thoughts on “All in the Family

  1. Pingback: Assembling the Pieces | Walking Redwood City

  2. Pingback: Hunting Licenses | Walking Redwood City

    • I’ll have to try Vesta’s carrot side; I love the sides I’ve had there (particularly the Brussels Sprouts, when they have ’em as a special) but haven’t tried the carrots. I’ll put ’em on the list for my next visit!

  3. Just wanted to note that it appears the New Kapadokia Turkish restaurant on the corner of Broadway and Winslow appears to have closed. I’m curious to see what takes its place, as it is an long/skinny and smallish space for a restaurant.

    I think Sequoia Station is long overdue for a complete makeover/reboot … it turns its back on the tracks and downtown with a towering blank walls, has horrible connectivity with downtown and feels like a tired, soulless and pedestrian-hostile old-school strip mall. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it happens, however, as the place does seem plenty jammed … with cars.

      • At the time it was built I think that they made the right decision–although they should have put a bit more effort into the backside to make it more attractive (literally–better able to attract people) from downtown. One of my great disappointments with Crossing/900 is that the city had had plans to put a plaza right where Theater Way meets Middlefield (in front of Crossing/900) with a roundabout and a welcoming access to the center of Sequoia Station. I’ll put it on my list of things to write about: I’m pretty sure I still have a copy of the rendering they did for that area. It would have tied Sequoia Station in nicely with downtown, allowing pedestrians to flow back and forth easily. I wish the City Council and/or Planning Department had stuck to their guns and required the Crossing/900 developer to enable that access. Now we have a virtual wall along the tracks, dividing the city in two almost as effectively as the raised tracks through San Carlos.

    • Indeed, that is a tough shape for a restaurant space. Perhaps it will go retail? The location is good, otherwise. I never made it into that restaurant but heard very good things about it. I wonder what the story is on their closing? I’ll have to do some digging and see if I can learn anything. Indeed, I’ve been noticing a number of small closures throughout the downtown and the surrounding area; hopefully this is just an unfortunate side-effect of all the construction going on. Once all these big projects are complete–in a year or two–and the residential units are occupied I would think that demand would surge and merchants are going to have no trouble succeeding downtown. Certainly there seem to be a number of new businesses betting on our downtown’s eventual success.

      See my comment to TomS on Sequoia Station. In short, though, I completely agree with you.

  4. Great write up! I enjoyed the history of the Borrone family. Vesta is fantastic and I’m sure Kristi Marie’s will be as well. Vesta’s side dishes are particularly good. As more housing comes online I’m willing to bet we’ll see plenty of new restaurants pop up. Hopefully lots of new and existing local options as well as some spillover from San Carlo’s and Palo Alto. Some retail would be great…it looks like a few new clothing spots opened near the El Camino end of Broadway. A few spaces recently opened up that are probably worth watching particularly the old melt location and the old sidetrax’s space. The melt’s old space will likely be filled by some sort of national chain, but you never know. I vote for Asian Box.

    There’s a few larger openings in sequoia station including the old spaces for Blockbuster and Johnny Rocket’s. While in a somewhat unappealing strip mall it’s still very much walking distance to the downtown. I’m hopefully that they find a few resteraunt based tenants that remodel and provide some outdoor seating. It would help the area feel more pedestrian friendly. A comprehensive remodel/refresh of sequoia station making it more pedestrian friendly and improving connectivey to it’s surroundings (& thus downtown) would be awesome. Its a hugely appealing location with the bus depot, train station, downtown, and soon a serious amount of housing at its doorstop. It was built in 1994 and appears very busy so I don’t think it’s going anywhere but a lot can be done utilizing the existing structures. Look at Town&County, that’s a strip mall and it’s very pedestrian friendly…

    • The closing of The Melt was curious; I really thought they would do well there. But then again I was up in San Francisco recently and their store there has a very different menu: in addition to the grilled cheese, they have burgers and fries. So maybe the formula–just grilled cheese and soup–wasn’t working? I haven’t visited any of their other stores to see if the menu has changed elsewhere as well.

      I am very interested in the future of Sequoia Station. For a long time, when downtown was “Deadwood”, Sequoia Station was where the action was. Indeed, the parking lots are still pretty packed (especially at holiday time!) so even with a couple of vacant spots they seem to be doing OK. I was a bit surprised to see Johnny Rockets close, but I haven’t been in there in years; perhaps others have not as well. And maybe it is more than just our location–I need to check out their financials (if I can) to see if they are having larger troubles, or if it is just our location. As for Blockbuster, that location has been sitting empty for quite some time; I’m surprised that they can’t get someone else in there. It is definitely time for a refresh, and for a rethink of the central corridor that leads to Caltrain. The backside of the center isn’t very appealing. It could certainly use an update to give the backside a “face” that attracts people from downtown.

  5. The owner of Speederia Pizzeria (San Carlos, and now on Canyon Road in Rwd City) is also a local resident.

    As for another coffee place, there’s the Backyard Coffee Company on Brewster Avenue. An old blog post stated that it is locally owned and that it was named after the owner’s great-grandmother who ran a restaurant with the same name: http://activerain.trulia.com/blogsview/2866680/redwood-city-backyard-coffee-company–perfect-blend-of-comfort-and-caffeine-

    • Good ones! I’ve heard good things about Backyard Coffee; I’ve been there, but only to pick up my pre-registration packet for the Octoberrun 8-). Speederia, though, I do patronize from time to time. I used to go to the San Carlos location but have shifted my allegiance to the Redwood City location; merchants get points in my book by locating within walking distance of my house…

      • Backyard is great! Great place. I haven’t checked out Bliss yet because I can’t peel myself away from backyard. It’s too bad that Philz is opening… even though they are a local chain, they will take business away from the locally owned spots.

        Cafe Zoe in MV is also a cool spot, I haven’t visited their new RWC location yet.

        Barrone is a great spot, thanks for highlighting it and all the connections with other local businesses.

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