RENEWING A COMMUNITY HUB
Restaurateur Ted Wilson never intended to purchase property in Tomales. But the looming closure of Drakes Bay Oyster Company in 2014 spurred him to act on behalf of the company’s staff. “They had generations of employees living on the property,” he says, “and all of those people were going to get evicted.”
Using his event production background, Wilson quickly set up a fundraiser to benefit the workers, at Sausalito’s Fish restaurant. From that arose a close friendship with Jenny Lunny and Loretta Murphy, two of the main forces behind Drakes. When they later phoned Wilson and suggested he buy the historic William Tell House saloon, which had been closed awhile, he hesitated. “I had just gotten married and launched Metal and Match, an event production and catering company,” he recalls. “And I was running Fine & Rare cafe and shop in San Francisco.” But the two women convinced him to make an inquiry call. With the blessing of his wife, Samantha, Wilson bought the property a year later and began the process of renovating the restaurant and building.
The William Tell House formally reopened in 2019 with a restaurant, the site’s storied bar (circa 1877: the county’s oldest continually open saloon) and a small hotel upstairs. The purchase connected Wilson to earlier generations of the Tell’s proprietors, including the Bonini family, who were involved in Tomales restaurants from the early 1900s to the 1960s, and the Tuckers, who ran the Tell in the 1990s. “Bill (Bonini) is one of my mentors,” Wilson says. “He is one of the first people I call when something happens, and he helped me with the build-out of the kitchen.”
History here runs deep. There are pictures of Boninis on the saloon walls, and the Tuckers raised their son Joseph (“Jojo”) on the premises; he crawled on the bar as a child. A Tomales High graduate, he recently returned to the Tell to work with Wilson, bringing his knowledge from serving as bar director at nearby Nick’s Cove.
“His knowledge of the place is insane,” Wilson says. “Jojo is part of a young wave who are returning to the area — they are proud that this property has come back.” When Wilson is at the Tell, the Tuckers, who live behind the restaurant, look after his infant daughter, Cecelia Grace. “I’ve been woven into the fabric of this community,” Wilson says. “When you buy the only restaurant in town, you become this focal point, which before then, to be honest, I didn’t really understand. This turned into so much more than just a restaurant. We revitalized a communal hub. It blew my mind.”
FINDING A NEW FAMILY
Maybe it is a coincidence that the third generation of Konatiches, John and Anton, took over from Tony Jr. at Tony’s Seafood Restaurant in Marshall in 1983, the same year John Finger and Terry Sawyer co-founded Hog Island Oyster Company in the same town. “They were our biggest account,” says Finger, who remembers walking down the street carrying the 5,000-oyster order from Tony’s each Friday. Off to a great start, the relationship between the two businesses and their communities only strengthened over the years. At one point, Finger recalls, he jokingly told Tony, “If you ever want to get out of this, let me know.” With no blood heir to assume control of the restaurant, the Konatiches did ultimately approach Finger with an opportunity to make their family business part of the Hog Island family.
“We knew what we were getting into with a restaurant built over the water in California, but we never thought ‘no,’ ” Finger says. “It is a place that means so much to us in West Marin.” The two businesses are decidedly different in scale — Tony’s lone location was handed down through the generations, while Hog Island has shareholders, a board of directors and five restaurant locations, the latest slated for Larkspur’s Marin Country Mart.
John and Anton, who grew up around Tony’s and still live on the property, were confident they could trust a neighbor with their legacy dating back to 1948. “They knew we had what it would take,” Finger says, “and they knew we cared about paying homage to what their family had created.”
BONDING THROUGH COFFEE
Finding the right keeper of the flame for your small business is no easy feat. Local husband-and-wife team Alfredo and Tera Arcona ran Sausalito’s Cibo for 10 years. At the same time, Alfredo was executive chef at Sausalito’s Angelino Restaurant, where Tera was pastry chef; meanwhile, she also managed Cibo (chee-bo) and its coffee and pastry programs. The schedule proved overwhelming for their family, and they decided to find Cibo a new champion, someone who could carry on their mission of providing a local gathering spot centered around coffee, food and friends. Equator Coffees, which expanded from two Mill Valley cafes to seven in recent years and is headquartered in San Rafael, seemed a logical choice. The Arconas reached out.
Equator Coffees’ Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell were looking for iconic spaces, communities of kindness and connection — “places we can build our ethos around,” McDonnell says. Impassioned talks with the Arconas ensued: How do you create an experience? How do you engage the community? It kept coming back to coffee. Soon, all parties realized they were on the same page. “There are these moments of profound connection that go beyond a spreadsheet,” McDonnell says.
Sausalito Equator reopened this summer with Cibo’s breakfast and lunch menu and Tera Arcona’s signature pastries, which are now available at all Equator Coffee cafes.
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.