Santa Cruz Food Lounge founders
Dining Reviews

Santa Cruz Food Lounge Turns Two

Food Lounge thriving as a kitchen incubator and community hub, plus Sala Soiree update and Cafe Ella turns 10

Left to right: Andrea Mollenauer, Cat Hernandez and Sally Kane of the Santa Cruz Food Lounge. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER

Two years ago, armed with a big space at 1001 Center St.—and even bigger ambitions—Sally Kane and her partners Cat Hernandez and Andrea Mollenauer decided to open a multi-use suite of food spaces for everyone to enjoy.

“We’ve got a huge commercial kitchen,” Kane explains as we chat at the “front door” retail and showcase portion of the Santa Cruz Food Lounge. “We wanted to be an incubator kitchen, and now we’re home to almost 10 local food purveyors. We wanted to give young businesses a way to create their products without having to invest in their own bricks-and-mortar spaces.”

Fogline Farms, Kickin Chicken and others now create artisanal items from the former India Joze kitchen. “And there’s the front of the house,” Kane continues. “We make our liquor license available for a variety of events, and the restaurant can be used for pop-ups. It’s our way of supporting local businesses.”

A large lunch party was in high gear the day I visited. Food Lounge does regular in-house catered events, and takes part in the wildly popular First Friday art crawl. “But we also do Night Market on second Fridays. Mostly consumable foods, like a farmers market graze,” Kane says. “Vendors set up tables and sell various items. It’s great for people early in their careers to get feedback on their products.”

The Food Lounge acts like an inviting neighborhood salon. “People can come in a group and sample a lot of little tastes—usually with live music. It’s great customer contact,” she says.

And then there’s the Pantry retail space in the very front of the Lounge. Open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except Sunday, it offers beautifully displayed local honey, seasoned salts, chutneys and jams, as well as take-away lunch items and drinks. “We have Happy Hour nightly during weekdays, where all our tap drinks are $5 from 4-6 p.m. And the evening food service begins at 4 p.m.,” she says.

Kane says that everything about the multi-function space—catered meetings, space for rent, outdoor courtyard seating, commercial kitchen—encourages collaboration. And she believes that all of the vendors using the common kitchen seem to share the space in sync. “It all works,” she says.

After two years, “we’re still plugging away, even though we all still have our day jobs. I think we’re doing a great job inviting the community into this space. We wanted it to be a comfortable place, a place that a single woman could come and sit at the bar and feel at home,” she says.

Home Salon Party a Hit

Now that the debut Kitchen Table Restaurant Week has come and gone, it looks like the dining-parties-in-private-homes idea cooked up by Tracy Shaw is a big hit. At one installment last week, I sampled the impeccable harvest of walnuts from Nicole Facciuto of Corky’s Nuts, followed by course after small-plate course, cooked while we watched by Chef Gonzo. Seared sea scallops, shrimp in spicy chimichurri, chicken skewers with mango sauce, lamb lollipops with fruit chutney, fine wines, and Dana Scruggs trio jazz. Yeow! Intrigued? You bet you are. Check to see how it works.

Ella’s Turns 10!

Stop by Ella’s at the Airport and Cafe Ella in Watsonville all this week for daily specials in honor of 10 years serving a fine locally-sourced menu to South County foodies. Make sure you enter the gift card drawing on Friday, Feb. 24. “There aren’t a lot of businesses in Watsonville that have been around for over 10 years,” says Maricruz Santillan, Cafe Ella manager. We agree. Congratulations to founder Ella King!

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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