Samantha Ramey in front of her family's second restaurant, Americana in Santa Rosa. (Photo/Kelsey Joy Murphey)
Samantha Ramey in front of her family's second restaurant, Americana in Santa Rosa. (Photo/Kelsey Joy Murphey)

Roadside café in itty-bitty town draws big, hungry crowds

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The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet of Valley Ford in Sonoma County might not appear to be a very Jewish place. But a popular café in the tiny town (population 147) wears its Jewish identity on its sleeve.

Estero Café, located on Highway 1 and frequented both by regulars and those passing through, has a mezuzah on its doorpost, and if co-owner Samantha Ramey happens to be working the floor, diners will notice the Magen David she wears, one made by her mother, in fact.

Estero has a diner-type menu, which Ramey herself compares to Denny’s, with breakfast and lunch classics. But there’s a major difference in the sourcing. The organic eggs come from Coastal Hill Farms. The meat for its burgers comes from right across the way, at Stemple Creek Ranch (which we wrote about in 2019). The cheese comes from Valley Ford Cheese Co., just next door. The ice cream for its milkshakes is from Straus Dairy. Its produce is grown on nearby farms. Even the french fries are fried in beef tallow from Stemple Creek Ranch, rather than mass-produced oil.

“We make everything from scratch, all with the intention of sustainability and health for our bodies and mind,” said Ramey, 36, who with her chef husband owns Estero and the Santa Rosa restaurant Americana.

“Yes, we’re selling biscuits and gravy. It’s not vegan or raw, healthy food, but we make gravy from our house-made bone broth and fresh herbs, with organic milk and cream. That’s what’s so unique about it.”

Ramey grew up in Long Island, N.Y., where her father and his father before him owned a meat business, Wehan Foods. Her grandfather at one time operated as many as seven restaurants, she said, spread throughout Manhattan and Queens. He died young, at which point her father sold the restaurants and kept the meat business, which in its early days was kosher.

We make everything from scratch, all with the intention of sustainability and health for our bodies and mind.

The meat truck was often in her family driveway, she said, and her father would sometimes drive it to pick her up from school.

Ramey has always loved and been drawn to restaurants, perhaps because the industry is in her blood. “I worked in them throughout high school and college, and would work every weekend while in college,” she said. “But even though I really loved being there, I didn’t think it would be my grown-up career.”

She came west to attend San Diego State University, and had her first exposure to the farm-to-table concept. She met her husband, Ryan Ramey, while applying for a job at a restaurant where he was the chef (though she didn’t end up working there). After they were together, he would talk to her about Sonoma County, where he grew up in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, but her only association with the area was the wines she sold as a server.

They moved to Valley Ford in 2010 and began catering and serving breakfast food at the Bodega Bay Farmers Market. (Ramey helped start the market and was its volunteer coordinator.) In 2014, they opened Estero Café.

With its location en route to the coast, right in front of a distinctive water tower, the café is always packed on weekends, often with a wait. It seats 32 inside and 25 on the patio.

“That location has been amazing for us. I love it, and it’s my first child,” she said (she has since given birth to two human children). “But it was never enough for us to live off of, and we were always looking for something in town, too.”

Samantha and Ryan Ramey opened Estero Café in Valley Ford in 2014.
Samantha and Ryan Ramey opened Estero Café in Valley Ford in 2014.

“In town” means Santa Rosa, 17 miles away. The years 2018 and 2019 were good enough for the café that they were able to realize their long-held dream to expand their business and open Americana in February 2020. But then, of course, Covid hit and they had to shut down for a while.

There were other challenging moments during that time, too, as Ramey was now a working mother of two, with daughters Ivy, now almost 5, and Danny, now 2.

“I’m committed to working a solid 50 hour-week, I’ve never had a problem with that. But without child care, that’s nearly impossible to do,” she said.

Things are mostly back on track and Americana is doing well. The menu is similar in scope to Estero’s, but in Santa Rosa they also offer dinner service on Friday and Saturday nights. While there aren’t any explicitly Jewish dishes on the menu, Ramey said they do cure their own lox. There’s no mezuzah up yet at Americana, but there will be, Ramey promised.

She finds it amusing that running two restaurants with popular breakfast menus means selling a ton of pork products in the form of bacon and sausage. But she makes it work.

“On Easter Sunday, I had been at work all day, selling bacon and cheeseburgers, and then I went home and did my seder,” she said. “That’s the kind of Jew I am.”

Estero Café, 14450 CA-1, Valley Ford; Americana, 205 Fifth St., Suite A, Santa Rosa

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."