National distinction bestowed upon the culture of health within San Pablo

Glick_San Pablo__MG_9898

By Jeannie Howard

Residents of San Pablo, or anyone else for that matter, most likely would have never imagined that the small—often labeled as an “underdog”—city would have been thrust into a national dialogue on community health. But, that is exactly what has happened to the city of San Pablo since being named one of the recipients of the highly acclaimed Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Culture of Health prize in September of 2017. “Winning this has just been incredible!” said Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a San Pablo based non-profit that has been proactively working to create and expand economic opportunities for all of the city’s residents. “San Pablo is generally viewed in the county as being small and poor,” Choy expressed. “Yes, we have challenges, but we are now a part of national dialogues and it goes to show that it just takes time and effort.”

Since 1972, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been solely dedicated to the improvement and promotion of health. As the nation’s largest philanthropic organization, RWJF believes that people’s health is directly related to a number of factors beyond medical care, such as the quality and availability of housing, employment, schooling, and even the availability of natural open spaces in a community. Through the Culture of Health Prize, the foundation celebrates exemplary communities that are committed to creating an environment of inclusive and sustainable health for all of their residents. For nearly four years, winners of this coveted prize have been communities that are large and small, urban and rural, and have demonstrated how, by connecting city leadership, economic development, schooling, housing, and, as San Pablo demonstrates, even law enforcement, they are creating effective multi-pronged approaches to overcoming challenges once deemed insurmountable to improve the health of their whole community. In addition to being nationally recognized, winning cities receive a cash prize of $25,000 to use toward the continuation and further development of successful programs.

Having come off of the excitement of receiving the National Civic League’s All American Cities award in 2014, Choy said that the EDC began to dig deeper into exploring how engaging people in their local economy has a direct effect on the health of a community. “If people are not going to work locally, if they don’t have paid time off, if they don’t have benefits, they are not able to participate in the health and welfare of their family without missing out on pay or losing their job,” she said. “The EDC has been arguing that by improving a person’s ability to earn income and stay locally, they can better maintain their community relationships and take care of their family, and that can actually influence the health of their community as well.” With this goal set, it only seemed appropriate for the EDC to apply for the RWJF Culture of Health Prize. As Choy described, the EDC is, in many ways, a storyteller for the community and through applying for this prize, it was the non-profit’s opportunity to share San Pablo’s story. “So many folks have their heads down working hard and they don’t even see the incredible story that is unfolding within their own community,” she said. “We may be small and scrappy, but the way we are working together is quite different and we just wanted a chance to tell our story.”

In addition to the modest cash prize and having a platform to share San Pablo’s story, the EDC was deeply motivated to compete for this national distinction because of the snowballing effect it can have on their community. “Yes, some cities would rather be handed a quarter of a million dollars,” said Choy, “but with this award, you get so much more than money.” The added benefits for San Pablo have been the opportunity to be a part of a national dialogue on building healthy, safe, and equitable communities. “Now San Pablo is forever on a national map,” she said. “It is important to be a part of this larger conversation, and we are excited at the potential this opportunity has.”

According to Choy, there are three distinct phases to the RWJF Culture of Health Prize application process. “It is such a huge competition and you go through a long, multi-stage process,” she described. In the fall of 2016, the EDC first learned of the award and got to work on the first phase of the application—a concise essay and amateur video answering why they were applying and the initiatives and accomplishments that support their reasons—which was due in the first week of November 2016. “Our thesis was that engagement in the local economy, meaningful engagement, is everything to the health of a community,” described Choy. Nearly 211 communities from across the country submitted applications during this initial phase.

It was not until the following month that the EDC received the invitation to submit phase two—a detailed itinerary of who RWJF representatives would talk to, what they would discuss, and what they would see in the community if they were to visit—which was due by the end of January 2017. Only 37 of the original applicants were selected for this phase. To the surprise of EDC, they received the call in March that San Pablo was one of eleven communities to move onto phase three, a site visit that would occur in the first week of May 2017.

“In the site visit we had to solidify everything we detailed in the previous phases,” Choy said. “At any point in time there is so much going on in San Pablo, so we chose to not stage anything for the visit.” Admittedly, this was a time when she was thankful that San Pablo is such a small city because the site visit scheduling was tight. During the visit, RWJF representatives conducted a community conversation where residents were able to openly express their experiences in the various programs and initiatives the EDC and the city had implemented. “I was able to hear voices that I had never heard before,” shared Choy. “It was fascinating and rewarding to be able to sit and listen, like a fly on the wall, to that conversation and to hear people talk about their experiences going through the programs.”

During late June Choy received the call back from RWJF that San Pablo was one of eight communities to win the Culture of Health Prize. “I got the news but I was not allowed to tell anybody,” she said. “I was doing the quiet squealing in my office and my feet were doing a happy dance under my desk.” Keeping the joyous news a secret until the official announcement in mid-September 2017 was torture, Choy said.

Since making the official announcement, the EDC has been busy spreading the word to everyone in every part of the city to keep the momentum of the award going. The EDC is planning on having an official bringing-home-the-prize celebration during the city’s 4th of July event this year. “This may be a one-time award, but it’s about propelling San Pablo forward,” shared Choy. “It is about looking at where we want to go; not just about the immediate next thing, but about the long-term vision.” According to Choy, the residents of this humble and hardworking community have been very surprised at the national award and the youth are excited.

The large goal going forward, according to Choy, is to continue to “cultivate the leaders of tomorrow and to build greater community engagement overall.” This first step for this will be through a series of community forums the EDC is planning. “We are going to make sure the forums have professional facilitation, translations, daycare, and food,” she described. “We will be going out to the community to spaces that work for residents, to make it very accessible.” Additionally, Choy described ways the EDC and the city will further support local entrepreneurs and small businesses, such as through revolving loan programs. “We can help them with technical advice for gathering everything needed for loans and we are also going to be able to make very low-interest loans,” she said. “The whole idea is that the loans made are to companies that can demonstrate that they are going to be able to retain and even hire new employees through the loans.” Schools are also on the EDC’s radar as an area to help improve outcomes for the city from the beginning.

Choy acknowledges that the Culture of Health Prize is not going to solve the challenges San Pablo faces but that it is a tool to further the steps already in process. “We want to hold onto our community and if we do not engage people, if we do not show them that there is opportunity here, then our youth will leave and our families will leave,” she admits. “So, we have a lot of building ahead, and we will keep looking at what we can do to push San Pablo forward toward the long-term visions.”


Los Moles Mexican Restaurant & Beer Garden Specializing in Moles and Craft Beers


By Vickie Lewis

The City of El Cerrito celebrated the opening of a new and exciting restaurant on September 1, 2017, which occupies the building of the former Carrows Restaurant located on Potrero near San Pablo Avenue. Los Moles Beer Garden is a thriving Mexican restaurant and bar created and owned by Chef Lito Saldana, which boasts not only a large, spacious interior, but also a large outdoor patio area (the Beer Garden) perfect for enjoying warm spring afternoons and evenings. The El Cerrito location is the third Los Moles restaurant opened by Chef Lito since 2012; the first location was established in Emeryville, and the second opened in San Rafael in 2015.  Los Moles Beer Garden is not just a typical Mexican restaurant. What sets it apart? Why, the Moles, of course!

Not being a culinary expert of Mexican cuisine, I didn’t know about “Moles.” I’d heard of Chicken Mole but hadn’t eaten it before. When I asked Chef Lito what the restaurant name, Los Moles, translated to in English, I learned that the word “mole” (pronounced mo-lay) is the generic name for traditional sauces originally used in Mexican cuisine and for dishes based on these sauces. Moles are made with various ingredients to create different flavors, with chile peppers being a common factor. They are often made for special occasions and celebrations and are very time consuming to make from scratch, requiring many fresh ingredients and long cooking times.  Consequently, not many restaurants in this area offer moles, or may offer only a single type of mole.

Born and raised in Jalisco, Chef Lito grew up in a very small town with only 10 houses where the residents took care of each other like family. He often watched and helped family members cook traditional Mexican recipes, including mole. Although he hadn’t intended to leave Mexico, he came to the United States in 1989 to help his brother establish a restaurant.  After working with his brother for a while, he began to create his own recipes and later opened a restaurant of his own in Emeryville, which was named Cocina Poblana. As he continued to develop and experiment with recipes, he created a variety of moles. He later decided to change the name of the restaurant to Los Moles, and incorporated the mole selections onto the menu.

Chef Lito is proud of his culture, and his passion is to share with customers the distinct flavors from the traditional Mexican pueblos such as those in his home town. His strong Mexican roots and upbringing have inspired him to use many family recipes, in addition to creating his own. Los Moles currently offers eight different varieties of moles, one of which boasts up to 50 ingredients.  Two of the featured moles are named after Lito’s mother, Mama Luisa, and his grandmother, Mama Elena. A third, Pipian Mole, is inspired by his grandfather’s recipe, made with pumpkin seeds and essence of chile guajillo and contains over 30 ingredients. Besides moles, there are many other traditional Mexican dishes available on Los Moles’ menu. Every item served is made from scratch in house, and everything is 100% gluten free. The moles are also free from animal products—they are made from a homemade vegetarian base combined with and other natural ingredients.  Only fresh, locally grown, and organic ingredients are used at Los Moles, and all meats used are free from hormones or antibiotics. In addition, most all entrees offered can be modified to accommodate customers following a vegan diet.    

Our Friday evening visit to Los Moles was very enjoyable. The cosmetic changes made to the interior of the former Carrow’s restaurant transformed the space into an open, spacious dining area with plenty of Mexican accents.  Lito informed us that everything used to transform the space is made of recycled materials. There are plenty of wooden tables and chairs, as well as a few booths built along the interior walls.  The back of the restaurant can accommodate large parties and banquets but is otherwise used for general seating. The ceilings have open beams, and during the day, the glass windows surrounding the restaurant afford plenty of natural light.  In the evening, lighting in the dining room is provided by rows of small light bulbs lining the wooden beams, which emit subdued golden ambient lighting for the diners. To the right of the entrance is the liquor bar, boasting plenty of wooden stools both at the bar and along the opposite wall. Outside is the beer garden (patio), which has a large brick firepit on one side. There is plenty of seating on the patio, mostly wooden tables with chairs or tree stumps for sitting.  There is subtle lighting as well as plenty of space heaters to keep customers warm as they enjoy their beverages.   

We arrived during Happy Hour which occurs every day at Los Moles from 3:00 – 6:00, featuring drinks and appetizers at reduced prices. We started with Margaritas and sipped these while interviewing Chef Lito and enjoying homemade chips and salsa. Lito suggested that we sample all of the moles instead of each of us ordering a single entrée. We thought that was a great idea, and soon our table was covered with traditional clay plates, each with a different mole sample. Six of these were served with tender organic chicken breast, one was served with prawns and one was served with Tilapia.  We also were served a generous portion of green rice (made with Chile Poblano, cilantro, garlic, spinach and oregano) and a container of freshly made tortillas.

We spent the next hour or so savoring the moles. Lito had explained to us that eating moles is not about just eating the sauce, but rather eating it together with other foods, such as rice, beans, meat and tortillas. So, we sampled each mole wrapped in a tortilla with rice and a bit of the chicken or fish.  Even though each plate only had small portions, we were extremely full by the end of the experience! Our wonderful server for the evening, Roman Becerra, kept us supplied with rice and tortillas (and margaritas) while we sampled each of the delicious moles. Roman was kind enough to stop by our table to show us many of the delicious-looking entrees he was delivering to other customers. The presentation of each was beautiful and definitely incented me to want to return to try other items from the menu.

My guest and I generally agreed on the moles we considered favorites: Mole Mama Luisa, a rich red sauce that tasted a bit like enchilada sauce, and was not too spicy; Mango Mole, a delicious blend of spices which had a slightly fruity flavor, but did not taste strongly of mango; and finally, the Mole Pina, which had the distinct flavor of pineapple and tasted slightly sweet, yet still had a touch of spiciness. We also enjoyed the Mole Poblana, which boasts the combined flavors of 50 different ingredients. Some of the moles were thicker and dark in color, almost like gravy, whereas others were lighter in color and had a slightly thinner consistency.  None of the moles were overly spicy, but after trying all of them, I noticed that my eyes and nose were running!

Despite our fullness, we requested to see the dessert menu. There were a number of wonderful options to choose from, and I selected the traditional Flan de la Casa, and my guest ordered the “Viva Mexico.” The flan was beautifully presented on a rectangular white plate, decorated with whole blueberries, blackberries and slices of strawberries.  The flavor and consistency of the flan was excellent—among the best I have ever eaten! The “Viva Mexico” consisted of two scoops of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel and served with two pieces of churro. Both selections were just what we needed to end a perfect dining experience.

Diners have an opportunity to sample all of the moles at the all-day buffets offered at Los Moles every Saturday and Sunday.  The buffet is offered at a nominal cost of only $17 per person and is all-you-can-eat, including most non-alcoholic beverages. Besides the moles, the buffet includes homemade Menudo and Posole soups with an array of mix-ins; beans, rice, tortillas, assorted delicious meats, egg dishes, fruits, salads, and desserts. The buffet gives customers the opportunity to try all of the moles so that they can determine their favorites and will know what to order from the menu the next time they return. I returned to Los Moles the following weekend to try the buffet and found it to be a very good selection of foods for the price. The presentation, variety, and quality of the foods was excellent. The buffet also includes bottomless Mexican coffee and hot tea, and the bar also has special offers, such as three mimosas for only $10. I especially enjoyed the Chilaquiles, and my guest enjoyed the Enmoladas Divorciadas (handmade corn tortillas, organic scrambled eggs, potatoes & spinach; served w/ mole verde, mole rojo, queso fresco, black beans & sour cream). We arrived shortly after Los Moles opened that day and were among just a few customers who had ventured out to eat so early.  However, by the time we left, the dining room was full and there were many guests checking in at the hostess station to await their turn at the buffet. I should note that guests can also order from the regular lunch/dinner menu if they do not wish to partake of the buffet.

Taco Tuesdays is another feature of Los Moles that is very popular with diners.  Chef Lito explained that from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM every Tuesday, diners can enjoy unlimited tacos for only $12. Customers can choose from a selection of meats, beans, salsas, fruits, and all the usual taco fixings, served with fresh homemade tortillas. If you visit between 6:00 and 9:00 PM, you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy live music while feasting on tacos and your favorite libations!

Speaking of libations, Los Moles features a wide variety of alcoholic drinks to accompany their delicious cuisine.   Serving over 100 different brews, Los Moles features over 25 locally crafted beers from breweries such as: Eight Bridges Brewery in Livermore; Berryessa Brewery in Winters; Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico; and East Brothers Brewery in Richmond. In addition to their extensive beer selections, Los Moles also pours seemingly every available brand of Tequila Reposado and Tequila Anejo.  Micheladas and margaritas are also very popular and each is offered in multiple flavors. Mixed drinks and Los Moles’ very own house wines (made in Lodi) are also offered by the glass or pitcher/bottle. For those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, there are sodas, aguas frescas, horchata, juices, coffee and tea.

Contrary to his title, Chef Lito does not regularly cook for his Los Moles restaurants. Lito has hired chefs who he mentored and taught how to make the moles precisely as he would make them himself. The moles are made in large batches at the Emeryville site and portions are transferred to the other two restaurants, ensuring that there is consistent flavor and quality regardless of location. Chef Lito’s staff is trained to provide the highest quality of customer service.  They are instructed to make customers feel welcome—just as they welcome a guest in their own homes. I can attest that I have had very good service both times I visited Los Moles from the moment I entered the restaurant and throughout dining experience. The restaurant appears to be well-staffed and service is efficient, courteous and attentive.

Chef Lito lives with his wife and two adult children in El Cerrito. He and his wife met when she was attending Berkeley High School and married soon after she graduated.  Each family member plays a part in ensuring that the high quality and standards for Los Moles are met. His daughter is in charge of hiring and training the staff for the restaurants, and his son is in charge of maintaining inventory and ensuring that only the freshest and highest quality products are always available. Chef Lito takes care of the “back of the house,” overseeing the kitchen and the general restaurant operations. His wife often works at the restaurant on Sundays, and she also buys airtime on a local Spanish radio station every Monday during which time Chef Lito promotes Los Moles. In 2017, Chef Lito won four awards for the Los Moles restaurants in Emeryville and San Rafael—Google rated each of the restaurants Excellent, as did His restaurants have also won previous awards and acknowledgements, and Chef Lito is widely recognized for his culinary talents in Northern California. He has a passion for his work and for his community, and often hosts special events and benefits. The Los Moles website provides full details about their menus, Sunday Brunch, Taco Tuesdays, as well as information about catering for special events.  If you haven’t already visited Los Moles Beer Garden in El Cerrito, I encourage you to make plans to do so soon! The food, the drinks, and the service are sure to keep you coming back again and again!


6120 Potrero Avenue, El Cerrito |  (510) 230-4855  | 

Facebook: @losmolesbeergarden | Order Delivery online through: | Catering also available

An American classic helped grow a city and win a war

Aerial of plant


By Jeannie Howard | Photo Credit Richmond Public Library

From the Kaiser Shipyards to the Standard Oil refinery, along with roughly forty other war related industries, Richmond quickly garnered the reputation as being the “World War II home front” early in the war years. However, before the United States entered the fighting and well before the war broke out in Europe, the city of Richmond and its council of industry set sights on building up the city’s commerce and industry sectors.

One company in particular the city sought was Ford Motor Company. “Ford would have been really valued,” says Melinda McCrary, executive director of the Richmond Museum. “[The city] courted Ford for a longtime in order to get them to come.” McCrary credits the deep ports of Richmond, which also helped to attract other industries to the city, as well as the railroad access as being valuable features that made Ford take notice of Richmond.

Coming to the region in the early 19th century, the Richmond portion of the railroad was a spur off of the transcontinental railroad, which ended in Oakland, according to McCrary. “Because we have such deep ports here in Richmond, material could be brought in from anywhere in the Pacific Ocean and literally be taken to anywhere in the United States on the railroad. The fact that the railroad was here was a huge benefit. It was revolutionary at the time.”

While the courtship between the city of Richmond and Ford Motor Company went on for some time, Ford was finally won over after numerous modifications were made to the waterfront parcel at no expense to the car manufacture. The city of Richmond and Ford Motor Company had a very close relationship, according to McCrary. “The city manager, James McVitty, drove a 1931 Model A Ford for many years. It was the number three Ford out of the plant and it’s the marquee in our exhibit here at the museum,” she says. “Richmond was a cow town back then—it was all ranching and cattle—so, in 1931 it was a super fancy sight to see that car driving down the Richmond dirt roads. There is a lot of lure around this car. ”

Once completed in 1930, the Richmond Ford plant was the biggest on the west coast. Within the sprawling 500,000 square foot “daylight factory” designed by Albert Kahn as many as 400 vehicles could be fabricated per eight-hour shift. Within a relative short period of time, Ford became the third largest employer in Richmond, which probably played a role in the tremendous growth the city experienced in the early 1940s.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States officially entered World War II. While U.S. manufactures had been producing military equipment for sale to European forces since the start of the war, military manufacturing for U.S. use was amped up at the request of President Roosevelt. To achieve the highest rate of efficiency, the Richmond Ford assembly plant made its last civilian vehicle in February 1942 and switched to full military fabrication. As the only west coast plant that Ford did not sell or lease out during the war years, the Richmond facility became known as the “Richmond Tank Depot” because the plant specialized in tanks and Jeeps.

The hardworking men and women of the Richmond Tank Depot produced nearly 56,000 vehicle unites for the United States and its allies during the war; they regularly worked six-day work weeks in order to fulfill the needs of the war effort. The patriotism of the Ford employees did not stop when their shift ended. Employees regularly collected magazines and newspapers, which got bundled and stowed away in completed vehicles that were destined for the various theaters of war, for the troops. While this may seem like a small gesture, it was a critical lifeline to those fighting in the war. The Richmond employees sent nearly forty tons of publications by 1944.

With the victory in war, the Richmond Ford plant soon began reconverting back to civilian vehicle production; the first civilian car following the end of the war came off of the line in August 1945. As the nation’s prosperity grew, the demands for new vehicles increased. At the size it was, the Richmond Ford plant was no longer able to meet the demands of a growing consumer market. Some reports claim that Ford wanted to expand the Richmond plant but the city would not allow them to. Whether this claim is true or not, Ford eventually closed the Richmond facility in 1955 and moved production to Milpitas. Out of a desire to keep their jobs with the Ford Motor Company, many employees followed Ford and moved to Milpitas as well.

As one of the top employers in the city as well as a consumer of local material and products, the closure of the Ford assembly plant was a major blow to the city of Richmond. “First the shipyards closed and then Ford closed, it was devastating and we have yet to recover,” says McCrary. “Richmond lost huge tax bases and jobs and the economy has yet to recover and be as large as it was when the shipyards and Ford were open.”

As part of the beginning of the Richmond industrial backbone, the Ford assembly plant played a crucial role not just in transforming the city from a farm community and into a Bay Area pillar but also in the allied victory in WWII. Today, the old Ford plant, which sat vacant for decades, is home to the Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park and the Craneway Pavilion.

One Group Bringing Many Together to Help the Homelessness Of Albany

Diverse Housing Group pic

By Jeannie Howard

With a shared belief that all residences of Albany have a right to a place to live within the city, the Diverse Housing Working Group (DHWG) has been advocating for the creation of low, moderate, and no income housing within the city. This consortium is a mix of business organizations, churches of varying denominations, and individual residents, as well as a handful of dedicated volunteers, all working together to educate the community and bring needed changes to the housing situation in Albany. “It is really great that all these organizations, that sometimes might not agree on many other issues, got together to figure out what we can do for people,” said Allen Cain, communications director of DHWG.

Since the formation of the group nearly five years ago, it has made tangible change and progress is the resources available to those experiencing homelessness. During the drafting of the city’s housing element report, which occurred close to the time the group was formed, according to Cain, for the county of Alameda and the state, the DHWG was able to have a lot of influence. “Our group started sitting in on those meetings and started to advocate that the city actually start doing its fair share serving people who were experiencing homelessness,” he said. “We continue to monitor the city on their housing element; really just holding the city’s feet to the fire on their promise.”

Additionally, through their advocacy, the DHWG was able to push the city to open the Community Resource Center, which is located at the Albany United Methodist Church Community Hall. The achievement that Cain described as being the “crown jewel” of the DHWG’s efforts is the shower program at the Albany Aquatics Center, which began more than a year and a half ago. “I am very proud of it,” he said. “Again, all these organizations that were already involved with the Diverse Housing Working Group are coming together, but we also have to pull in even more organizations and people to make the shower program happen each week.”

Serving an average of twenty people weekly, the shower program is so much more than a shower for participants. Residence experiencing homelessness are able to get snacks, toiletries, including dental hygiene supplies, and a small token of knowing that they are not forgotten. Cain is quick to point out that this program is no easy feat, but that it happens with great assistance and cooperation between many organizations and people in the Albany community.

“The aquatics center graciously donated the location and because the school district uses the pool, we have to bring them in. We had to check with the neighbors and the police, who have been remarkable. One of the churches provides the kitchen space to prepare the refreshments that are handed out by our team of outreach volunteers Friday mornings to people in areas that have been identified as homeless encampments to remind them of the program,” described Cain as he continued to list the various organizations involved in the shower program. “The Albany Community Foundation pays the $3 fee to the aquatics center for each participant to shower; the towels are provided through donations and are cleaned by the Solano Cleaning Center; the dental hygiene products are provided by the Solano Avenue Dentists; the refreshments are paid for by the Solano Community Church; and the YMCA collects the travel size toiletries for the program. It is just incredible the number of people that are contributing in some way.”

While the DHWG has been able to make progress on its goals, there is still much more to be done. “I find it sad that we cannot provide more for more people,” said Cain. “Our shower program is at capacity; we really cannot take more people.” For the group to continue to influence the city and provide the weekly shower program to more residence experiencing homelessness, Cain said they need more people. “Human presence is always better than money or a letter or an email. We need more people that are passionate about the subject to be able to sit in on the city council meetings to continue to push the city of Albany to uphold its promise on their housing element—it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.” Additionally, Cain said the group’s immediate volunteer need is for more people to help with the shower program. “Our core-group of shower program volunteers is over-extended.”

For those interested in helping the DHWG, in whatever capacity they can, Cain has extended an open invitation to attend the group’s monthly meetings, which occur the second Tuesday of each month at The Church on the Corner. This invitation is open to anyone that wants to help, whether they live in Albany or not. “We have had people come from other towns because they have experienced homelessness at one time or simply have a passion for helping out,” said Cain. “Most of us at the group believe that in life there are six degrees of separation, and I can almost guarantee that everyone has been touched by homelessness in some way even if they have not been homeless themselves.”

For more information visit or email the group at

Monthly meeting happen the second Tuesday of each month beginning at 5:30 p.m. at The Church on the Corner at 1319 Solano Avenue.

The Greatest Good – How a team of local medical professionals traverse the globe to save children in need

With Patient X-ray before Surgery (2)

By Matt Larson

Here in the East Bay exists a team of medical professionals who volunteer their time, money, and expertise, by making annual trips to Jalandhar, India to perform life-saving, transformational spine surgeries for children and young adults suffering from severe scoliosis (curvature of spine) deformities. All operations are performed completely free of charge as these patients come from impoverished families, with no financial capabilities to pay for such a complex procedure.

The group that does this is called “Standing Straight”, which is a a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization comprised of medical volunteers in a number of different disciplines who are dedicated to providing free spinal surgeries to the neediest children. Led by Founder & CEO Dr. Ravi S. Bains they have successfully operated on 33 children and young adults thus far, and at just 3 years in existence, they’re just getting started. 2017 was the first year they were able to make not one but two needed missions to Jalandhar, and their next one is already scheduled for March 2018.

“Their scoliosis are so severe that many of these children drop out of school, drop out of the public eye, and become housebound,” said Dr. Bains. “Our goal is to try to identify these children and young adults and fix them, so that they can live a normal, productive life, and become contributing members of society.”

Dr. Bains works as Chief of the Regional Spine Surgery Department at Kaiser in Oakland where he leads a team orthopedic spine surgeons who specializes in both adult and pediatric spine deformities. He has traveled the world changing lives for the better in Central and South America, Africa, and, of course, right next door in Oakland. There are a lot of small groups doing similar kinds of work worldwide, but Dr. Bains found a need to create a nonprofit that is specifically focused on spine surgery for the Indian subcontinent. Patients travel from miles —by hitchhiking, public transport, or any means necessary—in hopes of receiving the services of the Standing Straight Team.

Each mission consists of a team of about 20-22 professionals, including surgeons, neurophysiologists, anesthesiologists, an implant specialist, experienced OR nurses, technicians, and support staff—along with dozens of duffle bags containing all of the medical equipment and supplies that is required for the mission…. suffice it to say, it’s no easy task. The journey itself takes over 24 hours one way, including both air and ground transfers, and once they arrive they have not a moment to spare. “The goal is to train the local surgeons there,” Dr. Bains said. “I’ve already trained one of the surgeons from India. With time, they can take care of these children on their own and I could go on looking for other sites and other areas where there’s a need.”

Standing Straight’s surgeries are conducted at the SGL Charitable Hospital in Jalandhar. It was selected by Dr. Bains about 5 years ago when he was fulfilling his father’s wish to have his remains brought back to his homeland after he passed. Dr. Bains ended up with time to spare and decided to peruse the local hospitals. When he visited SGL, he saw a major opportunity.

“They have the same shared values as we do, and wanted us to do complex spinal surgical care for their community,” said Dr. Bains. “Other hospitals just did not have enough facilities or support that spinal surgery would require—they didn’t have a physical therapy department, they didn’t have a blood bank, etc.—but this hospital had facilities that would make it possible.”

After several visits, it was made clear that SGL was going to follow through with helping make this all a reality. Dr. Bains met with their local surgeons, and developed ongoing communications with them in order to make sure they find the most fitting candidates for surgery, as Dr. Bains and his team can only perform about 10 surgeries per mission. Utilizing modern technology, patients can be carefully examined from Dr. Bains’ office here in Oakland.

“As local surgeons screened their patients, we created a folder on the cloud where they would upload images so we’d be able to take a look at these kids and determine if their case would be a surgical problem or not,” he explained. From there he’d advise them if the patient required an MRI, additional x-rays, and so on. “This hospital was able to do all these things, and they didn’t charge anything to the patient,” he said. “They basically provided the services for free for the poor who didn’t have access to the healthcare there.”

The rest is history in the making, as Standing Straight continues to grow and expand their services. Now doing two trips a year, their most immediate goal is to add a third, possibly at a different site in Southeast Asia, maybe Bangladesh or Burma. Based on the needs, and where they can find an appropriate facility with able surgeons who are on board to partner up, only time will tell.

A true labor of love, all of the Standing Straight volunteers pretty much pay their own way in regards to airfare, food and lodging. They rely heavily on donations, and are always on the lookout for capable volunteers as not everyone’s availability allows them to attend every mission. “Whoever has spine expertise, especially in spine deformities, we would love to have on our team,” said Nirmal Singh, Mission Coordinator for Standing Straight and Neurophysiologist at Kaiser in Oakland. “Nurses, anesthesiologists, neurophysiologists—anyone who wants to help us in any way, please do.”

One volunteer who just went on his first mission is James Mitchell RN PNP, who also works at Kaiser Oakland as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery and Pediatric Cardiac Surgery. He’s been a financial supporter of Standing Straight for a number of years after he heard Dr. Bains give a talk about the organization. When he heard that they were in need for a circulating nurse for their November 2017 mission, he jumped at the opportunity. “I believe that we go on a mission like this expecting to give a week of our time and we come back with so much more than we gave,” he said. “It is extremely powerful to see these families that have so little and are so grateful for what we do. Every single day we were there we feel like we are the goodness of humanity.

Living in the United States we have access to some of the best health care around, and when Standing Straight makes these humanitarian missions to India, they strive to maintain that quality we’re all so used to. “Whatever we would have used here to do a successful spine surgery, we do our best to implement the same standard in India when we operate on those patient,” said Singh. “We basically brought Kaiser Permanente hospital from Oakland, California all the way over to India, helped people, and brought it all the way back,” Mitchell added. “That’s was phenomenal to be a part of that.”

As most of us don’t have the medical expertise required to be of much assistance on Standing Straight’s next mission, what we can do is help spread the word, donate if possible, and actively support their efforts. If you have something to offer, Dr. Bains invites you to contact them by email, which can be found at their website, There you can also find numerous success stories from their missions, and a video that gives you a little insight on what a difference they’re making. Follow them on facebook@standingstraight if you’d like a constant reminder that there’s plenty of goodness left in the world.

On these missions, each surgery takes about 8-10 hours and we run two Operating Rooms simultaneously. “I gave [Dr. Bains] the nickname of ‘Superman’  because he’d be in one case, he’d finish it, scrub out and immediately jump into the next case and do it!,” said Mitchell. “And then once the patient is stable in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit we would leave go to the hotel, have a quick bite and get up early to do it all over again in the morning,” Singh added, “yet he still got the whole team moving, explaining to everyone what we’re doing the next day—he is superman, there is no doubt about it.”

Famiglia Italian Restaurant – Where Families and Good Food Come Together!

Calimari appetizer

By Vickie Lewis

If you’re accustomed to traveling to San Francisco or other East Bay cities to enjoy authentic Italian food, there is a new local option that will no doubt satisfy your palate and save the consternation of driving, paying tolls and parking!  Famiglia Italian Restaurant, one of Pinole’s newest dining establishment opened for business in June 2017, and is open for your dining pleasure seven days a week for lunch and dinner.  Conveniently located on San Pablo Avenue, Famiglia’s somewhat unlikely location (in an Industrial Park-like setting), affords plenty of parking for customers. The restaurant sits back from the street, which may make it difficult to spot in the daytime; but the bright neon signage visible in the evenings beckons hungry diners in for a warm welcome and a delicious meal.

Upon entering Famiglia, you may miss the familiar ambience of some Italian restaurants. At the time of this review, there were no pictures on the walls, only a few plants, no white tablecloths, and no evidence of traditional Italian décor. Some customers have characterized the restaurant as looking like a cafeteria. But co-owner Miguel Guillen assured us that the venue is a work in progress, and that customers will see a number of enhancements in the coming months.  The interior of the restaurant was entirely designed and constructed by Miguel and his brother David, who jointly own Famiglia, and I found the design appealing even sans the décor. The large open space has a defined entry lined with comfortable chairs, and leads into the dining room with table seating for approximately 60 guests.  Large windows along the right side of the restaurant provide plenty of natural lighting during the day. Behind the dining area, there is a long, customized bar/counter designed by David, which has the word “Famiglia” hand set across its length in coins. The large open kitchen is left of the dining area, and includes an impressive brick pizza oven.  The kitchen and the bar areas are brightly lit, while the lighting above the tables is provided by suspended chandelier-type lamps suspended above the tables provide subdued lighting for a nice dining ambience. The concrete floor, as well as the entire interior of the restaurant, appeared very clean and well maintained.   

David and Miguel immigrated from Mexico to the United States over 20 years ago seeking the “American Dream”.  Their goal was to work hard to eventually fulfill their dream of owning their own restaurant. Shortly after they arrived in the states, each of them secured jobs working as chefs in different Italian restaurants. Their exposure to and experience with cooking Italian cuisine ultimately inspired their desire to open Famiglia.  Miguel was the Head Chef for La Veranda Italian restaurant in Clayton for fourteen years before he and David decided to open their own restaurant.  Together, the brothers have over 40 years of restaurant experience, a majority with Italian cuisine. As local residents, Miguel and David preferred to open their restaurant in a location where they could serve their community. They spent months looking for a suitable location, and then several more months designing and planning, before the brothers set about constructing their restaurant.  The actual construction took approximately four months to complete, and Famiglia opened its doors for the first time on Friday, June 16, 2017, just two days before Father’s Day. The brothers hosted a subsequent Grand Opening on August 9, 2017, which was attended by the mayor of Pinole and other Pinole City leaders.

Although there hadn’t been much pre-opening advertising, David and Miguel were pleasantly surprised when their restaurant was filled and overflowing with customers on Father’s Day 2017!  They hadn’t anticipated the overwhelming business considering that they had just opened two days prior.  But in spite of a sparse staff, they handled the high volume of customers with finesse!  Now, months later, Famiglia’s popularity as a favorite local family restaurant has steadily increased, and reservations for larger parties, especially on weekends, are highly recommended.

Famiglia’s menu includes all of the traditional Italian courses: Antipasti (appetizers), Primo (including Pizza and Pasta), Secondi (entrees), Dolci (desserts), and Bevande (drinks).  There are fewer selections in each category on Famiglia’s menu than one might find in similar Italian restaurants; however, the variety of menu offerings includes something that will surely appeal to all tastes!

Following are some examples of menu selections for each of the courses offered at Famiglia. In the Antipasti category, there are homemade soups, several salad choices, and popular appetizer selections such as Calamari Fritti, Carpaccio Cipriani, Bruschetta, and Pane con Aglio (Garlic Bread with olive oil, herbs and parmesan). In the Primo category, there are eleven pasta dishes, including spaghetti with homemade meatballs, Linguini Alle Vongole (Linguini with Clam Sauce), Fettucini Alfredo, Gnocchi del Giorno, and Ravioli Al Formaggio. Several of the pasta selections offer a choice from several homemade sauces, and all pasta dishes may be enhanced by adding Chicken or Prawns for $3 or $4 respectively. Five choices of oven-fired personal pizzas, including the traditional Italian Margherita, Pepperoni and Mushroom, are great options for those who may prefer pizza over pasta.  In the Secondi category, options include Lasagne Al Forno, Melanze Alla Parmesana (eggplant and penne baked in marinara sauce), and a steak, chicken, veal, and two seafood options.  Four desserts round out the Dolci category, and the Bevande include coffee or tea, iced tea, a selection of soft drinks, and San Pellegrino.  The average menu price is approximately $14, with Antipasti ranging from $3 – $8, and Secondi entrees ranging from $17 – $20.

My guest and I visited Famiglia for dinner on a Thursday evening around 6:00. There were four to five tables of diners already seated when we arrived, and there was a steady flow of customers until just before 8:00, several of whom ordered food “to go.” We were warmly greeted by Miguel, and seated at a table near the bar counter which provided a good vantage point of the entire restaurant. Miguel provided us with menus and shared information about some of the most frequently ordered items, which included Calamari Fritti, Fettucini Alfredo, Lasagne, and a selection of brick oven pizzas, which have become very popular with customers.  After bringing us water and a basket of freshly baked focaccia and sour dough breads, Miguel left to provide us an opportunity to look over the menu.  The fresh breads were soft and delicious and were served with an accompanying olive oil and tomato based dipping sauce.  I thoroughly enjoyed the focaccia bread while my guest was a fan of the sour dough slices, and was very impressed to learn that both breads are freshly baked on-site daily.

I had arrived that evening at Famiglia Italian Restaurant with full expectation of enjoying an authentic pasta dish; however, Miguel’s mention of the popular pizzas continued to resonate even as I looked over the many menu selections. A separate sheet described  the Specials of the Day, which were a Butternut Squash Soup starter; and three entrée specials:  Penne Dijonesse, Grilled Pork Chops with Porcini Cream Sauce, and Pan-Fried Trout with Garlic Aioli Sauce.  It was truly difficult to choose from so many wonderful options. When Miguel returned to take our orders, each of us ordered soup for starters, and for his entrée, my guest chose the traditional Spaghetti con Polpette (Spaghetti with homemade meat balls and marinara sauce.) After much consideration, pizza won out as my entrée choice!  I chose the Pollo E Tequila pizza, which sounded both intriguing and appealing.  It is made with spicy salsa verde, lime tequila chicken, fresh avocado, and fresh cilantro–I couldn’t wait to try it!

Minestrone soup is always available on the Antipasti menu, and there is always at least one other soup of the day featured at Famiglia. My guest ordered the Minestrone, and I opted to try the special Butternut Squash Soup. The bowls of soup were very generous portions, served in what I might characterize as cereal bowls. The soups were delivered to the table steaming hot and the server topped each bowl with fresh parmesan cheese.  I noticed that the color of my soup was not that of butternut squash soup, so I questioned Miguel about it. He quickly apologized, saying that the server had instead brought me the Cream of Artichoke soup, and offered to replace it for me. However, the artichoke soup sounded equally appealing to me, so I decided to keep it and give it a try. Boy am I glad I did!  The soup was very rich and smooth, and I could really taste the fresh cream and the parmesan. Yum! The minestrone soup received similar raves from my guest, who said that it was filled with tender vegetables and pasta bits immersed in a very flavorful broth.   

We were still enjoying our soups when our dinners arrived. My guest’s large portion of spaghetti and marinara sauce was generously topped with at least six large meatballs. The meatballs are made with beef and are seasoned with various herbs and spices, making them extremely flavorful and complementary to the pasta. My personal pizza was larger than I expected and the presentation was beautiful. There were six slices of pizza in my pie, which had a tender golden brown and deliciously light crust. Six slices of fresh avocado were neatly arranged in the middle of the pizza, and cilantro leaves were sprinkled all over the top, adding a lovely green contrast. My guest acknowledged that the spaghetti was the best he’s eaten in a very long time, citing the rich flavor of the marinara and the meatballs. My pizza was also excellent and quite enjoyable!  Having already eaten several pieces of bread and the large bowl of soup, I was only able to eat two of the six pizza slices.  Although the pizza was described on the menu as being spicy due to the salsa verde, I did not find the pizza to be spicy at all. The salsa verde added a very delicious flavor to the pizza which lingered after the pizza was eaten.  Miguel told us that the Pollo E Tequila pizza is one of the most frequently ordered from the menu, and I can certainly understand why that is the case!  (I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits Famiglia and wants to try the pizza!)

Following our meals, Miguel treated us to two of the most popular Dolci offered at Famiglia—the homemade Tiramisu and the Strawberry Gelato. The chefs at Famiglia make the Tiramisu in house, and also make their own Cheesecake and Chocolate Ganache desserts. The dessert menu also includes five gelato selections; however, these are not served in scoops like ice cream.  Instead, the gelato is served in slices, similar to a slice of pie, each with a cheesecake crust.  Each serving of frozen gelato is topped with a unique toppings which varies depending on the gelato flavor. Instead, the gelato is served in slices, each with a cheesecake crust, frozen gelato in the center, and with unique toppings, which vary depending upon the gelato flavor. The strawberry gelato was topped with mini white chocolate chips.  Other gelato flavors available are Mango, Spumoni, Kaffelua and Chocolate. Although these are not made in-house like the other desserts, we found the Strawberry flavored gelato to be very delicious. All desserts are very reasonably priced at only $5.50. I must say that the Tiramisu we enjoyed that evening was scrumptious! I have tried many Tiramisu desserts in my time, and this one ranks right at the top.  The portion was large, and the creaminess, consistency, and flavor were perfect. If you like Tiramisu, you will undoubtedly love Famiglia’s recipe for this dessert!  Bellissima!

For those who enjoy beer or wine with their meals, you will find that Famiglia offers quite a number of fine wines, as well as draft and bottled beers. A separate wine list is available, and the “per glass” and bottled wine prices appear to be quite reasonable. Six draft beer selections are available as well as additional bottled varieties. At the time of this review, the bar was not currently staffed to serve customers directly, but there are plans to open it sometime in the future.  For now, all beverages may be ordered only while seated in the dining area.

Unlike a lot of local restaurants, Famiglia has a banquet room near the front of the dining area that will accommodate 25 to 30 guests. There is no additional cost for use of the banquet room, and interested parties may contact the restaurant for advance reservations. This young business also offers small to large catering options for business luncheons or larger special events such as Quincinieras, weddings, or other special celebrations. Contact Miguel directly to get more information about menu and cost options. Famiglia offers on site catering, and will provide either buffet or sit-down table service.  Alternatively, catering orders may be picked up at the restaurant or dropped off at a specified location.

The word “famiglia” means family in Italian, so it was a natural choice when Miguel and David contemplated the name for their restaurant.  The brothers employ a number of other family members at the restaurant, including their youngest brother, Jesus, who works alongside David as one of the chefs.  In addition, Miguel and David consider their customers to be part of their “famiglia” and endeavor to provide a pleasant, enjoyable, and welcoming atmosphere to all who come there to dine.  Stop in for lunch or dinner any day of the week, and you will find Miguel and David and their staff working hard to provide you with a delicious cuisine and superb customer service.  For those on the go, most foods are available for take-out, which represents a significant portion of their current business.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Famiglia Italian Restaurant, Miguel and David invite you come and experience what they have to offer and become part of their “famiglia.” If you’ve visited before, be sure to return to try a different menu selection, and to check out some of the continuous improvements planned to enhance your dining experience. The Guillen brothers and their staff will make you feel right at home—just like Famiglia!

812 San Pablo Avenue, Suite 1, Pinole |  (510) 283-5971  |

Hours:  Sunday through Thursday  11:00 – 9:00  |  Fridays and Saturdays  11:00 – 10:00

The Father of our National Parks

Muir Woods National Monument

A look into the life of John Muir, who made Contra Costa County his home.

By Matt Larson

Living in California we either see or hear the name John Muir quite a bit. Be it the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, John Muir Health, one of many John Muir elementary or high schools, not to mention the Muir Woods National Monument in Marin, or the fact that John Muir is immortalized on the back of the official California State Quarter.

John Muir lived from 1838-1914, and is a prime example of how one individual can have a lasting impact on the world. A naturalist, conservationist, and a self-proclaimed “poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist and ornithologist-naturalist etc., etc.” He’s most renowned for his adventures in California’s Sierra Nevada. He was a prolific writer who taught people about the importance of experiencing the natural beauty of our earthly heritage. His writings helped contribute to the creation of the Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon national parks.

Born in Dunbar, Scotland, Muir first came to the United States when he was 11 years old. In 1849 his family emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to New York; it was a six-week trip via sailing ship. They then went straight to Wisconsin where Muir spent most of his 20s. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and it was here that he first learned about geology and developed his love for botany—this is where he also met his future mentor, Jeanne Carr. At 30 years old in 1868, Muir sailed to California. He arrived in San Francisco and soon made his first visit to Yosemite, where he’d spend much of his time in the coming years.

He would always find his way back to the Bay Area though, where he did much of his writings over the years. His first published writing was in the Boston Recorder in 1866 when he was 28-years old. It was called The Calypso Borealis, written about a rare orchid he discovered while botanizing in Ontario. Then in 1871 the New York Tribune published Muir’s first article from California titled Yosemite Glaciers. San Francisco’s The Overland Monthly publishes several of his writings in 1872, and by 1874 began publishing Muir’s series, Studies in the Sierra. Ultimately he wrote more than 300 magazine articles and 10 major books.

The same year his series was being published in the The Overland Monthly, Muir’s Wisconsin mentor Jeanne Carr introduces him to his future wife, Louisa “Louie” Wanda Strentzel, the daughter of a prosperous Polish immigrant who owned a large fruit farm in Alhambra Valley near Martinez, whom he married in 1880. By then, Martinez was his home. He began construction of a mansion in Martinez for his father and mother-in-law in 1882. His brother David and his family moved to Martinez 10 years later in 1892, and Muir had even gone into partnership with his father-in-law Dr. John Strentzel and helped managed the family’s large fruit ranch for 10 years.

John Muir made friends wherever he went. Ralph Waldo Emerson paid a 33-year-old Muir a visit in Yosemite in 1871, he became lifelong friends with John and Annie Bidwell of Chico in 1877, and even spent 3 days and nights camping alone with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite in 1903.

It is widely accepted that Yosemite National Park, amongst with many others, wouldn’t exist without the influence of John Muir. And of all the places in the world he could have landed, he wound up right here in Contra Costa County. Today, Muir’s remains lie beside those of his wife in a small family cemetery one mile south of the Muir House in Martinez. Together they had two daughters and 10 grandchildren.

If you’d like to dive deeper, as there’s an encyclopedia’s worth of information on John Muir and his adventures, head to, or visit the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez by calling (925) 228-8860 or visit

Clean Streets – The gloves are out, and they’re here to help


By Matt Larson

For his 2009 New Year’s resolution, Allen Cain decided that he and his daughter would take a walk up and down Solano Avenue in Albany every day before school. Most New Year’s resolutions don’t even last a month, if that. Cain’s daughter, who was in 5th grade attending Cornell Elementary at the time, lasted a few weeks. But Cain stuck to the plan. 9 years later, he’s still walking! And he’s not alone…

Walking the same route every day, Cain developed a habit of picking trash up off the street. He even went as far as contacting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to find appropriate gloves, that happened to be blue, and were strong enough to not break against the cement while picking up trash on his walk. But it wasn’t just his selfless community service or shiny blue gloves that drew attention from his friends to inspire them to join his efforts—it was his weight loss! “I started at 185, and I’m at 155 now,” he said. “People started to notice my weight loss and that sparked their interest to walk with me in the morning!”

Today, Cain’s trash pick-up walk has become a group effort. They meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning—rain or shine or holiday—and walk 5 miles picking up trash on the street. “It just became a thing!” said Cain, looking back on this unexpected journey. “We all wear the gloves, of course, so we’re known as the Blue Glove Crew.” Three mornings per week the Blue Glove Crew averages 8 walkers per day, and have gone as high as 15, so far.

From banana peels to roadkill, even hypodermic needles, the Blue Glove Crew will carefully clean the streets as they walk. “Anything larger than a matchbook cover is kind of our litmus,” said Cain. They do find some pretty interesting things though and have come through in a pinch on several occasions. “We find credit cards, we find phones at bus stops, and lots of cash!” Once they found a whole envelope of money, on a street heavily traveled by students, with “pizza” written on the side. “Sure enough it was a classroom’s pizza money and we saved the day by turning it in to that school’s office.” Just one of many Blue Glove Crew success stories.

Cain works as the Executive Director of the Solano Avenue Association and Stroll. Other crew members include councilpersons, chamber members, even the local health and safety commissioner joins them quite frequently. “They all get a different view of the street,” said Cain. They learn where every merchant vacancy is, every pothole, and every opportunity for community growth as they walk and help clean up.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Cain explains. “It’s physically good for the environment, it’s physically good for you, it’s emotionally good for you, and to top it all off—it’s free!” Plus, once you’re finished, you can look back to see a cleaner street; a job well done.

Blue Glove Crew is absolutely, 100% open to the public. If you’d like to join the crew, or even if you’d like to go just once to check it out, Cain invites you to come with. If you could, give them a heads up that you’ll be coming via their facebook page at They meet up to prep at around 7:30 a.m. at the BART tracks on Solano Ave. in Albany and start walking at 8 a.m. They walk from there into Berkeley, into El Cerrito, then back up and down Solano Ave. to Albany. 5 miles total, about 1.5 hours of your life (1.75 on Mondays).

If you don’t live close enough and want to start up your own crew, Cain has the following advice: “Be careful what you pick up, how you pick it up, and make sure you walk in the direction that traffic’s facing you,” he said. “Just do it. Who cares what people think? I believe life gives you back what you put into it.” So, put in! Hope to see you out there, blue gloves and all.

Artisan Chicken Phylly Sandwich



by Liane Ingham

What you’ll need:

1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 large red onion, halved and sliced

1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned

1 medium sweet orange or yellow pepper, julienned

1 sliced jalapeño-seeds taken out

1 cut shredded chedded & pepperjack cheese

4 whole wheat hoagie buns, split and warmed


In a large skillet, saute chicken in oil until no longer pink; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside. In the same skillet, saute onion, sweet peppers and jalapeño until crisp-tender.

Return chicken to the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add cheese. Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve on buns. Yield: 4 servings.

This is one of my favorite recipes, one that I developed over many years.  I wanted to create an explosive flavor and a twist on an old favorite –  I wanted to keep the same great taste as the beef phylly but wanted to create a fresh and lighter sandwich with a different robust flavor.

Serve it with a nice dark beer or a pinot grigio. You will love this sandwich.

Recipe provided by The Artisan Kitchen and Cafe. 865 Marina Bay Parkway, Suite 33, Richmond, CA 94804.

Riggers Loft Wine Company – R&B Cellars Hitting the High Notes in Point Richmond


By Linda Bausch | Derek Everhart Photography

Bay Area locals, if you’re looking for a unique, winery and tasting excursion, close to home, look no further than the end of the pier on Canal Street, in the Port of Richmond, home to Riggers Loft Wine Company and R&B Cellars. A wine bar and tasting room that is both industrial and chic, cozy and expansive, in other words, it is the wine bar and tasting room you have always searched for but never found. Now you have! The location boasts a rich history, and is part of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

Three years ago local, winemaking musicians, Kevin, and Barbara Brown, a dynamic husband and wife team, were in search of a new location for the R&B Cellars winery and tasting room, a venue to showcase their Gold-medal winning wines. When Kevin and Barbara saw the worn, bayside space for the first time, to say they ‘had a vision’, would have been an understatement. As they looked out the windows to the West, all they could see was a huge, grey hulk of a WWII era ship, the USS Red Oak Victory. This is the last existing Victory cargo ship built at this very location, known at the time as the Kaiser Shipyard. The Browns knew a stunning view of the bay, and the iconic San Francisco skyline was on the other side of the historic, not-so-attractive ship.

Their ‘vision’ came into play here they asked if the ship could be moved, and their wish was granted. The spectacular view, opened up by the vacancy of the ship, which didn’t have to move very far, made the decision easy.  There was no looking back. Kevin and Barbara, took a hands-on approach, and lovingly reconstructed the site to suit their winemaking needs. They restored each item to its original condition, as required, due to the historical status of the building. The fruits of their labor harmonized, and they fulfilled their dream, right in your backyard!

Riggers Loft Wine Company is an urban winemaking collective––nurtured by visionary people––who enjoy what they do, and want to share their experience. R&B Cellars have made wine at this location since 2014. This was not their first vintage. In 1997, the inaugural vintage of their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon won the Vinales D’Argent in 2000. This big win set the wheels of R&B Cellars’ success in motion. The limited production totaled only 230 cases. The Brown’s list of accolades earned since that first vintage is an impressive confirmation of the quality wine consistently produced by R&B Cellars.

Other varietals on the R&B’s wine list include: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux style blend, among others. The elegant, hand-crafted wines are served in the casual, and comfortable warehouse. While you sip your wine, or cider, the winemakers are busy at work, as the next vintages ferment in gleaming stainless steel tanks, or age in French oak barrels, stacked neatly in the same room.

R&B Cellars’ annual case production is approximately 20,000, with the collective included, the number climbs to 30,000 cases per year. All production happens on-site, with a portable bottling line being brought in when needed. Everyone works together, and the process is not only efficient, but cost effective, helping to keep overhead down.

Wines created by Kevin, and Barbara Brown, reflect the depth of their 30 years experience in the wine business. The wines are made from grapes sourced from some of the finest grape growers in Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Mendocino. French oak is predominantly used for their barrel aging. Each varietal and blend are hand-crafted. Barrel aging allows the fruit’s full potential to shine.The well-balanced profile assures the wines will pair well with your favorite foods. R&B Cellars is widely distributed throughout the United States, and are exported extensively in China and Africa.

They share the eclectic winemaking venue, and pour their critically acclaimed wines and cider at the tasting bars include––Carica Wines, Irish Monkey Cellars, Barrel + Ink, and Far West Cider Company––each with a unique approach to craft their wines, and cider. Charlie Dollbaum, owner and winemaker, of Carica Wines, brings a scientific approach to his winemaking, using his research, and microbiology experience in his winemaking. He creates the highest quality wine possible with sustainable, organically farmed fruit, never compromising on balance. The entire list of talented winemakers participating in this unique endeavour an be found on the Riggers Loft Wine Company website.

The tasting room staff are well versed, and knowledgeable in the of wines they pour, comfortably engaging each guest, as they navigate the tasting menus. The options are abundant, and there is no question, there will be something rich, and flavorful, such as a full-bodied Merlot, or a crisp, and light, Sauvignon Blanc, or buttery Chardonnay, something delicious to suit everyone’s taste, at a price that is affordable. Be sure to ask about the Wine Clubs, you don’t want to miss the special deals offered to members.

Aside from being the ‘winemaker’s, Kevin and Barbara’s love of music is at the forefront of everything they do. Music is more than their inspiration, for them, it is a way of life. Kevin is a jazz pianist, and Barbara, a jazz singer. Both are professional musicians. It is not unusual to find them playing, and singing with a local trio on Open Mic night. Their approach to playing music and making wine are one in the same. Wine and music are meant to be enjoyed together. The jazzy names of their wines include references related to music, minuet, serenade, swingsville, improvisor, etc. In addition to the musical themed names, every memorable wine label was painted by Mimi Stuart, an accomplished Bay Area artist. Her renditions of brilliant, crisp, colors adorned with shimmering music notes, boldly draw attention to the crescendo of flavor inside each bottle.

In case you were wondering about food, yes, they hit that note, too. Paul’s Street Eats is on-site, preparing wonderful bites during tasting room hours. The air is scented with delicious aromas of fresh made sliders, tacos, and sweet corn fritters, beckoning the guests to pair their wine with tasty treats from the food truck, stationed right outside the door. The diverse menu changes frequently. Be sure to try the fresh, hot beignets.

Riggers Loft Wine Company is available for private parties, indoors, and out. Celebrate your loved one’s birthdays, anniversaries, graduation, wedding, or everyone’s favorite, the office holiday party. Guest counts vary, depending on specifics. Fleet Week and the 4th of July fireworks display (check for actual date of celebration) afford even more opportunities to show the locals what a special place they have in Riggers Loft Wine Company.

Join the band on Open Mic Nights, with a professional trio backing the musicians throughout the evening. Instrumentalists and vocalists are welcome, the 2nd Wednesday of the month, 7 pm to 10 pm. Trivia Nights are hosted the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month. Be sure to check their website as details may be subject to change. Paint night and Oyster Sundays are on the agenda too. There’s an informative calendar of events on the website.

Did I mention family friendly? No worries, bring everyone! That’s the best part. You know the old saying, “The family that plays together, stays together.” Well, there’s plenty of ‘play’ at Riggers Loft Wine Company. Two widescreen TV’s show sports games. This venue is plenty large enough to accommodate everyone’s desires. Multiple tasting bars assure room for everyone to have a seat. Comfortable, overstuffed, living room couches and chairs are spread out for multiple groups to enjoy their space. During the day music plays throughout the room, keeping the spirit lively. Ping pong tables hold the attention of father and son, each trying their best to out play the other. A zydeco band sets up near the front, preparing for what promises to be a fun evening for guests. Every Friday and Saturday evening at Riggers Loft Wine Company bands play live music, there’s plenty of room for dancing. Add delicious food, and fine wine, who could ask for anything more? During the daytime, how about a visit to the USS Red Oak Victory? Enjoy a no-cost excursion, on your own, or with a guide, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm. The ship is just a quick stroll across the parking lot. Take your turn at the helm for a history lesson in the making. The collective spirit of this group does not go unnoticed. From the first contact with the genuine, hospitable tasting-bar staff, to the winemakers introducing themselves to the guests, one-by-one, everyone is made to feel welcome.