Garden Court Cafe reopens in Glen Ellen with new everything
Restaurant rebuild timing baked to perfection
By Paul Goguen
Jazmin Vargas is thrilled to pieces to have her restaurant open again after over a year of construction and remodelling.
The location was literally rebuilt from scratch. The rebuild and relaunch may be the most well-timed in the history of restaurant renovating; having closed up shop in February 2020 for the construction, the business completely missed the pandemic and is now opening simultaneously with the rest of the state. With an extra 200 square feet of new dining room space and about the same amount for dining al fresco, the restaurant is sure to elevate the culinary scene in Glen Ellen.
Vargas, who has worked there since she was 15, purchased the restaurant from Nick and Rosemarie Ramponi late in 2018 and runs it with her mother, Olga.
New menu items like a crispy chicken Sandwich, a grilled chicken breast sandwich with house-made cranberry ginger relish, and daily specials, will join old favorites like eggs Benedict, bacon, and, of course, bubbles and orange juice. Vargas said she’d like to introduce some daily specials with traditional Mexican flavors.
The impressive new kitchen is a vast improvement over the old space, with state-ofthe- art equipment, lighting, and ventilation. Food orders emanate from a nearly self-aware point of sale (POS) system instead of the analog yellow checks you’d find in some old greasy spoon. Gleaming-white, ADA-compliant bathrooms feature designer subway tile and, unlike the old ones, are actually inside the restaurant.
“I think there’s a lot to be said about the energy from day one on this build. Everything was done with heart and respect. It’s a gem” said Glen Ellen resident Leslie Vaughn about the renovation process.
Amid the bustle of a business about to reopen, Vargas spoke with the Kenwood Press in the stylish dining room of the new space, where she explained how the Garden Court became her own. “I knew a year before the Ramponis were getting ready to sell it or move out and she approached me. I would always joke [that] this was going to be my place, just because it’s been Garden Court – continued from page 1
my only job ever and this is all I knew. I was happy here, this was a happy place … She offered it to me when I was 23, I believe. I was like ‘Oh God, no.’ I’m like, ‘This is too soon, there’s no way.’ [She mentioned it] toward the end of 2017 and then a whole year passed by and we would just talk about it. They kept encouraging me to do it. I was going back and forth, ‘Yes, no, yes, no,’ and they were like, ‘You can do this. If we didn’t think you could do this, we wouldn’t think about you for it.’ I had the money because I’m a really good saver, and they were like my second parents— they mentored me a lot. So finally, I was like let’s do it, why not, and we did it.” Running this eatery is a family affair, with Vargas running the business and front-of-house while her mom, Olga, runs the back like a boss. “She is my right hand, that lady. [She takes care of] everything in the kitchen. She is the baker and will prep or cook. Anything and everything she has to do. She helps a lot.”
One of the more positive aspects of the renovation is a significant increase in the number of diners that can be accommodated, both indoors and out. “We have more seating space for sure. We have the new outside patio which is like 200 square feet. I used to just have the tables out front. Everything is new and improved and that was super needed in here, because it was falling apart,” she laughed.
Staffing issues seem to be a common challenge for restaurants in this post-pandemic environment, making it hard to establish operating hours. “I’m going to just see what works. I’m looking into opening for dinner maybe two or three days a week but I just gotta find people that want to work” says Vargas.
All of the improvements were facilitated by building owner Stephen Sorkin, who, by all accounts, spared no expense in renovating a building that was in pretty bad shape. “Stephen did a lot, and he did a really, really, really good job. I mean everything is done to perfection. You look around the building and you can’t find anything wrong and so I’m happy because it will just be so much easier on me not to have to worry about fixing stuff or facilities. I had to deal with that stuff before and it wasn’t fun. I had to close for a few days.”
The Garden Court is located right next door to McCormick’s Mercantile; as part of the renovation, the two businesses are now internally connected by a large doorway. Diners can now browse for all kinds of interesting merchandise while waiting for a table. Garden Court hours are subject to change but for now this court is adjudicating food orders from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. closed Tuesdays.