About 20 years ago, Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton moved to Healdsburg to follow their dream of starting their own farm. After they achieved that dream, they set out to conquer another three years ago: Healdsburg SHED, a celebration of food and community unlike anything else.
Healdsburg SHED has the primary quality that you may see on a thriving farm ecosystem: diversity. This beautiful two-story building is home to a restaurant, fermentation bar, coffee bar, retail shop, produce, farming tools, and a community gathering space. The mission of all of these components is to create a space that celebrates “good farming, good cooking, and good eating.”
After a tour from Doug, we sat down with Cindy to talk about the inspiration, concept, and construction behind SHED, including the different components that work together to make the ecosystem thrive. Some customers may come in daily for a cup of coffee and a pastry or heirloom seeds for their home garden. Ultimately, there are many different kinds of people who can relate to SHED in different ways — here’s how she engages them all.
Tell me a little bit about your background and where the inspiration for SHED came from.
I spent summers on my grandparents’ farm in Mississippi. I didn’t always love it as a child, but it really impressed a lot of things on me. We definitely had to do a lot of the chores, and we pretty much only ate from the garden. We lived on the land and I felt, and still do, feel very attached to it.
Doug and I met in college. The first time I saw him, he was shoveling manure from the back of an old pick-up truck into a wheelbarrow to bring to a garden. From the beginning, I was always very attracted to how dedicated and passionate he was to gardening. Gardening and farming were the first things that sort of ignited and then tied our hearts together.
Twenty years ago we moved up to Healdsburg and built our house and started farming. We always like to say that what we’re doing on Home Farm [the farm that is a part of their home’s property] is similar to SHED in that it’s a mosaic of a lot of the things that we’re trying to tie together. We’re doing a little bit of a lot, and in a way that’s a lot how SHED is.
Our mantra for SHED came from a quote by Wendell Berry which is, “an agrarian mind begins with a love of the fields, and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, and good eating,” which I try to express through the store. Another part of it is that farm-to-table cycle that we’re always talking about. A lot of people have embraced it, but what can we do here that makes it in plain sight? I wanted to as much as possible – either viscerally or directly – have people have an experience of where their food came from; having the tools to be able to grow their own food if they wanted, to have tools to cook, and to experience coming together around the table.
It sounds like such a dream. How did you raise the funds to pull all of these elements together at SHED?
We invested a lot of our own money (and sweat and tears) into SHED. It is definitely something that we did out of passion and love. Our growth has been really strong and we’ve been lucky to have grown really fast. It’s taken everything that we have to give to it. You hear that once you hit three years, things start to shift, and we definitely feel that. We feel more established, we’ve developed our systems and culture, but we continue to grow.
You mentioned being able to grow and balance all of the different elements of SHED. How do the separate pieces of it all work together? Do you have separate P&Ls, staff, training?
We have internal “departments” that include the cafe, the coffee bar, the larder, housewares, farm and garden, retail, pantry, and events. We separately track sales for each department to monitor growth and we set goals for each month based on the sales we did last year.
As far as connecting them beyond that, it’s tough. It’s kind of goes back to that analogy with the farm: for a farm, diversity is a healthy farm for many reasons, but it also means that you have to learn not only how to prune fruit trees, but also how to prune grapes, and how to know when to harvest your vegetables, or what’s the best way to grow and harvest your flowers… These are all things to learn but they are things that can be integrated into a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
I think the same is true for SHED, but it’s not easy. In some ways it requires more staffing which financially is not the most efficient model. We’ve been trying to adjust that. It’s important to us to avoid having silos — it’s really the connection between those things that is important.
We just had the whole staff out to Home Farm and taught them about things like gardening and compost. We compost every bit of waste from SHED and send it to Home Farm, and now the entire staff knows where it goes and is a little bit more invested in our vision. We also had everyone plant their own lettuce on the farm, which is where the lettuce from our SHED salad comes from. A lot of our events are free or heavily discounted for our staff. It’s important to who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to be there for people.
In 2014 you won a James Beard Award for Restaurant Design, which is such an impressive accomplishment. Could you tell me a little bit about the design behind SHED?
I worked with Mark Jenson from Jenson Architects. We went through a lot of explorations, but I knew what I was doing in terms of the idea. As much as possible, we wanted to source locally and employ locally. It was a very home-grown, natural thing.
There were so many wonderful local people and friends involved. I have two friends in town who have a great eye and helped project manage some things. I have a friend who is an artist who designed some of the furniture, and is very intellectual about his designs. Evan Shively, who is an old friend of mine, used reclaimed wood wherever possible.
I wanted to have materials that are classic, durable, and express themselves honestly, which made it fun and easy to come up with that palette of materials. Ultimately, I can say that I want marble countertops in the larder, but it’s really the architect who helps source it and expresses it in the way it is laid that makes the space what it is. We had this idea before we landed that it would be this indoor/outdoor marketplace… It wasn’t meant to be super grand. It was meant to be highly functioning and hard wearing. But I definitely wanted it to be beautiful, and for it to feel good to spend time there. It’s important for people to feel good in their surroundings, and to take the time to create something to be successful in that way was a real pleasure.
Who are the customers of SHED? Are they composed mostly of locals or tourists? And how do you attract new customers and diners into SHED?
We have a Farmer’s Market across the street every Saturday. If you come in on Saturday morning after 11, you will see farmers in SHED whose produce we support and carry. Chef Perry has his own following that brings diners into SHED to taste his food. Being in wine country, we also have tourists who are very important to us. We’ve been so lucky that we haven’t had to be really active with our marketing because we have had such wonderful press in magazines and publications. I wish I could know what the numbers are. We get people from all over.
We also have a lot of cultural events at SHED: Healdsburg Literary Guild came to me last summer and asked to host a literary series, which has been one of the most successful events we host and is always sold out. We also have a jazz and dance company that does a piece just for the grange upstairs. These kinds of cultural events bring out different types of people, and there is so much community support for these things.
Some people just come to the coffee bar every day and just leave. And that’s fine. They’ll be standing in line and chatting with a farmer that walked over after the Farmer’s Market. We created this space to cultivate all of those opportunities. We want our customers to have experiences that provide some fun and delight. At the bottom of it all, we’re just trying to feed them.
Alex Loscher is a Restaurant Marketing Specialist at OpenTable. She is a New York native and a current San Francisco resident (and admittedly, a California convert). When she’s not assisting on events and content at OpenTable, you can find her making her favorite meal of mussels — with white wine, garlic, parsley and good bread— that she foraged from the dock near her family’s house in Montauk, New York.