Terri and Mark Stark, owners of six unique, popular restaurants in Santa Rosa, lost their flagship eatery, Willi’s Wine Bar. Willi’s was a favorite among locals and a destination for tourists, and the Starks are longtime pillars in the community.
Terri Stark: We were woken up at 1:30-1:45 from our Director of Operations, who was in her car, hysterical, on her way to our house. She had gotten out in her pajamas. I made up the guest bed, thinking that she'd get to our house and we would all just go back to sleep. At that point no one had any idea the magnitude.
She found out by Monday afternoon that [her house] was gone.
Mark Stark: We just sat all morning listening to everything exploding: car tires, propane tanks, all kinds of stuff. It was like a war zone.
MS: The building...we had it for fifteen years. It was our first one. This one put the dining scene on the map. We did tapas and nobody else was doing small plates.
TS: People thought we were crazy.
The openness up here, everyone was really helpful. When we wanted to get this restaurant open, it was crazy the amount of people that were like, whatever you need. However we can help.
MS: We just begged and borrowed and made it happen. Remodeled it ourselves. Did the floor, painted it. All that stuff ourselves. That's why this one hurts. We worked seven days a week, 12-14 hours a day. We knew every square inch.
The first priority - we have almost 400 employees - was to see who was impacted by the fires and what we could do to help them. Nobody lost their job. From there, just trying to help everybody around us. The items that were on the menu here have been disbursed to all the other restaurants; there's a little "WWB" insignia in front of each one. Every time we sell one, we donate $2 to Sonoma Families Feeding Families. We hope by the end of the year to raise somewhere close to $25,000 for that project.
I have siblings and friends on the East Coast and the reports they're hearing are that Santa Rosa has been completely destroyed, Sonoma wine country has been severely impacted, and that's just not the case. Now, Santa Rosans have been really impacted because of the residential areas that were hit, but the reality is we lost four or five really good restaurants at the base of Fountaingrove. And maybe two to four wineries have been affected. But we have hundreds of wineries here in Sonoma County. We want people to know we’re open for business, that wine country is still a destination. Because we need people coming in here.
TS: I think the demographics’ gonna change even more so than it was already changing, depending on what kind of housing developments are rebuilt.
We've had a couple of employees, they're going to move out of the area. One of our chefs, in the middle of the month, his landlord raised his rent, and he just can't afford it. He's got two kids. So, he's got to move to Colorado Springs. I think this community's been amazing but there are some people obviously that will always take advantage of bad situations if they can.
We look to rebuild.
MS: We're moving forward. There's a lot of questions to be answered. But I think we're gonna rebuild it.
TS: This was a great destination for tourists, but our local residents and the outpouring from them has just been off the charts!