As we start the New Year, Yolo County is proud to congratulate our very own Savory Café as the proud recipient of Sacramento Metro Chamber’s 2020 Small Business of the Year award.
This award is one of many that the Chamber bestows to salute regional leaders for their life long dedication to service, inclusion and for creating more vibrant communities. With this last year being especially tough on the food service industry, it’s even more special for a restaurant to receive this honor.
“These awardees exemplify what it means to live a life of service and to use the precious time we are given to leave this world better than we found it. At this pivotal moment in our history, we applaud their tireless commitment to creating economic opportunity and community vibrancy for the Sacramento Region.” – Sacramento Metro Chamber President & CEO Amanda Blackwood.
After speaking with Juan Barajas and his wife Kristin, the proud owners of Savory Café, it seemed very clear how Juan’s efforts in the Yolo County food scene and his dedication to the local growers, ranchers and laborers, is the very definition of what this award represents. When asked how it feels to receive such recognition from the Sacramento community, Juan replied, “We are humbled for the nomination and thankful…it is a great award and definitely unexpected but appreciated.”
It’s All About Reinventing
Located on Woodland’s revitalized Main Street in the historic downtown district, Juan and his brother first opened Savory Café in January of 2015 (his brother Toby has since moved on to a new venture – Main Street Lounge). Although this last year has brought with it many challenges, Juan has been in the restaurant business for over 20 years and remains optimistic, with hopes the industry comes out of this for the better.
When the pandemic hit “we were going to have to do things 100% different than we had before. No more normal. This is the new normal,” Juan said. For instance, he and his wife would have never built outdoor spaces to generate additional revenue and now that is something they are excited to have as part of their business model moving forward. Besides having extra seating, they’re also using the space as a pop-up green house. “I think it’s reinventing ourselves and believing in ourselves.” Which is what they’ve been helping do in Woodland since they first opened up.
Why Downtown Woodland
Juan and his wife are from Woodland and previously owned a restaurant here in 2000. At the time Juan was getting ready to graduate from college. He had always loved the restaurant industry and was passionate about the food that grows in the area. They moved away but then came back and eventually opened up Savory Café. “The whole downtown scene started changing and we were ready to bring new concepts… (we) started pushing the whole farm fresh local…and that type of cuisine that was pretty much growing together with the regional events that were happening in Sacramento – the Farm to Fork movement that was happening at this time. (So) we started taking advantage and saw it as an opportunity.”
How Local Food Takes Center Stage
Juan could literally talk about local food and how it’s sourced, the soil, the relationships you build with the growers and everyone involved, all of it, for days it seems. Juan is known around town as the “Yolo County Food Whisperer” and it’s clear after spending some time with him why that is. Rumor has it he’s even been spotted walking his chicken on a leash down main street. His knowledge and passion is beyond contagious and his philosophy on food is even more infectious.
“We’ve always seen our restaurant as an extension of our family, of our home,” Juan starts off. “Every time you come to the restaurant, there’s always an experience. A story to the food and our products. Our food has a first name attached to it because there is a person who grew it.” He has always been about farm fresh, local food – from the produce, olives, beef, you name it.
Since Juan was a little boy he was taught to appreciate food and where it comes from. “Our grandmother always cooked with whatever she had available, and that was harder in her remote village of Coalcoman, Michoacán in Mexico where things didn’t grow year-round. Here in Yolo County we have so much available, we’d be crazy not to take advantage of that.”
Kristin agrees and shares her husband’s passion for locally sourced, farm fresh food. She grew up in the country with chickens and a vegetable garden, and she knows what it’s like to pick fruit right from the orchard. “I think kids today are really missing out on the pure enjoyment of picking a fresh strawberry that’s been ripening in the sun. This is the food experience we try to bring to our restaurant.”
The Woodland Food Scene
Juan was right, Woodland has become a serious food scene with so many different varieties of food you can enjoy. In fact, there’s over 40 of them with everything from fine dining and wood-fired pizza to barbecue and sushi. And you’ll find an additional 100+ good eats and drinks throughout Yolo County as a whole – making it a foodie destination that locals and those visiting the region have come to know and love.
Juan’s Top Insider Picks
Explore Downtown Woodland
Stop at different shops and meet the business owners. Most are family owned businesses and there are many varieties of restaurants to choose from. On your walk you will discover beautiful architecturally designed buildings with old world charm and if you visit City Hall there’s an edible learning garden next to a fire truck museum and a dance annex. Across the street you will be able to walk through a world-renowned rose garden at the Woodland Public Library grounds where in early spring and summer a thriving farmers market exists. No matter what time of year it is, there’s always something happening here.
Take A Drive
Head west on Hwy 16 up to Capay Valley where you will find yourself surrounded in agricultural fields and beautiful mountain ranges. Juan’s favorite month is February and early March when the almond blossoms are blooming and there’s “Yolo County snow” in the orchards. The ground is covered in millions of flower petals and it gives a fantastic view. There’s also The Almond Festival that usually takes place the last week of February and held in five towns throughout Capay Valley. Unfortunately this year’s has been canceled but in the future, it’s a great day to discover all the small farms, mostly organic, and small towns up the valley. FYI: Almonds are Yolo County’s #1 crop.