With the closure of local favorites like Terra and Cindy’s, the St. Helena restaurant scene seems to be going through a gloomy phase.
However, that’s not the case at Market, which is celebrating 10 years under current owners Ernesto Martinez and his brother-in-law Roman Flores.
To thank the community and loyal patrons, Market will offer free appetizers and cocktails from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 1347 Main St.
“I’ve been here since 2003 and it’s been quite a journey,” said Martinez, who acquired the restaurant along with Flores in 2008. “We just want to show our appreciation.”
Flores attributed Market’s longevity to its faithful local following and the low rate of turnover among the staff, whose average tenure is seven or eight years.
Chelsea Jo Trace has been there for 12 years, working her way up from food-runner to server to bartender to her current job as beverage director and bar manager.
Once Flores and Martinez took over Market in 2008, business tripled and the restaurant became more focused on local clientele, Trace said.
“You get to watch everybody’s kids grow up and have a relationship with the patrons,” she said. “It’s been easy to work for a family that has a lot of heart and soul and is really passionate about what they do.”
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During the last 15 years, Trace has lived in Angwin, St. Helena and Calistoga, where she rented a house with some friends and Market co-workers. She eventually got married and moved in with her husband in Calistoga. The couple and their baby live in a one-bedroom unit. Trace said they’re lucky enough to be able to afford it thanks to good landlords who charge reasonable rent.
Other local employees aren’t so lucky. High housing costs have made it harder for local businesses to find qualified staff. The owners of Terra said a lack of qualified staff contributed to their decision to close the restaurant.
“It’s sad to see,” Trace said. “The affordable housing around here has really gone downhill so fast. I don’t feel like there’s enough of a push to focus on the people who work in wineries and restaurants. I don’t know how much longer all these places are going to be able to sustain themselves.”
Flores said Market has survived by retaining trusted employees, promoting from within, and relying on longtime staff to help find qualified people to fill lower-level openings. Thanks to low turnover, he’s had to hire only three people in the last three years.
“These guys could do this job without me, every single day, but I couldn’t do it without them,” Flores said.
He said the continuity in staff has contributed to the restaurant’s family feel, which was never more apparent than during the 2017 wildfires. On the Tuesday after the fires started, and just hours after power was restored to St. Helena, Market opened and became a community gathering place during a stressful time.
First responders and those directly affected by the fires ate free for two weeks. Flores remembered that Martinez convinced him to open that first day by saying he “wanted to make somebody smile.”
“We made about 300 people smile that day,” Flores said.