Friday, December 26, 2014



In the mid-1970’s, due to a normal teenage interest in alcoholic beverages, my family allowed me to make some wine from the family vineyard and beer at home (under adult supervision, of course). This led to a UC Davis degree as well as concurrent work at a local winery doing the dirtiest and most menial jobs imaginable. In the mid-1980’s good friends at Duxoup Wine Works (think Marx Brothers for the pronunciation) inspired me to try my hand at my own label so I negotiated cellar space in lieu of a raise by my then-current employer, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards in Anderson Valley (I got a raise anyway). Greenwood Ridge was supportive of my project and decided to have some Scherrer Zinfandel produced for their label as well. Unfortunately, I had a poor business plan and during the first year I realized I was not yet ready for this project. Greenwood Ridge continues to make a small amount of Scherrer Vineyard Zinfandel to this day.

Enter Dehlinger Winery in the late 1980’s. Tom Dehlinger was very supportive of my long-term plans and challenged me to develop a solid business plan, facilitating an important entry into my own project. In return, his winery received my heart and soul for a decade. The final key element in our getting started was from my parents. They allowed me to delay paying them for their fine grapes until we began getting cash flow from our wine sales. By 1997, we were ready to make the move to a facility of our own. In anticipation of this, we were able to add Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to supplement the Zinfandel we were producing, all from my father’s vineyard in Alexander Valley. Tom Dehlinger supported this transition of my focus, allowing me to produce these additional wines in his facility and we parted very amicably after that vintage.

And so after the harvest of 1997, I moved our operation to a corner of an apple packing shed-turned-winery, finally leasing the entire building. During this period, our production grew from just the three varietals from Scherrer Vineyard, to now typically a dozen wines, about half of which are Pinot Noir. Total production is now 4000 to 5000 cases. My good friend, Don Bliss helped me whenever I needed a hand (or a finger to dial 911 in the unlikely event of a forklift mistake) throughout this period until he sold his fine vineyard and moved back to his native Texas in 2006. Since then, I have been able to impose on a handful of friends and local customers when I have needed help, but still continue to work at the winery pretty much alone most of the year. Judi, my wife, has handled administrative and compliance for the winery since 2002, keeping me out of trouble with bureaucrats and making sure we are able to conform with the complex and changing world of direct shipping and wholesaling laws, reports and fees.



Living in Southern California is not cheap and the new economic reality has left many people facing the choice between food & groceries or paying for rent and other life necessities on a regular basis”, says Bill.  To add to the burden, the lack of public transportation makes it very difficult for those in need to connect to those organizations that can help them.  I have seen friends lose their jobs over the past few years and have witnessed the impact it has had on their families, says Bill, the emotional struggle alone is often times more than some people can overcome.

In contemplating how to best help those in need, one of the main obstacles that Bill kept running into is the lack of mass transportation in Southern California.  While the face of those in need has changed over time, public transportation in Southern California has not.  Unlike other major metropolitan areas Southern California does not benefit from a subway, “L” or other large mass transportation systems for those without a car or can afford the outlandish price of gasoline today.  Bill’s original plan was to build a restaurant modeling the success of Jon Bon Jovi’s “Soul Kitchen” in Red Bank New Jersey.  However without the ease of mass transportation Bill has decided to bring the restaurant to them.

With that in mind Bracken’s Kitchen will jump on the growing popularity of food trucks as a means to help those in need.  With a mobile kitchen / restaurant Bill will bring the food to those who need it most.  By networking with churches and other nonprofit agencies that provide for those in need, Bracken’s Kitchen will be able to announce when and where they will be feeding.

The goal of Bracken’s Kitchen is to provide high quality and healthy meals on a regular basis to those who need it most.  Our hope is that by providing meals on a regular basis we can lessen the financial burden of those in need and their precious few dollars can be spent on housing and other important life necessities.

While the goal of the food truck will be to feed, it is also our goal to eventually become self-supporting by selling food on those days that we are not feeding.   One of our newest plans is the possibility of branding our trucks with the companies & individuals that have supported us.  With the right branding we feel that the food truck can be even more successful in raising capital on the selling days.  To further expand the impact that Bracken’s Kitchen hopes to have in our community it is our goal to partner with various organizations to help employ those individuals who need a job most.

While we intend to start very modestly with just one truck our goal is to have a larger impact by growing the fleet.  There is much more need just in Orange County than 1 truck can handle not to mention other areas of Southern California.  The ability to expand to those areas is our end goal.  Imagine a day where Bracken’s Kitchen food trucks dot the landscape of Southern California and beyond.

It was October of 2009 and I had just been blessed with the birth of my youngest son, Lukas.  It was a wonderful time in our lives and we were truly ecstatic.  Welcoming him home were my two older kids, Jacob and Jessica.

Shortly thereafter my wife, Molly, made the difficult but exciting decision to stay home to raise Luke.   Molly had a successful career in hospitality, was moving up the corporate ladder and was well compensated for her work.  The loss of her income put a big dent in our personal budget but we knew it was the right thing to do.  While we were not wealthy we were able to manage this financially, as I have had a successful career as a chef and have always been very conservative with my money.

It was during this time that we started having our weekly Starbucks date with Luke in tow.  I was never a big coffee drinker but I developed a taste for lattes with all the syrup and soy milk to make it taste good.  Luke always looked forward to those mornings when he would get a donut while mom and dad spent a little time together before dad went off to a long day of work.  Luke loved to sit on the stools at the end of the counter and just wait for someone to order a Clover so he could watch the fancy reverse French press.  It was a fun time in our lives that gave us a lot of happy memories.

It was during one of these weekly visits to our local Starbucks that I first spotted him.  He was a good looking well-dressed man with golden blonde hair.  He was always well groomed and always sat in the corner alone with his laptop.  Something seemed out of place.  Being the overly observant person that I was, I soon realized that it was his drink.  He always had a glass of water, never coffee.  Why in the world did this business professional not drink coffee?  Didn’t everyone drink coffee?  Even I had started drinking it.  Maybe he didn’t like it, but then why come to Starbucks.  Time would reveal the answer to this and so many other questions that surfaced.

As time passed and our dates continued I noticed the subtle changes that occurred with Randy.  His grooming was slipping with hair not as neatly combed as it had been.  I realized that he was wearing the same clothes a lot and his suit was not as crisp and shiny as before.  He was suddenly in need of a haircut and shave.  His posture, once perfect and upright was faltering as he hunched over his laptop.  I soon realized that I was witnessing the decline from “proud and successful” to “beaten and hopeless.

Sometime later I found Randy at the local Ralphs asleep on the bench with his shopping cart next to him.   I watched as the store manager came out, woke him and chatted with him.   I was able to talk to the store manager who shared Randy’s store with me.   It turned out that months earlier when I first noticed Randy, he had just lost his job.  With their free wifi, Starbucks was the perfect place for him to conduct his job search.  Coffee was a luxury he could not afford so water it was.  The obvious deterioration that I witnessed over time was when Randy lost his home and started sleeping in his car.  The really big change came when he lost his car and moved all of his possessions into a shopping cart.  I was shocked to actually know what I had been seeing over the days, weeks and months that we went to Starbucks.  The one thing that stuck with me after that conversation at Ralphs was how proud and caring Randy was.  He was too proud for handouts and would never accept them.  He did not want to be a bother or burden to anyone.

As we fast forward to a year later it was late 2011 and I was 48 years old.  In December I found myself thrust into the lines of unemployment.  It came so quickly that I was not prepared for it but ready or not my worst fears were realized and I was unemployed.  I have had a blessed career and have never been let go from a job in my life. I suddenly was very aware of what that felt like.  The best and worst part about was that we were ok.  Being financially conservative and, unlike Randy, with the benefits of a really good severance package I had lots of options.

What happened to Randy, I don’t know.  I have never seen him since that late afternoon at Ralph’s.  But it is Randy and many others just like him who has inspired me to “Do Something”.  I could tell you countless other stories of people whom I have encountered, such as the  attractive young woman and her daughter at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa but will not.    Let’s just say that Randy planted the seed that has grown into Bracken’s Kitchen.

I have thought about Randy often over the last 2 years and wonder what happened to him. To watch a man literally deteriorate a little bit every day is a very sad thing.
If Bracken's Kitchen can provide a healthy and wholesome meal in a dignified and fun environment to those in need just a couple of days a week maybe we can help people like Randy get through some difficult times.


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