This 12.5-acre property went from grim industrial park to multimillion-dollar restaurant, retail, and arts destination, paying homage to small, local businesses while serving the greater Sonoma County community.

When developer Barney Aldridge shared his plan to build 300 condominiums to revitalize a decrepit industrial park near downtown Sebastopol, Calif., the community chimed in. “The townspeople hated that idea,” Aldridge recalls. “[They] came out by the hundreds to the public hearings to shut me down.” When he asked what they did want, their responses helped shape the vision that would become The Barlow, a walkable food, wine, art, and shopping destination for West Sonoma County residents.

Aldridge, a food enthusiast and North Bay native, took inspiration from San Francisco’s Ferry Building and New York’s Chelsea Market, as well as Woodlands Market, a regional specialty grocer, to bring the district to life. “I wanted people who cared about making the product, the process, [and] the end result more important than the bottom line,” he says.

Grandfathering in three existing businesses—a foundry, a glassblower, and a tea shop—the developer filled 18 buildings across the 12.5-acre property, handpicking several of the now 38 tenants, including farm-to-table restaurants, an organic coffee roaster, two full-production wineries, a worker-owned natural foods grocer, and boutique retail shops. Four years in the making, The Barlow held its grand opening in November 2013.

The aesthetic is industrial-rustic, with an airy, open plan. Grass-lined sidewalks and young saplings soften the industrialized landscape, and each storefront sports rolling glass doors to welcome customers into vast, sunlit spaces. Aldridge modernized the existing warehouses, once home to a historic apple cannery, and built new spaces reflecting that style, with high ceilings, exposed beams, and plenty of light.

While Aldridge hopes to attract visitors from San Francisco and beyond with a 60-room boutique hotel set to open in early 2016, today The Barlow belongs to the local community. Every Thursday from spring until fall, a street fair turns McKinley Street into a pedestrian plaza, with live music, food trucks, and kid-friendly activities such as face painting. Aldridge himself is clearly a part of it—friendly greetings, handshakes, and hugs follow him as he walks from cafe to shop to restaurant throughout the district, where he spends most of his days nurturing its growth. He takes pride in his tenants’ own dedication. “Every business here is local-owned, local people,” he says. “The owners come here every day.”

Check out the slideshow and read on for a closer look at just a few of the businesses that have made The Barlow a unique Sonoma County destination.

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Community Market

This employee-run natural foods grocer opened its second location for The Barlow’s opening in 2013. Serving Sonoma County residents, the nonprofit organization opened in nearby Santa Rosa in 1975 with a mission to offer organic, natural, and ethical foods, with a wide selection of produce grown in the county. The full-service market features packaged specialty goods, all free of artificial ingredients and preservatives; a bulk department with flours, pastas, granolas, nuts, and candies; a growing selection of gluten-free and vegan offerings, and, it claims, the largest selection of raw foods in the Bay Area.

Kosta Browne Winery

Aldridge reached out to this high-end, award-winning winery that specializes in pinot noir when he heard its owners were looking for a new production space. In its first year at The Barlow, Kosta Browne produced 20,000 cases, with 90 to 95 percent going direct to consumers on an exclusive list for a small but highly coveted supply. For its fall harvest last year, the winery hosted a harvest party with food and live music in a courtyard outside the facility. Its bottles regularly earn top marks from industry critics, with a 2009 vintage winning top honors from Wine Spectator in 2011.

Taylor Maid Farms

Founder and owner Chris Martin started roasting organic coffee in an old barn he owned with his wife, Terri, in 1993. As its flagship location, the Barlow coffee shop conducts Taylor Maid’s roasting and distribution in the vast warehouse behind the rustic lofted storefront. The company’s commitment to sustainability shows, from careful single-origin sourcing to the shop’s counter made of deconstructed pallets. A recessed storefront gives way to a spacious deck, where customers type away on free Wi-Fi while sipping espresso drinks, pour-over coffee, or a variety of teas.

Vignette Pizzeria

Neapolitan-style pizza is the specialty at this airy, charming pizzeria, which houses an authentic Italian brick oven that cooks everything from a classic margherita with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella to peperoni cruschi, whole roasted Senise peppers flown in from Italy. Proprieter and chef Mark Hopper spent more than a decade working under Thomas Keller as executive chef at the esteemed French Laundry. Realizing pizza was his passion, Hopper approached Aldridge to open a restaurant at The Barlow. Ingredients are exceptionally fresh—in the fall, an experimental truffle pecorino pizza featured mozzarella made fresh the day before from young water buffalo raised in the region—and Keller’s attention to detail has rubbed off on Hopper.

Village Bakery

Patrons can peer into this full-production bakery and wholesaler, which offers up fresh loaves for sale along with cafe essentials, including a full range of espresso drinks, creative sweet and savory baked goods (like pear ginger muffins and pesto Asiago croissants), and hot and cold sandwiches served on its award-winning seeded sourdough bread. The Barlow is Village Bakery’s second location in the region, where it has developed a devoted following; customers even voted it Sonoma County’s best bakery in 2013.

Zazu Kitchen & Farm

Aldridge calls this farm-to-table restaurant one of his favorite spots in The Barlow. Its owners, Duskie Estes and John Stewart, are farmers who butcher their own pigs for a pork-centric, snout-to-tail menu that changes daily. Featuring such items as black pig salumi, a mortadella-and-ham Cuban sandwich, and a bacon burger with duck pate, caramelized onions, and apple cider chicharrones, the couple also packages products for direct sale on Zazu’s website, like bacon caramel popcorn, “swine sweets” peanut butter cups (with crushed chicharrones), and cornbread mix. A dining patio is enclosed by planters growing peppers and herbs for dishes, and an on-site garden with greens and more contribute to the restaurant’s hyper local menu.

More to Taste

Even more specialty food and beverage businesses make a visit to The Barlow worth the trek.

  • Guayaki Yerba Mate
  • The Nectary
  • SpiritWorks Distillery
  • Sub Zero Ice Cream
  • Wind Gap Winery
  • Woodfour Brewing Co.

Find out more at thebarlow.net


Eva Meszaros is managing editor of Specialty Food Magazine.