Montclair Restaurant Walk to showcase bevy of beverage, food providers
By Lou Fancher
No less remarkable than the COVID-19 pandemic turning cities and villages worldwide into ghost towns in 2020 is the resilience of communities bouncing back with vigor in 2023.
One sign that even a misanthropic virus can’t forever destroy human get-up-and-go arrives next week on Tuesday with the 2023 Montclair Village Restaurant Walk. Showcasing local restaurants, businesses and services in the walkable Oakland hills district, the Montclair Village Association (MVA) is hosting the family-friendly event this year.
“The Lions Chapter that used to run the restaurant walk and got it started closed their chapter recently,” event organizer and MVA board member Winter Williams said. “It would have gone away if we didn’t step in and take it over.”
The MVA is “stepping in” big-time and capitalizing on a mini-renaissance in the community. In addition to longtime, established restaurants such as Italian Colors, Daughter Thai Kitchen and Crogan’s and cornerstone businesses like A Great Good Place for Books, several newcomers are joining this year’s event featuring more than 20 food and beverage providers and eight open house hosts.
Signs of growing business investment in Montclair Village during the last two years can be recognized in the arrivals of Sliver Pizzeria, Yellow Door Cafe, 5 Spiced Kitchen, Pelago, Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery and others.
Restaurant walk attendees who purchase food and beverage “passports” ($40 for adults, $20 for those younger than 12) will not only access discounts and special offers but provide vital support for MVA programs and initiatives throughout the year. Everyone attending the walk can enjoy participating vendors’ free nibbles, sips and giveaways.
They can also meet and hear the stories of shop owners, marvel at entertainer Nikki Borodin’s handmade balloon animals (compliments of Montclair Cares Club), and visit the MVA Booth near the Village Plaza to speak with MVA board members and representatives from District 4 Council member Janani Ramachandran’s office. Williams said city officials are most likely to hear from residents about security issues.
“The increase of incidents happening with cars, not just in the Village district but on residential streets, means folks are concerned about crime prevention,” she said. “As the board member monitoring MVA’s social media, I posted a video about the event yesterday and someone replied saying they didn’t feel comfortable going out in Oakland.
“Concern is not just in the Village. I live near what is now District 1 and there we gathered recently to talk about the increase in crime. There were about 60 to 70 people there, so a lot. Also, there’s a board member, Pat Benson, business owner of Mix, who brings it up at nearly every meeting. So I hear it from every direction.”
Williams said last year’s holiday season ambassadors (security guard) pilot program that was paid for with a grant from the city of Oakland was successful and greeted enthusiastically but couldn’t continue without new funding.
If Williams hears frequently about crime prevention, she hears with equal urgency from people interested in finding ways to attract more businesses to the area. Increasing the number of family-friendly events that draw people to the area is one idea, as are more business-to-business partnerships.
She notes that even individuals can partner up — by joining the Montclair Cares Club. Members receive discounted passports to the restaurant walk, provide crucial support for the MVA’s activities and projects, form friendships and can become more involved in Village event planning.
One business owner jumping to the front of the partnering line during the walk doesn’t actually have a brick-and-mortar shop in the Village but will pop up everywhere. Ripple Mocktails owner Julie Ziegler said in a separate interview her catering and event company’s “mocktail” (nonalcoholic) beverages will be offered (along with face painting) at the new City Health clinic and at CRUfit, where Taps & Takeout’s tacos and Drake’s Brewing samples will round out the offerings.
Mocktails are having more than just “a moment,” Ziegler said, adding that awareness of alcohol’s negative health impacts is growing and well supported by scientific research. Underscoring the message with her own history told in her “Breaking up with Booze” blog, Ziegler describes a years-long journey leading to her celebration this past April 7 of one year of sobriety.
Her story is moving and inspirational in that it refueled her energy for what was already a busy life — Zeigler holds a full-time job aside from Ripple, has a spouse and three kids 11 or younger and is training for her second marathon. Drinking her first beer with a best friend at age 14, Ziegler rapidly developed a deep affinity for India pale ales and shots of tequila with lime.
“I wasn’t a cocktail person before I stopped drinking,” she said. “But a cold beer on a hot day with friends — that I liked.”
These days, Ziegler is more fond of a drink called “The Palm Springs,” owing to where it was created with friends.
“It has guava nectar with ginger beer and a passion fruit topper. It’s simple and looks like a sunset: golden, pink and finishing with a deep red,” she said.
Another is a Gin Rickey, because while growing up in Boston, the family always had raspberry lime Gin Rickey’s. A favorite of her clients and likely to be available during the walk is a Spicy Mescal Margarita.
“Again, it’s complex, and the mescal is a little smoky, and I put spicy salt around the rim, and it’s satisfying. All of these drinks are fun, with edible flowers or topped with cotton candy.”
One mocktail she’s just beginning to develop begins with an upside-down Popsicle in a glass and has de-alcoholized wine poured over it.
“There’s so much available, and the market for cocktails is growing. There are adult mocktails and then what I call ‘everyone’ mocktails,” she said. “Adult mocktails use nonalcoholic spirits for substitutes — zero-proof tequila, rum, mescal — to replicate a typical cocktail you’d get at a bar.
“The ‘everyone’ drinks mix fresh fruit juices, flavored syrups and herbs. My favorite mocktail is Rosemary Grapefruit Spirits. It’s sweet but not full of sugar, the rosemary adds depth, and the bubbles from soda make it light, easy to drink.
Ziegler said she’s hoping in the summer months to participate in more community events like the restaurant walk, possibly co-present mocktail making classes in partnership with another business and host other special events emphasizing healthy entertainment and the growing alternative adult beverage industry.