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Foodservice Forum: Fresh organic produce goes directly from Lakeside Organic Gardens to the owner’s California Grill kitchen

The California Grill of the Pajaro Valley Restaurant, located at the Freedom Centre in Freedom, CA, has its own very special niche that serves it and its patrons well. The popular restaurant is owned by Dick Peixoto, who also owns Lakeside Organic Gardens, headquartered in Watsonville, CA. His daughter, Ashley Peixoto is co-owner and the restaurant manager.

Peixoto purchased California Grill in 2012, but the site had been a restaurant under different ownership for about a decade. photoFather and daughter, Dick and Ashley Peixoto, co-owners of the California Grill of the Pajaro Valley Restaurant.Peixoto and his daughter decided to change the restaurant’s culture to one that serves fresh, organic, local foods. Although it’s had its challenges, both Peixotos said they are truly enjoying their new venture.

“I’ve just really enjoyed the people from the community who have come in here,” said Dick.

“The people, the customers make this fun,” Ashley added. “They come from all over the Watsonville, Santa Cruz County area to dine here on a regular basis.”

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, all offering fresh locally-grown and produced food.

“Our specialties included steaks, fresh salads, Italian pasta dishes, comfort food and healthy choices such as gluten-free, organic, vegan and low-calorie menu items,” said Ashley. “It is full-service, dine-in restaurant, and it includes a private banquet room. California Grill is quickly gaining popularity in Watsonville and Santa Cruz County, especially for those who appreciate healthy eating.”

California Grill of the Pajaro Valley serves only the finest locally-grown produce, meats and desserts. It’s likely that the produce on customers’ plates was picked fresh from one of Lakeside Organic Garden’s organic field just hours before it was prepared and served to them. Besides the numerous comfort food dishes, the menu also includes gluten-free and vegan dishes.

“We feature local produce grown right here in the fields and orchards of the Pajaro Valley,” said Ashley. “Daily specials and desserts reflect the cycle of the seasons so you can experience flavors at their peak. It’s a true farm-fresh difference that everyone who can should come and enjoy.”

Lakeside Organic Gardens has been farming in Watsonville since the early 1900s when Joseph Peixoto, a potato farmer from Faial, Portugal, moved his family to Watsonville.

His grandson, Richard (Dick), inherited his grandfather’s love for farming. In 1996, he successfully conquered the challenge of converting more than 1,000 acres to certified organic land.

“My peers called me crazy for trying,” said Dick Peixoto. “I now farm over 2,000 organic acres, and Lakeside Organic Gardens is the largest family-owned and operated solely organic vegetable grower and shipper in California.

“We produce over 45 commodities and 100 percent of them are grown organically,” he continued. “We are totally committed to growing organically in the U.S.A.”

Ashley Peixoto also inherited a strong passion for agriculture. She appreciates what farmers do and loves bringing local farm products to the tables for the people in her community and for those just passing through. She is one of 19 cousins, all third generation born and raised in the Pajaro Valley. The Peixoto roots run deep.

She also inherited the family’s generational love for agriculture and she loves to cook. She dreamed of one day opening her own restaurant.

The partners did not set out to purposely buy a restaurant — it just sort of fell into their laps. Dick Peixoto was a frequent patron of the previous owner, and one day the owner mentioned that he was going to have to close it, and that meant that about a dozen people would be out of work.

Initially Peixoto didn’t give it much thought, but after serious consideration and discussion with Ashley, they decided to buy it and create a farm-to-table restaurant with healthy menu choices. They also wanted to provide the people of the community with a place to gather and enjoy wholesome food together.

“Patrons love to know that the produce on their plate is organic and locally grown,” said Ashley. “You can taste the difference between something that was picked fresh that day and what came out of a bag. Our customers often comment about how delicious the leafy greens taste.”

A couple of the California Grill’s more popular dishes are the Grill’s Skirt Steak Salad and the Chicken Blue Salad.

The Grill’s Skirt Steak Salad is grilled skirt steak strips over iceberg and mix leaf lettuces, sautéed mushrooms and onions, beets, hard boiled eggs and blue cheese crumbles.

The Chicken Blue Salad is grilled chicken strips on whole romaine heart leaves with chopped bacon, red onion, avocado and blue cheese crumbles with blue cheese dressing.

And the owners love to brag about where their ingredients besides the fresh local organically-grown vegetables and leafy greens from Lakeside Organic Gardens.

“We’re all about local,” said Ashley. “Our beef, pork and lamb come from Freedom Meat Locker and Corralitos Market & Sausage Co., both local companies. Our seafood is sourced from Stagnaro Bros. Seafood in Santa Cruz. The old world artisan breads we offer are baked fresh daily at the Golden Sheaf Bread Co. in Watsonville. For dessert we serve pies that are made from the fresh fruit grown Gizdich Ranch, which also makes the pies, and we offer locally baked Freedom Bakery & Confection cakes.”

Customers even enjoy the locally grown orchids from Enright Orchid Nursery in Watsonville. The apple juice and cider on its menu is from Martinelli’s, also in Watsonville.

The restaurant is handsomely decorated with old photographs reprinted from the archives of the Pajaro Valley Historical Association. Peixoto points out some of his favorites, such as one of Watsonville Lake, when the Pajaro River was dammed in the summer and kids swam and played in it. The photography hanging on the walls changes regularly. All of the photos highlight the history of Pajaro Valley, and can be found at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association.

Both father and daughter concur that taking over the restaurant and changing its culture was a challenge. But Dick Peixoto said he has had a wonderful time seeing old friends, meeting new friends and hearing everybody’s stories.

“I’ve just really enjoyed the people from the community who have come in here,” he said.

“The people, the customers make this fun,” added Ashley.