The Pine Cone Restaurant in downtown Sebastopol has its dial on the way-back machine set to 1950. Think chrome and Formica soda-fountain counter and stools, pink and green speckled linoleum floor, and mint green Naugahyde booths repaired with duct tape. This friendly, well-used atmosphere invites the seasoned regular or hungry tourist to sit down to a plate of Potatoes Delight or Bee's Best breakfast.
All are tended to by Dee Franklin, the restaurant's chief hostess and waitress for the past 16 years. She also cooks, busses and brusquely mothers the customers, which have included Chelsea Clinton, Tom Waits and members of the Grateful Dead. Many local regulars don't even order, since Dee knows what they want and has it cooking by the time they're seated. "Dee is the Pine Cone, with a capital 'IS,'" says Carol Van Ness, who has come here almost daily for the past 12 years. "Dee is the heart and soul of the place."
But for better or worse, communities change. Needing a break, the restaurant's owners, Dino Julius and his sister, Stacey Royce, have sold the business and leased the building to two locals with restaurants of their own.
Riley Benedetti, of Willie Bird fame, and Dikendra Maskey, owner of Santa Rosa's Annapurna Restaurant, envision an upgraded, healthier Pine Cone—one that's a cafe. "Our aim is to be part of the community," Maskey says. "We want to acknowledge and appreciate each other's cultural heritage." Some Nepalese dishes, more salads and tofu, and of course, more turkey will be integrated into the breakfast and lunch menu of the old Cone—minus the fryers. Items familiar in a greasy spoon may be baked instead.
With a new interior, new menu items and possibly a different staff, what will become of the old Pine Cone community? "It'll be a loss for the regulars," Julius admits. "They help me out when I'm busy; they get their own menus. It's like family." The old-timers concur. "It's a central place where people come who know each other and know Dee. Tourists don't want yuppie places; they want to see what it's really like here. They want to see the people," says regular Anne Murany. Even the tourists agree. A couple from San Francisco wandered in after a weekend of winetasting, saying, "We chose this spot over the other places we saw. We loved the funky atmosphere."
Maskey reassuringly says that the family-style environment will persist. He adds that the new place may offer live, acoustic and ethnic music to draw in people of all ages. "We want a place where kids can hang out at night and be safe. We're excited to be here, and want to see what we can do for the community."
Pine Cone Restaurant, 162 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.823.1375.
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