Outpost Of A Legendary Family

Posted on January 8, 2017 by  
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101 Main St Los AltosOne could be forgiven for thinking the Sassoon Building at 101 Main St. got its name because it is seemingly always occupied by salons – and now Brownhome Designs.

But the ranch-style office building can lay claim to a far more auspicious history than one named after shampoo entrepreneur Vidal Sassoon. It was built by Edward Sassoon, who took out a full-page advertisement when he opened the doors in 1954. Los Altos’ new office building was the latest node in a three-continent family empire that began in 19th-century Baghdad and spanned from London to Shanghai.

Sassoon came to San Francisco Nov. 15, 1932, on the SS President Hoover. The 36-year-old immigrant was accompanied by his wife, Flora, and three children: Meyer, Celia (“Sally”) and Janet.

In some ways, it was a typical migration story: Sassoon listed his profession as “fruit merchant” and found opportunity south of San Francisco in the famed “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”

In other ways, the Sassoons were racing against time. They were a Jewish family in Indonesia and part of Surabaya’s tiny Jewish community. The Japanese empire was expanding at the time of their exodus – their armies had just occupied Manchuria – and the Sassoons must have been nervous about the future. A decade later, Japanese troops entered Indonesia.

The Sassoons were also not a typical Jewish Californian family. Edward was born in Calcutta, India. His great-grandfather was born in what is now Iraq and treasurer to the pasha of Baghdad before decamping to Bombay.

The Sassoon family quickly became fabulously wealthy by triangulating among British bankers and Asian merchants (Vidal Sassoon, raised in a London tenement, is of no relation). They were philanthropists and builders. The Sassoon Docks host Mumbai’s raucous fish market. The Sassoon House in Shanghai, now the Peace Hotel, is an art deco masterpiece on the Bund.

Compared to such monuments, Los Altos’ one-story Sassoon Building may not seem like much. By the time it was built, national independence movements in India, Indonesia and China had pushed multinational families like the Sassoons out of their family homes. Even before the war began, the Sassoons may have seen where it was headed. In 1940, Edward filed a petition for naturalization for his family.

While the Sassoons lived in the West Portal neighborhood in San Francisco, Edward’s fruit business kept him in the orchards of the South Bay. Before it was discontinued in 1962, the Vasona Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad transported apricots and other fruits to the busy San Francisco piers. An office on Main Street helped Edward keep tabs on the annual crop back in the day when the city was full of orchards and not multi-million-dollar homes.

Edward Sassoon passed away in 1969. His wife, Flora, lived until 2003, succumbing to an illness at the age of 101. The Sassoon children were raised in San Francisco. Janet, the youngest, became a prima ballerina for the San Francisco Ballet and a world-renowned ballet teacher. Judging by the naturalization paperwork, Janet has her father’s high cheekbones.

“I’m from a different part of the world, and as a ballerina I looked different from everyone,” she said in a 2014 interview. “As I grew older, I realized that was to my great advantage.”

The one-story Sassoon Building may not be the most remarkable-looking building in downtown Los Altos, but it reminds passersby that a global story stretching from the Ottoman Empire to the docks of Shanghai is stitched together on Main Street.


New Businesses For Downtown

Posted on December 28, 2016 by  
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242 State St Los AltosDowntown Los Altos is expecting a boost from a host of new businesses in the new year. An investment firm and a new child’s play company opened their doors in the waning weeks of 2016. Several restaurants and a wine-tasting room plan to start serving customers in 2017.

Ignition Partners held its office-warming party in late October and has already made several deals from its new space on First Street. The venture capital firm moved from Palo Alto and recently led a $20 million investment round in Accompany, a virtual personal assistant app. According to Crunchbase, Ignition Partners has raised more than $1 billion since it was founded in 2000.

Kiwi Crate moved back to Los Altos to open a shop in time for holiday gift-giving. Founded out of a Los Altos garage, the company had been renting warehouse space in Mountain View to stock its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-focused children’s toy packages, or crates. Sandra Oh Lin began selling below the rainbow-colored facade on State Street in December.

Los Altos Research Center, a startup that aims to create a new way to securely communicate and shop, has rented a storefront at 359 State St. Company officials said they are not yet ready to open to the public, but they have begun a private beta test three months after a launch event in mid-September.

Several restaurants are planning first-quarter 2017 openings. Morsey’s is a new cafe focused on introducing Californians to buffalo milk. Long cherished in Italy, south Asia and the Mediterranean for its taste and low cholesterol, the buffalo milk will be processed near the Morseys’ own dairy farm in the Davis area before making its way to 134 Main St., the space previously occupied by Main Street Cafe & Books for a decade.

Byington Winery plans to open a tasting room at 366 Main St., the former site of Therapy. Showcasing wines from their vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Byington representatives hope to sell memberships as well as wines up and down the Peninsula.

Andrew Welch plans to open ASA at 242 State St., the modern steel-and-glass space which won an award this year for its Olson Kundig-designed guillotine window.

Welch aims to build off the success of The Basin, his Saratoga restaurant featuring French and Italian dishes, by focusing on sustainability and an “honest” approach.

The scaffolding is finally off Hiroshi, the new Japanese restaurant at 328 Main St., former home to Dean’s Designs. The facade’s rusted-metal sheets stand out in the “village” feel of downtown. The restaurant promises high-end Japanese cuisine.


LACI Solicits Feedback On Park

Posted on November 11, 2016 by  
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laci-open-houseLos Altos Community Investments (LACI) held an open house Nov. 2 to discuss its planned green space on First Street in downtown Los Altos.  According to Sares Regis, a developer working with LACI, 95 people stopped by to share input with designers and developers, snack on appetizers and informally vote on amenities they would like to see in the proposed half-acre park.

LACI displayed several boards featuring different descriptors for the park, which would cover the portion of Parking Plaza North that fronts First Street. They asked questions such as “What character would you like to see in the Green?” or “What passive amenities would you like to see in the Green?” with options listed including “outdoor living room,” “dog walk” and “charging stations and Wi-Fi.”

“I used up all but six of my stickers,” said Los Altos resident Harry Guy of LACI’s voting process.  The retired engineer and lead emergency preparedness volunteer said he was excited to see that the plans promised something a bit more than a communal lawn. “We don’t need a bunch of grass, because of the water (consumption),” said Guy, expressing optimism that landscape architects Joni L. Janecki & Associates would install something more drought-resistant.

Janecki & Associates designed the David and Lucile Packard Foundation grounds and De Anza College’s sunken garden. Brad Jacobson of EHDD architects is another veteran of the Packard Foundation project on Second Street. “Residents were open to solutions that help solve problems the town has,” Jacobson said of the Packard Foundation headquarters. “There was a way to bridge the charm … with a forward-looking aesthetic. It’s not either-or. There’s a lot to learn from both sides.”

Many Los Altos residents were enthusiastic about the potential project. Ron Labetich, a longtime real estate broker in the city, dubbed the park a “great idea.” Maddy McBirney, a member of the Los Altos Public Arts Commission, said, it was “awesome.” McBirney added that she thought it was an inspiration for some of Los Altos’ other underused spaces, like the Veterans Community Plaza.

Others were skeptical about how the park could change the existing fabric of Los Altos. Guy, who was excited about the park itself, was more nervous about the changing face of First Street – particularly the old home now containing Bumble. It was the residence of Los Altos’ first librarian and is seen by many Los Altos residents, like Guy, as a landmark.


Kelly Snider, managing director of LACI, said all critiques are being taken into account. “We are just beginning to consider the size and design of the proposed park, the types of features and elements the park could contain, and the type of programming it could host,” she said. “We are seeking input from everyone in the community and are happy to meet and discuss with anyone who is interested.”


Nature Inspires Work Of Artists Exhibition

Posted on July 6, 2016 by  
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%22Forest Jewel” by Nicole JakabyVIEWPOINTS GALLERY

Viewpoints Gallery has scheduled “Hemispheres,” an exhibition of watercolor work by artist Veronica Gross, through July 30 at the gallery, 315 State St., Los Altos.

Transparent watercolors are Gross’ primary medium, according to the artist. She prefers the inspirational immediacy of plein-air painting. She is most inspired, she said, when engaged in outdoor activities such as traveling, backpacking, hiking and skiing. Gross captures all of these themes in “Hemispheres.”

Gross’ paintings are informed by her recent travels.

Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

For more information on the artist, visit: veronicagrossart.com

For more information on the exhibition, call 941-5789 or visit: viewpointsgallery.com


Nicole Jakaby is slated to exhibit her recent oil paintings through July 31 at Gallery 9, 143 Main St., Los Altos.

Jakaby is a local artist whose passion is bringing paintings of nature to life through color, detail and depth. Jakaby said she wants to share with viewers of her paintings the “pop” of light and color that captured her eye and made “time stand still.”

“My earliest memories of art are of the trompe l’oeil paintings by William Hartnett that I saw at the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco, where I grew up,” she said. “I remember looking at that painting of the heavy wooden door hung with hunting items – so real that I felt I could reach out and touch the fur or the feathers of the game hanging from the door. … Those paintings that touched me so have inspired me to want to touch viewers of my paintings in the same way.”

Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

For more information on the artist, visit: nicolejakaby.com

For more information on the exhibition, call 941-7969 or visit: gallery9losaltos.com


Vintner Keeps Winemaking A Family Affair

Posted on June 8, 2016 by  
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Winemaker’s wife and sonThe wine business is often a family business, with multigenerational hands wielding blades when it comes time to harvest, and in-laws and nieces enjoying first samples of a given year’s yield. Labels and vines are passed from mothers to sons and fathers to daughters.

The all-in-the-family focus is a great thing for wine drinkers, because the love these families share is evident in the wines they produce.

I recently met a local, family-centric winemaker at Honcho, the new wine bar in downtown Los Altos. John Benedetti of Sante Arcangeli Family Wines was hanging out at Honcho that night – his wines are featured on the lounge’s menu.

Our conversation about winemaking quickly became a chat about kids. John is a dad. Talking about his wines and his son produced the same wide smile and excited twinkle in his eyes.

“I used to work in high-tech,” shared Benedetti, adding that a primary reason for selling his tech business and making the leap to full-time winemaker was to focus on work that was more inclusive of his young son and family.

In celebration of Father’s Day, I asked Benedetti about how family influences his wines.

“Being a dad is a huge part of what I’m doing,” he said.

He explained that he’s working to build something his son, Lucca, will someday want to be a part of. While his son may be too young to fully appreciate what Benedetti is creating, after one taste of his well-balanced Split Rail Pinot Noir, it’s easy to imagine that his extended family is proud of what he is achieving.

“My dad gets involved, too,” Benedetti said. “He’s 83 now but can still shovel grapes when harvest comes around. It’s hard to make him sit down, actually. I’m often worried he’ll overwork. He and my mom show up at the winery all the time to help out and provide moral support.”

While there are key milestones in the year of a winemaker, such as harvest and bottling, it is a career with few days off. In addition to making Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and a Rosé of Pinot Noir under his Pescadero-based Sante Arcangeli label, Benedetti serves as a winemaker for several other local producers.

“It’s a career I love and one that usually loves me back,” he said.

For those celebrating their fathers by grilling outdoors this Father’s Day, Benedetti recommends his Mardikian Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast/Green Valley), which can be ordered online at santewinery.com.

“The white pepper in the Mardikian begs for savory food, and the wine is big enough to hold its own against richer foods,” he said.

If you’re taking your dad out on the town the Saturday before Father’s Day, visit Honcho at 235 First St. for a glass of Sante Arcangeli’s local Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation Blend. Benedetti said the wine has wonderful structure and acidity.

For a family day trip beyond Los Altos’ bounds, the Sante Arcangeli tasting room at 216 Stage Road perches just over the hills at the heart of Pescadero.

Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, visit: sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com


Los Altos’ K-9 Has His Day Downtown

Posted on May 17, 2016 by  
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Los Altos Police K-9The Los Altos Police Department’s K-9, Lord, has a bulletproof vest, car heat-alert system and trauma kit. His handler, Officer Julie Tannock, said the equipment protects them both – as well as the public. She’s used the K-9 trauma kit, for instance, on people requiring immediate medical attention.

“It has anything we could need before getting to the doctor or vet,” she said. “I’m lucky to work for a city that takes care of its dogs.”

Not all pups are so fortunate, and that’s where the Police & Working K-9 Foundation comes in. The nonprofit organization’s “Cover Your K-9” project provides lifesaving equipment for California police and working dogs. To raise funds for other working animals, Lord will have his day during a meet-and-greet 2:30-4:30 p.m. May 21 at the plaza outside Enchanté Boutique Hotel, 1 Main St.

“It’s one way to use our community plaza to have positive events,” said hotelier Abigail Ahrens.

The family-friendly fundraiser will feature photos with Lord and handouts of free police trading cards, giveaways from Petco, donation incentives at downtown’s Posh Pooch Portraits and advice from Fuzzy-Wolf canine behaviorist Jimi Dixon. Organizers request that it be a people-only event.

During Lord’s day, Tannock will address the German shepherd’s initial and ongoing training as a public servant. She explained that K-9s are “locating tools” to track people, drugs and bombs.

“They’re not attack dogs,” she said. “We use their noses to help us do our jobs.”

Lord is now 9 years old. Tannock anticipates that he’ll be on the job for another couple of years. Once he retires, Tannock as handler will be responsible for his medical bills. The Police & Working K-9 Foundation has that covered, too, with $1,000 toward emergency medical care for retired dogs.

For more information on the meet-and-greet event, call Enchanté Boutique Hotel at 946-2000.  For more information on the Police & Working K-9 Foundation, visit: coveryourk9.com


Friendship At Fine Art In The Park

Posted on May 2, 2016 by  
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2016 Fine Art in the ParkThey first met two years ago at the Rotary Club of Los Altos’ Fine Art in the Park event.

Los Altos Hills resident Terenia Offenbacker is an accomplished painter who studied art education and art history at universities in Europe. Nicolas Bremeau, a curious then-10-year-old boy, was entranced by her paintings and stopped to study them one-by-one.

Offenbacker and Nicolas instantly connected. Offenbacker saw in him a yearning to experience art and invited him to her studio.

When they arrived for their first visit, Nicolas and his mother, Nancy Bremeau, were captivated by Offenbacker’s glass-enclosed, sun-drenched studio. The artist’s works were lined up against the glass, one after the other.

“Her work is about beautiful color and forms – the mixed media she uses makes for expressive works of art, including her integrated use of copper, wood, fabric and text,” Bremeau said. “Her paintings are almost never flat but have ‘profiles,’ and many are 3-dimensional.”

According to Bremeau, the way Offenbacker integrates various media into the paintings makes them “almost sculptural.”

“Some are compelling in an almost primordial way, while others, particularly her Modigliani-inspired portraits are incredibly sophisticated,” Bremeau added. “Many of her paintings are finished with a beautiful, glossy surface, making them glow and shine in various light.”

As Offenbacker explained the process she uses for her creations, Nicolas became increasingly fascinated. He tentatively started to describe what he saw in each painting, gaining confidence by talking with Offenbacker as he explored the studio and her artwork.

The two of them – the artist and the boy – formed an almost immediate friendship.

Offenbacker offered to teach Nicolas about painting, and the two began working together over the summer. The artist shared her experience and personal philosophy about art and why it is an integral part of her life and her very being. Nicolas, who listened intently and watched as she worked, created two works of his own under her guidance.

Offenbacker has exhibited for several years at Fine Art in the Park. She will participate in this year’s event, scheduled 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. May 14 and 15 in Lincoln Park, University Avenue at Foothill Expressway, Los Altos.

For more information on Offenbacker, visit: tereniaoffenbacker.com

For more information on Fine Art in the Park, visit: rotaryartshow.com


Pet Parade Set Downtown May 14th

Posted on May 1, 2016 by  
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A decked-out YorkieThe Kiwanis Club of Los Altos has scheduled its 69th annual Kiwanis Pet Parade 10 a.m. May 14 in downtown Los Altos.

The event showcases pets marching or being toted down Main and State streets, accompanied by their owners. Paul and Liz Nyberg, who own and publish the Los Altos Town Crier, will serve as this year’s grand marshals.

“Their community spirit and dedication to Los Altos through the Town Crier is reflected weekly by the quality of the paper,” said longtime Kiwanis Club member Karen Smith. “It is most fitting to have them as grand marshals this year.”

The first Pet Parade took place in 1947, five years before the city of Los Altos was incorporated. Over the years, it has become a spring tradition that attracts thousands of children and a range of pets – from cats and dogs to snails and llamas – parading on foot, on horseback, in wagons and on bicycles.

Representatives from local bands, schools and community groups will join the procession. Online registration to participate is open through Friday, May 6th. Although the club prefers online registration, no one who wants to march in the parade will be turned away.

Kiwanis Club volunteers clad in yellow T-shirts will accommodate marchers on parade day. For more information, visit: losaltoskiwanis.org


Successful First Year For Enchanté

Posted on April 4, 2016 by  
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Enchante Boutique HotelA year after opening the doors to Enchanté Boutique Hotel, proprietor Abigail Ahrens has her eyes on its renaissance.

“My job is to keep coming up with things that would have the community involved and make a difference,” said the longtime Los Altos resident and lifelong Francophile.

Styled with her collection of antiques, Ahrens’ hotel features 19 guest rooms ranging from $300 to $675 per night, as well as a canine concierge service, a public outdoor plaza and a bistro serving light afternoon fare. Beginning April 10, the bistro opens for Sunday brunch.

“It’s all about the comfort of the guests,” said assistant general manager Paula Nicolas. “What’s unique about this property is that it really feels like you’re staying in the guest rooms of an estate.”

Nicolas should know. The Los Altos native lived for a year with a family in the south of France, where she hoped eventually to work. And then she came home.

Before Enchanté, the triangular parcel at the corner of San Antonio Road and Main Street sat empty for 20 years. Developers planned an office building until Ahrens saw it as the ideal location for her boutique hotel.

Ahrens envisioned her business as a way to reinvest in the city – and in a way she thought would be familiar. Visitors frequently inquired about short-term rentals, and she began to consider the idea of opening a hotel.

The hotel stands as a gift to Los Altos, providing transient occupancy taxes in perpetuity. The aficionado of all things French sold her residence and spent three years gathering the artwork, fabrics and furnishings to add to her personal collection, such as the French farm table grounding the bistro.

The hotel’s 15 employees include management with experience at luxury hospitality companies – Nicolas from Four Seasons and general manager Josh Steinhart from Rosewood.

And the small-business structure enables Enchanté to cater to its visitors. If a guest makes a special request, a staff member can walk to the grocery store and purchase the item.

Of all the requests and queries Ahrens’ has received this year, food service has topped the list. The hotel’s executive chef Jaime Arteaga cooks up banquets for special events alongside candlelit dinners for two. In August last year, confusion over the hotel’s food service permit prompted a monthlong public review and city council vote to allow the business to serve patrons beyond its guests during select hours.

Ahrens developed the outdoor public plaza in exchange for an incentive of no onsite parking.  Looking toward the future, Ahrens plans to provide a “Suite Ride” concierge with luxury car rentals to and from the hotel. As to edible offerings, the hotel will add special-occasion high-tea events in addition to the weekly brunch.

For more information, visit: enchantehotel.com



Using Only The Finest Ingredients

Posted on March 2, 2016 by  
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Chef Nobu Hoyo of Voyageur du TempsLos Altos has its own resident artisan baker crafting handmade Japanese and French breads and pastries at Voyageur du Temps, the Craftsman-style former railroad station on First Street.

Chef Nobu Hoyo arrives seven hours before customers enter Voyageur’s front door at opening time. If one walks past the curbside kitchen window in the dark hours between midnight and sunrise, Hoyo and his staff are in full swing, music pumping, fully engrossed in an early-morning dance of whisking, rolling, patting, spreading, shaping and baking fresh daily Voyageur creations. Hoyo’s pride of product is like that of a father for his offspring. His Instagram feed is rich with photos presenting beautifully crafted pastries and bread captioned with the loving moniker “my babies.”

Hoyo’s passion for bread began early, while still in his first career as a professional soccer player for Team Bellmare from the coastal town of Hiratsuka, Japan. When the team was on tour in Japan and Europe, Hoyo could be found studying the bread making of renowned bakeries in his free time, eventually forsaking soccer balls for French boules.

Hoyo has spent 10 years practicing and refining his baking skills, training in both Tokyo and Paris. Those early years of the disciplined practice and rigor of professional soccer taught him never to give up. His first reward for his hard work came in 2007, when he received the Special Judges Prize from the California Raisin Committee for his pastry recipe using raisins. In 2009, he received an outstanding performance award for his bread recipe in a contest sponsored by Nisshin Flour Milling. In March 2014, Voyageur du Temps opened with Hoyo at the helm, simultaneously fulfilling his dream of living in California.

Hoyo’s small-batch specialties are masterpieces of thoughtful blueprinting. He uses organic eggs and blends several types of flours to achieve the best flavor. His flours are imported from Rogers Foods in Canada, which prides itself on natural, whole-grain flour products produced without the use of food additives or genetically modified organisms.


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