About an hour and a half north of San Francisco lies the little town of Guerneville. The beautiful Russian River cuts through the town, which is surrounded by lush redwood forest. Stuffed with cute little shops and restaurants, it has become a popular spot for more than just the gorgeous scenery.
And it continues to flourish. With BROT, her new restaurant, which opened this summer, I reached out to Crista Luedtke. She is the force behind many of the businesses that have contributed to Guerneville’s popularity. Somehow, despite running a fleet of restaurants, hotels, and shops, and managing the opening of BROT, she found some time for me.
Coming to Sonoma…
Luedtke’s career got its start in San Francisco, but eventually she decided to invest in the then-sleepy vacation town of Guerneville. “I had criteria for my business plan,” she says, and then ticks them off. “Within two hours of San Francisco, in wine country, and affordable.” Prices had risen across much of wine country, and Luedtke was feeling priced out of more mainstream areas like Napa. “I had always been attracted to the many features of the Guerneville/river area and I knew that the wine craze would spill over into this amazing destination.”
… and Bringing the World with Her
Luedtke grew up in the restaurant business and learned how to cook from her talented mother. She combined this background with her traveling experiences to create unique dishes. When asked about culinary experiences on her travels, she says “I love everything I try as it talks to the culture of the people in those places. I think one thing I have been enamored with the most is Mole, and the complexity and the history behind such an amazing sauce.” She adds that she would love to travel to Greece and Morocco next. It’s tough to keep up.
Luedtke’s food is marbled with these cultural inspirations. From the flavorful Mexican dishes at El Barrio to the southern style biscuits at Big Bottom Market, everything is grounded in a place. BROT, her new restaurant, is inspired by her German heritage, and its menu will feature dishes that were served at her parents’ bierhalle.
Guerneville has definitely experienced a boom thanks in part to Luedtke’s unique restaurants (as well as other non-restaurant Luedtke businesses like the Boon Hotel+Spa) She is very grateful for the many connections she has made through her journey. She says “There are so many amazing companies I partner with, from wineries to cheese makers to farmers and chefs.”
While Guerneville has experienced a lot of growth over the years, there have also been some setbacks. In the 2017 fires and the recent floods, many of Luedtke’s staff lost their homes and business was heavily impacted. “It’s been tough climbing back out,” she comments “but we have a very supportive community and clientele.”
Taken to Some Surprising Places
Luedtke’s work has not only helped put Guerneville on the map, it has led to some amazing opportunities. She says “I think the one connection that was most surprising was the opportunity to meet and work with Guy Fieri in various capacities. First as a chef contestant on his show Guy’s Grocery Games, then to cook with him during fire relief efforts, now as a culinary judge.”
We are excited to see what happens next for this small-town visionary. For now, we’re definitely celebrating the opening of BROT – which opened on Memorial Day Weekend. You can follow the restaurant’s progress on their website and on social media – Facebook and twitter: @brotguerneville, or Instagram: @brot_guerneville.