The Cooking Ladies

The San Benito County Experience Is Personal

Some residents in San Benito County, California, have lived there all their lives. Some who were born there left for a while but eventually returned to their roots. New homeowners choose San Benito County because the area offers them the lifestyle they were seeking.

Picket fence beauty in Downtown Hollister

Picket fence beauty in Downtown Hollister

There are two towns in San Benito County, Hollister, and San Juan Bautista.

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez greets San Benito County visitors on his lunch break

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez greets San Benito County visitors on his lunch break

Hollister has all the amenities of a modern city.

Mission San Juan Bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista

Looking over the row crops from Mission San Juan Bautista

Looking over the row crops from Mission San Juan Bautista

The historic buildings of San Juan Bautista are adjacent to Mission San Juan Bautista, the largest church on the California Mission Trail.

Country roads, rolling hills and vineyards

Country roads, rolling hills and vineyards

Outside the towns, country roads curve around rolling hills. Vineyards and row crops share space with cattle ranches.

San Benito County business owners sustain, promote, and share their uniquely urban and rural, historic and modern lifestyle. Every business has a story.

Dianne Hampton tending the brick oven at San Juan Bakery

Dianne Hampton tending the brick oven at San Juan Bakery

In San Juan Bautista, just a stroll away from the mission, Dianne Hampton and her son Jesse run the San Juan Bakery. In the afternoons, Dianne fires up her 1938 brick oven with a blow torch to build the proper temperatures for baking early the following morning. Like snowflakes, every handcrafted pastry and bread is unique. The original starter for the sourdough bread dates back to the 1820s.

Sign depicting Al Castaneda's beloved grandmother

Sign depicting Al Castaneda’s beloved grandmother

Al Castaneda arrived in San Juan Bautista from Mexico City in 1952. He made a promise to himself that if an opportunity arose, he would open a restaurant in honor of his humble grandmother who raised him. She loved to cook.

Al Castaneda and his grandson

Al Castaneda and his grandson

Dona Esther was voted the best Mexican restaurant in San Benito County.

San Juan Bautista councillor Chris Martorana

San Juan Bautista councillor Chris Martorana

Chris Martorana, a California native, moved to San Juan Bautista and soon after got involved in his community by running for and winning the position of city councilor. When he isn’t working on city planning or Neighborhood Watch and other committees, he stops by the San Juan Bakery to indulge in Bavarian cream filled donut holes. When travel writers arrive, he makes time to show them around his town, producing archive photos of existing buildings that have changed little over the years.

Chicken, beef, and ribs on Mansmith's BBQ grate

Chicken, beef, and ribs on Mansmith’s BBQ grate

Every Friday, in Hollister, the smoke and aromas wafting from Mike Mansmith’s open grill and food truck remind everyone that it is time for lunch.

Mike Mansmith

Mike Mansmith

Mike lights his oak logs in the morning, loads his giant grates with beef, ribs, and chicken, and by noon, he is serving up mouth-watering plates with butter-dripping garlic bread.

Mansmith spices and special sauce

Mansmith spices and special sauce

Mike’s non-secret is his seasoning – award winning natural sauces and spices created locally by his parents.

The original Casa de Fruta fruit stand

The original Casa de Fruta fruit stand

Over 100 years ago, Italian immigrants planted orchards in the Pacheco Valley. Thirty years later Clara Zanger encouraged her young sons to expand their operation. They were running a small fruit stand.

Casa de Fruta - a California landmark

Casa de Fruta – a California landmark

Today, four generations forward, Casa de Fruta is a California landmark.

Italian carousel at Casa de Fruta

Italian carousel at Casa de Fruta

Casa de Fruta is the place to go for fruit and vegetables, fruit wines, candy, or a meal, all within a family-oriented Disney-type experience.

Mari and Jim Rossi - B & R Farms

Mari and Jim Rossi – B & R Farms

At B & R Farms, Mari and Jim Rossi and their son Brian are the third and fourth generations of family to work hard to prevent the precious Blenheim apricot from disappearing. A bite into either a fresh, or dried, Blenheim is refreshing, intense, and at the same time comfortably sweet.

Blenheim apricot products at B & R Farms

Blenheim apricot products at B & R Farms

From the moment of being a blossom on a tree to being harvested, sorted, dried, and packaged for the home table, the fruit is fragile. Mid-summer, with the farm working at peak levels, young members of the fifth generation of the family put on their aprons and join in.

Intensely flavored Blenheim apricot pie made with dried apricots

Intensely flavored Blenheim apricot pie made with dried apricots

Paine's restaurant sign lights the way to a good meal in Hollister

Paine’s restaurant sign lights the way to a good meal in Hollister

John Kouretas

John Kouretas

John Kouretas, the owner of Paine’s restaurant in Hollister, immigrated from Greece when he was in his teens. He has worked at every capacity in the food service industry since then, from dishwasher to chef. John was the first to bring lightly breaded, so-tender-it-can-be-cut with-a-fork calamari to Hollister menus. It is impossible for him to slip from the kitchen into the dining room without being noticed. His guests always want to say hello.

Kathina Szeto at San Benito Bene gift shop

Kathina Szeto at San Benito Bene gift shop

Kathina at San Benito Bene collaborates with local artisans. The products on her shelves tell the San Benito County story. Organic salves for hard working hands. Mansmith spices. Flavored oils, natural raw honey, and hand crafted wood products created by a local rancher when he isn’t out in the fields.

Tricia & Greg Harvey - The Joshua Inn

Tricia & Greg Harvey – The Joshua Inn

Because Tricia and Greg Harvey always enjoyed bed and breakfast accommodations when they traveled, they decided to own one.

The Joshua Inn, a Victorian home

The Joshua Inn, a Victorian home

At The Joshua Inn in Hollister, Greg and Tricia combine southern hospitality with good breakfast experiences and Victorian ambiance.

Freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast at The Joshua Inn

Freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast at The Joshua Inn

Oranges grow in the backyard for morning juice. The dinner bell often performs double duty as a wine bell.

Mike Fisher's catering kitchen is located at DeRose Vineyards

Mike Fisher’s catering kitchen is located at DeRose Vineyards

Mike Fisher is a chef who provides personalized chef services and custom catering. His personal style is to utilize, and at the same time impress people with, San Benito County bounty. He seasons salads and vegetables with fresh herbs picked from a garden outside his kitchen. Grapewood and oak from nearby vineyards and ranches bring flavors to his grill.

Marianne & Gary Miller - Suncoast Organic Farms

Marianne & Gary Miller – Suncoast Organic Farms

Suncoast Organic Farm is more than a solar, organic, sustainable farm with fruit trees, acres of vegetables, and a citrus garden. Gary and Marianne Miller and family also operate a bakery where organic grains are ground into flour for over 20 varieties of artisan bread.

Bread coming out of the wood fired oven at Suncoast Organic Farms

Bread coming out of the wood fired oven at Suncoast Organic Farms

Breads, pastries, and granola are lovingly baked in a wood-fired oven. Friends, family, and customers drop by to drink coffee and visit while their bread order browns in the fire.

Bolado Park Event Center

Bolado Park Event Center

South of Hollister, Donnette Carter is the fair manager and CEO of the Bolado Park Event Center, a multi-faceted facility surrounded by country charm and old oak trees.

Donnette Carter, CEO and Fair Manager at the Bolado Park Event Center

Donnette Carter, CEO and Fair Manager at the Bolado Park Event Center

Recently arrived, Donnette is the creative energy behind upcoming renovations. If she isn’t behind her desk she is out on her golf cart working with neighbors, volunteers, and professionals to get the job done.

Mary & Mike Howard in The Wine Room with The Cooking Ladies at The Inn Tres Pinos

Mary & Mike Howard in The Wine Room with The Cooking Ladies at The Inn Tres Pinos

Mike and Mary Howard are the proprietors of The Inn Tres Pinos. There is a well-deserved sense of pride in the word proprietor. Mike left San Benito County to study hotel and restaurant administration in Las Vegas and Switzerland, work in hotel chains in Hawaii and California. Finally, his dream of owning his own restaurant came to fruition in Tres Pinos.

The Inn Tres Pinos offers upscale continental cuisine in a rustic building that was once a stagecoach stop and brothel. A sign over the bar, 711 Morgan, is the address in Hollister where Mike grew up.

Juli Vieira with The Cooking Ladies

Juli Vieira with The Cooking Ladies

Juli Vieira is recognized wherever she goes. Her family has been ranching near Hollister for generations. It was very natural that she recently became President and CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce.

Juli knows that if someone in her community requires help with anything – from fundraising to plain old rolling up sleeves and pitching in –  all she has to do is make a few phone calls. San Benito County business owners are there for her.

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