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2014 BEST Business Restaurant: John Ash & Co.

Author: Julie Fadda Powers
May, 2014 Issue

“Chef Thomas Schmidt is always looking at the best way to pair his food with wine.” —Percy Brandon

At John Ash & Co., the employees really do celebrate everything—they’ve even trademarked the phrase. Now that’s commitment.
“Commitment to excellence is what we foster with our staff,” says Percy Brandon, general manager of the Vintners Inn property in Santa Rosa, where John Ash & Co. is located. A native of Lima, Peru, Brandon has been with the company since August 2000, when he left Napa Valley Grille to become general manager of the restaurant. Owned by Don and Rhonda Carano (of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards), it moved to its current location in 1985 from its original spot in Montgomery Village, where it opened in 1980. And while Chef John Ash is no longer involved operationally (he’s now an educator and consultant), he continues to represent the restaurant worldwide.
The restaurant’s seasonal menu changes regularly. “We’re a showcase of Sonoma County,” says Brandon. “And Chef Thomas Schmidt is always looking at the best way to pair his food with wine, to highlight the wine. He’s awesome about that.”
The onsite culinary garden, overseen by Rhonda Carano and Robert Hornback, continues to expand as well, with vegetables and fruits grown year-round. The property’s extensive landscaping is managed by Julian Wheless. Vintners Inn also makes its own estate olive oil from a one-acre grove (last year, it was awarded double gold at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair).
John Ash & Co. is open seven nights per week, and offers indoor and outdoor seating as well as a beautiful bar and lounge, The Front Room, which was designed by renowned restaurateur, Pat Kuleto. The bar offers a nightly happy hour that’s very popular among people seeking an upscale yet affordable ambiance. You can also get breakfast daily at the Vintners Inn Café, even if you’re not a guest. “We’re constantly reinventing ourselves,” says Brandon. “After 30 years, we’re still at the top of our game. It’s a friendly environment with great food. The team is progressive and understands what the community wants. And there’s a great balance between locals and visitors. We’re busy year-round because of that.” He also mentions that all the company’s managers belong to a community organization in a decision-making position. “It’s another way to stay connected to the community,” he says.
Last year, John Ash & Co. expanded its offsite catering services, with Catering Chef Chris Bialozynski at the helm, under Schmidt’s direction. “It’s a really busy part of the company,” says Brandon, who says it caters both large and small events. One place you can find it this year will be at Rodney Strong Vineyards’ summer concert series. The restaurant also offers several winemaker dinners annually, and recently hosted a beer pairing dinner with Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Deciding what to celebrate at John Ash & Co. is easy. You can even sign up at the restaurant (or online at for its birthday club, and a certificate is sent to you on your birthday month for a free dinner. And last-minute plans are accommodated, too. “John Ash & Co. is one of the few restaurants in the area where, if you call with a same-day reservation for 15 to 20 people, we can likely fit you in. We have the space and it’s another way of supporting local businesses, which often want to hold board meetings or host out-of-town clients here,” says Brandon.
“An immense thank you for your support in voting us BEST Business Restaurant this year and so many years before,” says Brandon. “We truly appreciate your continued belief that we’re the place to celebrate everything—business or not!”



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