Chef Jessica Yarr opens The Grove Breakfast and Lunch Cafe in the Heart of Downtown Felton
By Mat Weir / Photo credit: Molly Gilholm at Golden West Photography
“My community just kept calling me and I no longer felt like I could ignore it,” explains Chef Jessca Yarr. “I either had to dive all-in or give up and do the corporate thing. I just wasn’t fitting in anymore.”
We’re sitting underneath a pop-up tent on a crisp, Felton morning as redwood trees tower above. She’s telling me about her conscious decision to transcend the corporate ladder, giving up financial security–and the prestige that comes with it–as Executive Chef at the Adobe campus, in order to persue her passion.
“I am certainly investing in myself right now, it’s a lot,” she laughs.
It’s a move that continues to pay off for herself and the Santa Cruz community, considering she’s the chef behind the wildly successful Chicken Foot pop-up–which now resides Thursday – Saturday from 5-9pm in the ul.te.ri.or. speakeasy on Pearl Alley above Motiv in Downtown Santa Cruz–along with the Brunch Shift (Sundays 10:30 am -2:30 pm also at ul.te.ri.or). Prior to the corporate life, Yarr made a name for herself as the pastry chef at Penny Ice Creamery and Gabriella Café as well as head chef at the now defunct, Assembly.
Her latest dividend is the brand new, brick-and-mortar restaurant, The Grove, which opens today, March 10 in the heart of Downtown Felton. It’s a full-circle return for the multi-talented chef who grew up in Felton, started her career at the age of 15 at Mountain Roasting. Her parents also own the Big Foot Discovery Museum, just down the road from The Grove on Highway 9.
It’s a fitting name because, afterall, what is a grove but a community of trees?
“There’s nobody else doing this concept in the entire valley,” she says of her new venture. “It’s a cafe first, and bakery second. We will be baking all the bread we’re serving for our toasts and sandwiches.”
Unlike Chicken Foot, The Grove is a breakfast and lunch eatery featuring cafe staples like avocado toast, sandwiches, soups and salads. However, it will be similar to Chicken Foot by following Yarr’s “plant-forward” model, meaning roughly 80 percent of the menu is plant-based.
For example, take her Smoked Beet Reuben on Mountain Rye Bread. Thinly shaved red beets, crusted in peppercorn and pastrami seasoning are roasted, smoked and then stacked high on rye with all the fixings of a classic, deli reuben sandwich.
The breakfast menu features definitive staples like breakfast burritos, jam pinwheel scones with wheat from the Pie Ranch in Pescadero, and Yarr’s famous, house-made granola–which can also be purchased to take home in an eco-friendly mason jar.
But don’t worry omnivores, plant-forward does not mean vegetarian.
“We will be serving turkey bacon, turkey sausage and daily specials,” divulges Yarr. “I will throw things on the menu like tri-tip sandwiches and chicken, bacon avocado sandwiches and the turkey brie sandwich with pickled onions on homemade ciabatta.”
To wash it all down, The Grove supports an extensive libations menu in the afternoon featuring natural wines and an assortment of curated mocktails. For beer lovers, cans of Humble Sea Brewing Co. beer–The Grove’s neighbors just down the block–are available.
Breakfast patrons can indulge their taste buds with drinking chocolate, frothy matcha beverages, slow-poured loose leaf teas brewed to specific temperatures as well as cold brew and pour over coffee.
Just don’t call it a coffee shop.
“Our neighbors next door [White Raven] is a coffee shop,” she says. “If people want quick serve, grab and go, coffee they’re going to go next door. We’re going to do what I call a ‘slow beverage’ program that will take time for people who want to appreciate something that’s crafted.”
True to Yarr’s roots and brand, The Grove features locally sourced produce and ingredients from Live Earth Farms, Pajaro Pastures, Ground Swell Farms and more. The coffee is supplied by fellow pop-up, Coffee Conspiracy, who also trained staff on proper brewing and pouring techniques. The natural wines come from the distinguished Apéro Club. Even the promotion, art work and branding are locally sourced by Collective Santa Cruz and Blind the Sun.
“My line is sourcing seasonally, locally and organic whenever possible,” she declares.
Meat options, vegetarian items and gluten free treats all represent a level of inclusivity that Yarr strives for with each of her menus which she learned on a large scale while at Adobe.
Along with her quality food, it’s Yarr’s entrepreneurship that continues to drive her forward at an amazing rate.
In addition to her three different food programs, she’s been quietly expanding her empire to the broadcast world. While she can’t give specifics at the moment, she says to watch out for her on some upcoming Food Network projects.
“My goal is to be the Millennial Julia Child,” Yarr laughs.
It’s this degree of excellence that made her the recipient of Event Santa Cruz’s “Foodie of the Year” for the 2023 NEXTies, to be given at the March 31 award ceremony.
Yet, despite the accolades and praise, this local chef keeps herself rooted and recognizes she can’t do it alone.
“I’ve created a community around food that’s attracted incredibly talented, dedicated employees,” she admits.
“I have an amazing team. People want to work for us,” she pauses before adding with a laugh. “It’s probably the jumpsuits, we love a great outfit!”
The Grove opens today, Friday, March 10 from 2-6pm with a limited menu for the first weekend. Regular hours will start next week and will be closed on Tuesdays so industry staff and customers with long weekends can enjoy a Monday meal.