Farwood Bar and Grill in Orland
Seated at a four-top on a busy Tuesday night, LeighAnn recounts the journey that has taken her from being a Southern California transplant happily homeschooling her three children to being interviewed for a magazine as waitstaff hustle to attend to customers that are streaming in to fill surrounding tables.
It started with a small catering business that LeighAnn ran from her house. With her husband Jim off teaching in a special education program, she enjoyed taking on small jobs through word of mouth that stoked her creative fires and brought in extra money. When the Glenn County Chamber of Commerce put out a call for bids for a 200-person dinner, she offered the idea of a farmers’ market theme, using the bounty of the region’s agricultural producers.
The successful bid sent her into a frenzy, getting to know area farmers and ranchers from a list provided by the UC Davis agriculture extension office. While the project proved to be bigger than she anticipated, it also gave her appreciation for the community in which she’d recently settled. “I came up north and thought, ‘There is all this bounty right here,’” she says.
The successful event brought her skills to the attention of Farwood’s original owners, Bob and Jan Walker, who asked her to consult in April 2008. The business was struggling. Quickly, she found herself managing the front of the house. She’d never managed a restaurant and never worked in a professional kitchen. “I was in way over my head,” she admits.
And yet, there was something about the Farwood that was taking hold in her as well as the community. It was becoming the gathering place they’d dreamed of. Through ups and downs, people were finding comfort, whether at the gloriously restored wooden bar crafted in the 1800s in England and delivered via a San Francisco bar in 1916 to Orland, or at a table in the dining area featuring a large collection of original art.
By November 2008, she and Jim went out on a limb to purchase the restaurant. LeighAnn emphasizes, however, that the resurrection of the business was at the hands of many, including a dedicated staff. “Everyone was invested in saving the restaurant,” she says. “It wasn’t just one. It was the whole team fighting to keep it alive.”
She recalls shopping for supplies and receiving a call from the bookkeeper that a 24-hour cut off notice had been received from PG&E. The supplies would have to go on her personal credit card to allow the business to keep the lights on. Persevere they did.
LeighAnn and her staff have decided to be “all things to all people” and create an environment — and dishes — that appeal to everyone. There isn’t a particular look to the customers that frequent Farwood, and that’s by design. The population of Glenn County is just over 28,000 and Orland isn’t even the county seat. The business can’t be sustained by one demographic.
There are the local farmers and ranchers who “work hard all day and show up in work clothes and just want a steak,” says LeighAnn. They may well be seated next to the vegans from the animal sanctuary down the way.
There are families who enjoy a safe place to bring kids and seniors who receive a discount at lunch.
Then there are the foodies, who come from near and far. “They’re coming because they care about the farm-to-fork movement and they care about presentation.”
LeighAnn’s experience with the farmers’ market dinner for the Chamber of Commerce has expanded into the overarching theme of Farwood: fine, fresh, local food.
Each year, the restaurant hosts a monthly tasting series that has become a favorite event for regional foodies. More than an opportunity to taste food and drink from area producers, it’s a chance to get to know the people behind the businesses. It’s storytelling.
“It’s a matchmaking event because hopefully our customers are falling in love with their products,” says LeighAnn. “We talk and taste all together. It’s very communal. You get immersed in these particular vendors.” As she talks of the events, LeighAnn’s warm face broadens into a smile and you can tell she relishes “creating a platform for them to tell their story.”
The story of Farwood continues, with all the ups and downs of the restaurant business in a struggling economy. But things are looking up and customers are walking through the door from further away, based on word-of-mouth recommendations. For LeighAnn, the experience is pulled together by a single thread. “It’s redemption,” she says. “It’s taking something that is in the ashes, that’s absolutely hopeless and breathing new life into it. That concept means absolutely everything to me.” •
Farwood Bar and Grill • 705 5th Street, Orland (530) 865-9900 • www.farwoodbarandgrill.com