Cindy Pawlcyn Podcast 40 MINUTES

A new podcast series from Doug Shafer about the people behind the food and wine you love.

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Doug Shafer and Cindy Pawlcyn

Doug Shafer talks with chef Cindy Pawlcyn, who is credited with launching the current era of Napa Valley’s restaurant scene, when she opened Mustards in 1983. She went on to open Fog City Diner in San Francisco, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena, Calif., and win a James Beard Award for one of her cookbooks.

For more on Cindy Pawlcyn visit: cindypawlcyn.com


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FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Doug:
Well welcome, everyone. This is a momentous day. I am joined by an incredible, wonderful, professional chef who happens to be a very good friend. Cindy Pawlcyn, is here with us today. Thank you for being the first official non-Shafer employee guest on our little podcast thing here.

Cindy:
Oh, I'm so excited. I didn't know I was the first outsider to come in.

Doug:
Yeah, we didn't tell you that ...

Cindy:
That's a big honor.

Doug:
... We'll see how it goes. But we're just going to chit-chat, and take us through the history a little bit. But I'm going to hit you with one off the top here. I read somewhere that you hate to follow recipes. I don't get that, because you're a chef. You're a pro. How does that work?

Cindy:
It's not so much I hate to follow them. It's that I seem to wander off and add additions to it, and changes to it, because when I was writing my cookbooks, my husband would watch me, and say, "That's not what it says here." I'd go, "Well, this is better." If I didn't stop changing it, and making it better, or simpler, or more complicated.

Doug:
He and I are a lot alike. With Annette, at home, I'm like, "You're not following directions ... A new appliance. Read the manual." She goes, "No, I'm fine."

Cindy:
I've got it, yeah.

Doug:
Oh, man, well, we won't go into that.

Cindy:
That's the problem with me and recipes. I also get four and five recipes for the same thing, from different places. I've got over 3,000 cookbooks, so I love to look up all the different recipes I have for cassoulet, and read how everybody does all their cassoulets, and then I go in the kitchen and make cassoulet. But it's all that gained knowledge.

Doug:
Got it. But if you made that cassoulet two weeks later, are you going to do it the same as you did before?

Cindy:
Well, that's the thing. If it's in the restaurant, and it's a menu item, and it's been what we call bingoed, then, we write down everything we've done exactly the right way we've done it. Then, the staff has to follow the recipes, because we love consistency.

Doug:
Got it. Bingoed.

Cindy:
Yeah, bingo dishes.

Doug:
Bingo dishes means that's it.

Cindy:
They've passed the tasting. We do a formal tasting. I don't get to just say, "Here's my dish." We create these dishes, myself, or the chefs, or all of us together. Then, there's a tasting panel. The general manager, Sean, my business partner, and a couple of other people. They sit and try it in the dining room, so it's under the dining room light.

Doug:
Got it.

Cindy:
They see if it works, 'cause it's funny. What works in the kitchen doesn't always work in the dining room. If it's more people tasting it, then you have more people are going to like it.

Doug:
I've had that experience with wine. With Elias, when we're in the lab, tasting our wines, it's sterile. The wine tastes good, so I thought. Then, but if a week later, I'm on the road somewhere, and I'm in a restaurant, I'm in your restaurant, I'm in Mustard's, I'm drinking my wine or anyone else's, it's just a whole different thing.

Cindy:
Isn't it? It makes a big difference, where you are, and the atmosphere, to your sense of smell, and your eyesight, 'cause you eat with your eyes. You drink with your eyes.

Doug:
Restaurants. It's food, it's service, but boy, setting and ambience, a lot to do with it, obviously.

Cindy:
Yeah, I know. We created Mustard's to be live and vibrant, and fun. Kind of a casual place. It's an old building, and it doesn't have great soundproofing. Our biggest complaint is that we're too loud. But I like that energy.

Doug:
Right. No, I like it.

Cindy:
I don't want it to be a place for perfect dining.

Doug:
No. It's more fun.

Cindy:
It's a neighborhood joint.

Doug:
Yeah, yeah.

Cindy:
It's a roadhouse.

Doug:
By the way, it's my neighborhood joint. But you know that.

Cindy:
Thank you. And your dad's.

Doug:
And dad's ... We're both Midwesterners. I'm Chicago, you're Minneapolis.

Cindy:
Minneapolis, but I went to Chicago after college, so I know that town a little bit, too.

Doug:
Okay, that's right. Minneapolis, you grew up. Family, brothers, sisters, parents, the whole thing.

Cindy:
All that stuff ... Dogs ... No cats. We never got to have cats.

Doug:
Were you out in the farmlands, or suburbia?

Cindy:
Well, my dad made potato chips for a living, so we had a potato chip manufacturing plant in the industrial part of Minneapolis. We'd go to work there if we weren't in school a lot. Then, in the summer, we had farms up in North Dakota. Near Fargo in the Red River Valley, with the beautiful dirt, so we went up there a lot.

Doug:
Potato chips.

Cindy:
Yeah. There's a lot of things you can do for a living.

Doug:
That was your-

Cindy:
That's probably one of the things you don't think of.

Doug:
That's cool. That was your summer job?

Cindy:
Oh yeah, putting bags into boxes, boxes into cases, cases down the conveyor belt. Picking out bad chips on the inspection line.

Doug:
Yeah, 'cause they didn't have that [inaudible 00:05:25]-

Cindy:
Eating chips as they come out of the fryer through the salting machine, and they're screaming hot.

Doug:
Oh, my gosh.

Cindy:
Oh my God, there's nothing better.

Doug:
I was going to say ... You do have chips at Mustard's.

Cindy:
Yeah, homemade ones.

Doug:
I know.

Cindy:
That's the reason why.

Doug:
You think the chip thing is where the culinary bug happened? Or not?

Cindy:
All that, and my dad, you couldn't buy him things. You had to make him stuff. My older siblings could always play piano, or draw, 'cause it was at least six to 12 years between us. My mom and dad only had kids every six years. Dad said she could only get pregnant if somebody was in kindergarten, and she'd given away everything. When she died at 95, she still had all my baby clothes. My everything. Didn't give any of it away after me, 'cause she didn't want any more kids.

Doug:
They sold all the stuff, so you had to reboot. Strollers, cribs, the whole nine yards.

Cindy:
All that stuff, she kept after me, 'cause she didn't want to get pregnant again.

Doug:
... That's good ...

Cindy:
She never did. Four kids is enough.

Doug:
Four kids.

Cindy:
But we'd cook for dad, and my mom was a really good cook ... He came over in 1918. She was the first person in her family born in America, so they had that old world Northern European history, and there was dinner every night on the table. We had salads, and vegetables, and starch, and meat.

Doug:
The whole thing.

Cindy:
... Unless we did breakfast for dinner. Then, we'd eat waffles, and bacon, and jam. He had gardens everywhere.

Doug:
Nice. What country? Where did he come from?

Cindy:
He came from Russia.

Doug:
Got it.

Cindy:
He was Russian and Austrian, and my mom was German and Norwegian.

Doug:
I never knew this. I'm so glad you're here.

Cindy:
Yeah, there's things you don't know, but that was my background. Where other kids were getting TV dinners, and Rice-a-Roni, I was getting stuff made from scratch. We had blood sausage for breakfast with our scrambled eggs. That was normal.

Doug:
... I'm in suburban Chicago. I just saw the McDonald's movie the other night. A couple of weeks ago. In fact, I ran into someone at a wine auction last week who knew Ray Kroc.

Cindy:
He was a character.

Doug:
I said, "Hey" ... He said, "He wasn't that. He was tough, but the movie portrayed him as being really hardcore, and he wasn't that bad."

Cindy:
No, he was a really good businessman.

Doug:
Good businessman. But I blew this guy away, because I said, "The first McDonald's, Western Springs, Illinois." The guy goes, "How did you know that?" I said, "I used to go to it." That was the first one, right near. 15 minutes from our house, in Hinsdale. Chicago. He used to take us there once every two weeks. Special treat, going to McDonald's.

Cindy:
Yeah, special treat after school, if you were really good.

Doug:
I didn't like fish until I met my bride, and she told me what fresh fish was all about. My memory of fish was tuna out of a can.

Cindy:
... We were a big fishing family. My dad loved to fish. In Minnesota, there was always a lake to go explore.

Doug:
Did you do the whole ice fishing thing?

Cindy:
Oh, yeah. Did I ever tell you my mom's story?

Doug:
No. That's why you're here.

Cindy:
One year, she called me up, when I was in college. This is an ice fishing, Minnesota story. True it happened. You can look it up in the newspapers. She called me, and she was laughing hysterically. I was like, "Mom, what's going on?" Trying to get her to calm down. She goes, "I'll call you back." She was laughing. Called me back. She was laughing. Three times, she calls me, and finally, she goes, "Well, you know Lake Mille Lacs?" I went, "Yeah, of course I know Lake Mille Lacs." It's January. She starts laughing again. I said, "What happened?" She goes, "They busted a ring of prostitutes on snow mobiles working the ice huts."

Doug:
Working the ice huts?

Cindy:
She goes, "Weren't those smart girls?" I said, "Yeah, until they got busted."

Doug:
Entrepreneurs. I love it.

Cindy:
Isn't that funny?

Doug:
It is funny. Well, it's cold up there and lonely.

Cindy:
Yeah, well, it's fun, in the ice hut, and digging the hole. Sometimes, it would be so cold, you'd have to recrack the ice in your hole.

Doug:
Recrack that.

Cindy:
While you had your lines in there.

Doug:
How do you stay warm? Well, they've got little heaters, I guess, and you're bundled up.

Cindy:
Your parents would put about 400 layers of clothing on you, so you have to be moved by them, because you can hardly walk. Then, you've got those big thermoses of hot chocolate.

Doug:
Oh, that's pretty good.

Cindy:
Brandy and coffee, I think, for my dad and my uncle. You figure it out.

Doug:
Nice. Nice.

Cindy:
They had a little burner. They had a little kerosene burner.

Doug:
Keep you warm.

Cindy:
That would warm up in there pretty good.

Doug:
There you go. All right. I'll have to put that on the list.

Cindy:
You didn't do that when you were a kid, though?

Doug:
No, 'cause we were suburbia. But there were a few lakes and things like that. They froze over, but we just went skating and played hockey, and stuff like that.

Cindy:
Yeah, we did that, too.

Doug:
It was a lot of fun. I miss those four seasons, sometimes.

Cindy:
Until it's March, and you've had winter for four months.

Doug:
Yeah, forever. Dirty snow.

Cindy:
Well, what I hate is the ice storms. When you get that thick layer of ice on the roadway, and you had to try to do 360s all the way to school.

Doug:
... Through the Black ice.

Cindy:
Yeah, that I don't miss.

Doug:
That was my first accident. I remember I was coming up to the driveway. Started to brake, and turned, and it's like, "Hmm, the car's not stopping, and I'm going to hit that tree." I was 16 years old. Minneapolis, then how did you get to Chicago? You went to college in Minnesota.

Cindy:
No, I went to college in Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin, Stout.

Doug:
In Madison.

Cindy:
No, in Menominee, right across the border.

Doug:
Oh, okay.

Cindy:
They had a hotel and restaurant program, and my dad said I had to get a business degree. I'd gone to trade school already, and gotten my cook-chef certificate. I was rejected from the CIA. They had filled their quota of women for the next three years, and they were not going to take any more women for the next three years, so I went to the local trade school instead.

Doug:
I'll bet your dad, he was like, "You still have to do a business thing, on top of that."

Cindy:
Oh, yeah. He knew I wouldn't be able to work for anybody else. I'm the most like him, of all of his kids.

Doug:
But supportive of the whole culinary? The chef route?

Cindy:
Yeah, he figured I wouldn't starve to death that way. That was his whole reasoning. "Well, you won't starve."

Doug:
I really would have liked to have known this guy.

Cindy:
He was in a character.

Doug:
It sounds like it.

Cindy:
My friends, we're in our 60s, that I went from kindergarten all the way through with, and they still refer to my dad as Mr. Pawlcyn, because he wasn't someone they called by his first name.

Doug:
Got it. I know that type. School in Wisconsin. How did Chicago pop up?

Cindy:
Well, I went to Chicago with a girlfriend who got a nursing job there. We were going to share an apartment. I went to all these restaurants and decided which one was the best, and wanted to work for that chef. He was leaving to go work for Lettuce Entertain You at the Pump Room, so I had an interview with Rich Melman. Which was about two minutes. I walked in, and I sat down, and introduced myself. He introduced himself, and he goes, "Well, why are you here?" I said, "Gabino sent me." Gabino was the new chef. He goes, "Oh, you're that girl." I said, "Yeah." He goes, "You start tomorrow."

Doug:
Wow. Start-

Cindy:
That was my only job interview in my whole life.

Doug:
Start as what, chef?

Cindy:
I was a sous chef for Gabino. That was it.

Doug:
At which restaurant? The Pump Room?

Cindy:
The Pump Room.

Doug:
Which was famous, those who don't know ... I think it's still there.

Cindy:
It's still there. I don't think Lettuce is still managing it, but yeah.

Doug:
In its day, it was the place in Chicago.

Cindy:
Oh, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. I had to work the service bar sometimes, during lunch, if they didn't have a service bartender. I got to make a cocktail for Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra once. It was really a cool place.

Doug:
Oh, it was way cool.

Cindy:
I didn't get to meet them, but I got to make their drinks.

Doug:
At least got to make a drink for them. Well, that's important.

Cindy:
Yeah, I know. That was fun.

Doug:
Wow. Sous chef. Then, you stayed on and became chef?

Cindy:
Yeah. I was there, and that's where I met Bill and Bill. They worked for Lettuce Entertain You. I was there for probably two years. Then, they dragged me out here. They said, "Hey, we're going to open a restaurant. Can you come out and help?"

Doug:
This is Bill Higgins and Bill-

Cindy:
Bill Epson. We opened MacArthur Park for Larry Mendel.

Doug:
They dragged you out. What year did they drag you out from Chicago?

Cindy:
'79.

Doug:
'79 to San Francisco.

Cindy:
Yeah, just to help them open MacArthur Park. We turned it into a fern bar with Cobb salads, and ribs, and grill, and all that.

Doug:
The fern bar. I remember that scene.

Cindy:
Yeah, wasn't that nuts? ... I had come up to the Napa Valley to do [inaudible 00:13:31] of France at Robert Mondavi. Concurrently, Bill and Bill had been talking to Harlan, and he said he needed a chef for this place he just bought in Meadowood. I went back down, and they told Larry that I'd quit, which wasn't true. They kind of finagled me into this thing, and I had moved up here at 24 kicking and screaming, thinking, "There's no boys up here, there's no nightclubs. What am I going to do?"

Doug:
You moved up here in '74?

Cindy:
No, in '79.

Doug:
'79. Okay.

Cindy:
I was 24.

Doug:
You were 24, but these guys, how did these guys get away with that? [crosstalk 00:14:04].

Cindy:
Because I really needed a job, and they told Larry.

Doug:
But you had a job, and then they-

Cindy:
I know. That's the boys. There's a reason why we're not partners anymore.

Doug:
Yeah, okay.

Cindy:
It just took me a while to figure it out.

Doug:
Oh, okay.

Cindy:
To get to the point where I was confident enough.

Doug:
... We moved out from Chicago in '73. I was 17. I was a junior in high school, and there was nothing going on in this valley.

Cindy:
No. There was nothing going on in '79.

Doug:
Yeah ... I finished high school. I went to Davis. I was getting out of Davis around '79. Whenever I would come back on holidays, or just to get my laundry done ... We'd drive around. There were no restaurants, no fancy wineries.

Cindy:
No. Nothing. Vern's Copper Chimney.

Doug:
No Auberge du Soleil. Vern's Copper Chimney in Saint Helena.

Cindy:
[inaudible 00:14:49], when did they open? They might have been open.

Doug:
... Johnny Gretz. I think they were open right around that era, so late '70s. That was the first super fancy French.

Cindy:
That was very fancy ...

Doug:
The whole deal. You're up here in '79, but you go dragged up not to do Mustard's, but to do-

Cindy:
No. Chef at Meadowood.

Doug:
Chef at Meadowood. I'd forgot about that.

Cindy:
When I was chef at Meadowood-

Doug:
Was that before it burned down?

Cindy:
Oh, yeah.

Doug:
Yeah, it was way before that. That old-

Cindy:
It was an old 1950s style country club. It was hilarious.

Doug:
I remember that, yeah.

Cindy:
But I had a really good time there. I had a lot of freedom. I got fired. It was the first time I'd ever been fired. One of the managers came in, 'cause they went through a whole run of general managers. He came in, and he said, "Either you, or your sous chef are going. I'm going to make this place make money." I went, "Okay." The day before, two things had happened. My sous chef told me his wife was pregnant, and Bruce Lefebvre, who I [inaudible 00:15:45] of that little tiny French restaurant, said, "I need a new sous chef. Barbara Nyres is not going to do it anymore." I went, "Okay, I'll find you one." Then, the next morning, this guy comes in, and says one of us has to go. I went okay. I left my sous chef, because his wife was pregnant, and I called Bruce and I said, "I found your sous chef."

Doug:
That was you.

Cindy:
I didn't tell him who I was until I walked in, and he went, "Well, where is this sous chef?" I said, "You're looking at her." He said, "No shit. Really? I get you?" I said, "Yeah," so it worked out perfect. It was really funny. I called Harlan and Stocker and Montgomery to thank them for the time there, to say goodbye and that I'd been terminated. I got their assistant, and they were at a big meeting. It was at Pacific Union Company, and they were all big shots.

Doug:
Right, right.

Cindy:
She said, "What? What are you going to tell them?" I said, "Well, I've been fired." She goes, "What?"

Doug:
Oh, man.

Cindy:
Yeah, I'd never been fired before. It kind of bummed me out, "But don't worry. I just wanted to thank the guys and say goodbye." All of a sudden, I got all three of them on speaker phone. "Who fired you?" I said, "Well, the general manager." They go," Who the hell is that?" I go," Well, I don't know. You guys change them every week. I don't know his name."

Doug:
That's right. Those-

Cindy:
They wanted me to stay. I said, "No, it's all right. I've already got something else lined up," 'cause I didn't want to be at a place where somebody didn't want me ...

Doug:
No, that's no fun.

Cindy:
That was no fun.

Doug:
That's no fun. Meanwhile, at this point, you were 25, 26, living in Napa Valley, where there's no night life.

Cindy:
No night life. Not much day life, actually ...

Doug:
Yeah. It's pretty slow. Even today, it just closes up.

Cindy:
Yeah. I had a girlfriend. She grew up here. She would get in the car, and they would drive down the street. When they went in the ditch, they realized they had blindfolds on, and they'd be going down 29. If they started going in the ditch, they knew they'd gone too far.

Doug:
Oh man. I remember there was no double yellow lines. You could pass anybody anywhere, 'cause there was no cars on the road.

Cindy:
Yeah. There was nobody to pass.

Doug:
Yeah. It was dark at night.

Cindy:
Yeah, really dark.

Doug:
When we first moved here, I got lost, on my first day of school, 'cause we lived out here on the ranch down in Yountville. I'm coming home from St. Helena High. I went to basketball practice. It's January. I'm coming home at 6:00 at night. I could find the driveway. No cell phone, no nothing. I'd only been here two days.

Cindy:
... "Where is it?" There's no signs.

Doug:
... That was a little frightening. Now, you're at [inaudible 00:18:18].

Cindy:
[inaudible 00:18:19]. Bill and Bill had always said we're going to come to California, and we'll open our own place, once we learn the lay of the land. That's what I was hanging on for, and hoping for. I saw the Golden Poppy go out of business, so I called them and I said, "There's this-"

Doug:
Sorry, I've got to interrupt, 'cause I've been wracking my brain all morning. The Golden Poppy. This is the location of the current Mustard's today.

Cindy:
It is.

Doug:
However, I was finishing high school, and I'm at Davis back and forth. That location was the worst in the world for a restaurant, unless people don't know how to run restaurants, because I saw, I don't know how many different places open there.

Cindy:
Well, there was Alexis Bistro.

Doug:
Alexis Bistro, thank you.

Cindy:
Then, there was Cheese, Cheese, Cheese. Then, there was Golden Poppy.

Doug:
There was Golden Poppy, right.

Cindy:
Those were in the '70s. I don't know. At one point before then, there was a bar there, for the vets. There used to be a shuttle that would go back and forth to get the vets back and forth, 'cause there was no alcohol in the hospital.

Doug:
Right. Mustard's, or the Golden Poppy, is just north of Yountville, but Yountville, when we moved here, five or six restaurants, and three taxicab services. The taxis drove the vets from the vets' homes to the bars, every day.

Cindy:
Yeah ... Remember that great bar where Redwood is now, or Red?

Doug:
Yes, yes.

Cindy:
It was that gray barn like bar that had music, sometimes, and sawdust on the floor.

Doug:
Oh, it was called the Saloon, and it was Cochran, was his name. It was a cowboy bar. I was in there many, many times ... I was never legally 21. But they'd have good old Norton Buffalo, rock and roll bands, country bands.

Cindy:
Yeah, it's great.

Doug:
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, just beer and peanuts on the floor, and all the sawdust.

Cindy:
Yeah, that was a great place.

Doug:
I want to bring that back. Don't you think after wine tasting all day, restaurants and a beer and a little country and western music, wouldn't it be great?

Cindy:
A beer and some peanuts would be really good. Yeah, it would be wonderful.

Doug:
I just can't stay up late. I've got to get somebody to run it for me.

Cindy:
Yeah. Music venues are hard to run.

Doug:
Yeah, well-

Cindy:
There's a lot of paraphernalia that goes on around the scene.

Doug:
Yeah, restaurants, too.

Cindy:
Yeah. Restaurants are hard enough.

Doug:
Not as much as they were when you started out.

Cindy:
No, they were pretty wild, when we started.

Doug:
All right. I interrupted you. Back to Golden Poppy.

Cindy:
They said, "Well, yeah, we'll look at it," and sure enough, we got it. It was really cheap. They sold their fancy cards, and I put some money that I'd had in savings. We did the whole thing for $125,000. We did all the work ourselves. We were bending the rebar to build the smoker. You know how the dumpsters have those places? We'd put the rebar there, and then we'd back up my boyfriend's pick up truck to bend it. The last bit, two pieces of rebar left, and some guy came by and said, "Why don't you guys get a rebar bender?" We're like, "They have those? You can rent them?"

Doug:
You've got to be kidding me. You're late 20s, Bill and Bill. When you were at Meadowood, you weren't hooked up with them. They were still doing their own thing.

Cindy:
We were separated for a bit. But we were keeping in touch.

Doug:
Got it ... Mustard's was it. 1983.

Cindy:
June 16th.

Doug:
June 16th, '83. Wow ... You opened up ... Someone told me the opening night was crazy nuts.

Cindy:
It was packed.

Doug:
It was packed.

Cindy:
It was packed.

Doug:
Did you do PR and marketing, and all that stuff?

Cindy:
No. We were just there, and I think they smelled the ribs in the smoker or something. We had a party. We invited people. Had wine [inaudible 00:22:01]. Your folks were probably there.

Doug:
Yeah, right ...

Cindy:
We just invited everybody I knew from Meadowood, and we invited everybody Bill and Bill knew from the city, and that was it.

Doug:
Was it out in the parking lot, too?

Cindy:
It was everywhere.

Doug:
I was there. I had just come back. I was working at Lake-

Cindy:
... It was a fun party, and it got everybody to know us. We just did little portions of the food, and then we opened up the next day.

Doug:
35 years?

Cindy:
35 years in June.

Doug:
Congratulations.

Cindy:
Thank you ... I know. It's amazing.

Doug:
Man. Well, I know, because it's-

Cindy:
I don't know where all the time went. My body isn't the same.

Doug:
Well, no one's ... I know what you mean. I've been here for 33 years, and it's like, "When did this all happen?"

Cindy:
When did that happen? Yeah. I can remember most everything. I'm sure I don't remember everybody that every worked for me, but I remember a lot of them.

Doug:
That's great ... You guys were crazy. This was the '80s ... Let it be said ... Without going much more into that. But I remember driving around, and someone said, "Oh, Mustard's is closed this week, and they're remodeling." I was like, "Wow, remodeling." "Yeah, they're going to be closed for 48 hours," or something like that, or 36 hours. I was talking to Randy Mason. I said, "Wait a minute. How do you pull off a remodel in 36 hours?" I knew a couple of people that were working there, and they said, "Oh, you won't believe what's going to happen." I made it a point to drive by at 10:00 at night. The place was lit up like a Christmas tree.

Cindy:
Oh, yeah, it didn't want to close.

Doug:
There was 55 trucks in the parking lot, and they were just ripping and tearing. They just went all night, and all the next day.

Cindy:
Yeah. Oh yeah.

Doug:
I think opened up-

Cindy:
We opened back up.

Doug:
I was impressed.

Cindy:
... We had a tiny little kitchen, when we opened up. It had a walk-in the size of this table. We just couldn't keep up with the volume. I was getting deliveries six and seven days a week. I was still having stuff in coolers. My prep table would be the bakery station in the morning, and then it would become my prep table, and then it was the plate-up line.

Doug:
You're the chef. You've got people helping you, but you're running this whole show.

Cindy:
Oh yeah ... Plus, Bill and Bill and I opened a restaurant every year after that for the next six, seven years. We did Fog City Diner, we did-

Doug:
I was going to ask you about that.

Cindy:
Bick's, we did Travinia. Ending up in the Buckeye, so we did a lot of restaurants.

Doug:
Bick's, Buckeye, Fog City, Travinia.

Cindy:
The Real Grill in Carmel.

Doug:
The Real Grill in Carmel. I remember going down there.

Cindy:
I remember working until 10:00 or 11:00 at night on a Saturday night at Mustard's, when the last entrees would go out, and then I would drive down to Carmel to do lunch and come back.

Doug:
That's a four and a half hour drive.

Cindy:
I know.

Doug:
At 10:00 at night.

Cindy:
I used to get so many speeding tickets.

Doug:
[inaudible 00:25:02].

Cindy:
One of the cops on one, when you get off 101, and you go on 156 to one-

Doug:
Oh yeah ...

Cindy:
That guy, he goes, "Cindy, it's Saturday night. I know you're coming. Slow down." I think he gave me three tickets in one year.

Doug:
Did you ever give him a free meal, to say, "Hey, come on, man ... Let's do a little trade."

Cindy:
No. There's nobody out here but you and me. What are you, lonely? You have to pull me over?

Doug:
You'd finish at 10:00, drive to Monterey.

Cindy:
Yeah, do brunch.

Doug:
Carmel, and then do brunch, and then drive back.

Cindy:
Sleep for a couple hours.

Doug:
How did you do it?

Cindy:
I don't know. I have no idea how I did it. Then, I'd do Fog City and Mustard's in the same day.

Doug:
Yeah, so you-

Cindy:
Open service at Mustard's, and then do dinner service at Fog City and come back. That was my routine, for a little while.

Doug:
But you've got-

Cindy:
It was hard.

Doug:
Yeah, it was hard, but you've got chefs there, or not? They need you there? Or, it's a quality thing. You want to be there. Which I get.

Cindy:
I think in the beginning of the company ... Everybody was getting into cooking. It was kind of neat. But it's your reputation. I'm the executive chef, and I want to make sure they understand what we're doing. It takes a while. It takes a year, in my experience, to get someone that's working with you to really understand your vision. In the restaurant business, if you do fresh food, it's very seasonal, and things change. Then, knowing your customer base and what they like.

Up here, it's very wine driven. In the city, it was cocktails and excitement. It was a different market. Although they love wine in the city, I'm not saying they don't, but when people come to the Napa Valley, they are ready for wine and food, whereas anywhere else in the world, in some of the culinary meccas, of course they're ready, but in the middle of Lincoln, Nebraska, they're not thinking about wine and food, necessarily. When they come here, that's all they're thinking about.

Doug:
They want that California cuisine. [crosstalk 00:27:00].

Cindy:
Yeah. Which one am I going to get?

Doug:
Right. But you just touched on something. The whole fresh ingredients, fresh food, you've been doing this gig from the beginning.

Cindy:
We had a garden ever since the beginning, yeah.

Doug:
Always from the beginning.

Cindy:
All this farm to table cracks me up.

Doug:
Well, yeah.

Cindy:
It's always been farm to table.

Doug:
It's always been farm to table.

Cindy:
I mean, it doesn't come out of a factory until 2010, and they discovered farm to table.

Doug:
I know. I'm getting a little tired of the farm to table thing.

Cindy:
Me too.

Doug:
It's like, "Wait, that's the while thing that's been going on," but you've been doing it forever. All your restaurants.

Cindy:
But I grew up that way.

Doug:
You grew up that way, but when you started doing that, that wasn't getting done by everybody.

Cindy:
No, but that's part of why I like Mustard's so much. We had the property. I could do a garden there. I was living in apartments. I didn't have any garden at home.

Doug:
You stayed with Mustard's, and Cindy's.

Cindy:
Kept Mustard's, and started Cindy's.

Doug:
Started Cindy's. Got it.

Cindy:
Then, I did that crazy Go Fish. No matter what I did, I couldn't make it work.

Doug:
That's a big site. That's a big space.

Cindy:
Yeah, that's a lot of money, but it's just money.

Doug:
But is that frustrating, to have something like Mustard's, which everything just seemed to hit and hit? Click, and you talk about bingo dishes. There's a bingo restaurant.

Cindy:
Yeah, yeah.

Doug:
Then, have a cool site right on Main Street, St. Helena. It's like, "This should work." You tried two or three different things ...

Cindy:
Go Fish worked the first year. We opened in 2007. 2008, we had that big economic downturn. I think because of the size of it, and what we were doing, and I tried to turn it into a little more casual place, it was just not enough people going out at that time to make it work. I think that concept would have been great in a big city. But you needed a bigger audience. Then, there was a certain, "Oh, you're doing sushi. You have some Japanese food. It's not wine friendly."

Doug:
Right, which is kind of crazy, as far as I'm concerned.

Cindy:
Yeah, I know. You can have great wines with sushi, and the whole rest of the menu. People say, "Well, people don't drink red wine with fish." But I own restaurants in the Napa Valley. We sell massive amounts of delicious red wines, and we sell tons of fish. It's our number two seller, always. I don't know. They must be drinking red wine with eating this fish, because you look at a table, and there might be one steak, but there's always a bottle of red wine, and there's always two people eating fish. They seem perfectly happy.

Doug:
... I love white wine, I love red wine. But red wine tastes really good.

Cindy:
It works. Yeah.

Doug:
... I've walked into a lot of back doors of restaurants, selling wine all these years, and getting to know people, and seeing what it's like, and hearing stories like yours. Just driving all night to keep your restaurants going. I've always said it jokingly, but I don't think I'd ever want to open a restaurant. It just seems like a tremendous amount of work, and then you're also waiting for that bingo moment.

Cindy:
Well, it's not so much the bingo moments. It's how easily they can go off track, which is why I had to go around. Maybe it's not even gone bad, which it can do easily. But it's not the same restaurant that it was. I really am adamant about consistency. If we do get a dish that's right, then it's got to stay that way.

Doug:
Well, yeah.

Cindy:
As they say in the wine business, if you bottle a wine, and you get a corked bottle of wine, that's horrible, because it's like, "That's not us. That's cork." But you're getting the wrong experience.

Doug:
Well, we look at it stylistically. We have certain styles for each of our wines, and we don't try to make the exact same wine every year. That's impossible. But at least, it's in that ballpark style, 'cause our consumers-

Cindy:
... When you go to get a Shafer, you know what you're getting. It might be a different year, different vintage, but you know the standards, the quality. That's what I maintain, but it's hard, because sometimes, I want to take a month off and go to Italy and eat truffles.

Doug:
You should do that.

Cindy:
I will, someday. I've got to figure out when. Sooner versus later.

Doug:
We should do it.

Cindy:
Yeah, now.

Doug:
Let's grab our spouses and go together. I need to do that, too.

Cindy:
Yeah. Let's get a big house. Have a bunch of friends come by.

Doug:
Drink good Italian red wine. Yay.

Cindy:
We could start some trouble. Bring the '80s back.

Doug:
No, I don't think I could do that, but it was fun at the time.

Cindy:
It was.

Doug:
... Life's full of curveballs, and you hit one in 2014?

Cindy:
Yeah, that was it.

Doug:
A tough accident.

Cindy:
Yeah, that was a hard year. We closed Go Fish in January. My mom died in February, and I almost died in April. That was a hard one. But that also taught me how good my staff is, and my business partner, because the restaurants did fine. They changed a little bit, but they did fine.

Doug:
We were worried about it.

Cindy:
Yeah? I was a mess. It was weird. I was never really worried about myself. In the accident, at the scene, I was having a really hard time breathing. This fireman came over, and I was just sitting there focusing on breathing. He goes, "Oh, you're alive." I went, "Yeah, I think so." He said, "Don't move your neck,"

Doug:
He said that?

Cindy:
He goes for my neck.

Doug:
Oh my gosh.

Cindy:
I said, "I'm having a really hard time breathing." He says, "Yeah, I can tell," because I had 14 fractured ribs in my sternum and my collarbone were all fractured ... He said, "Don't move. What's your name, and your date of birth?" He asked me that about 15 times. I think about the fourth time, I said, "If you can't remember my name and my date of birth, I'm not telling you anymore." He goes, "At least you're a smart ass."

Doug:
He was just doing that to keep you conscious.

Cindy:
He said, "Okay, now, you're going to get mad at us." I said, "Why? He goes, "We're going to get you out of the car, and it's probably going to hurt." I said, "I'm fine here." He said, "I know you're fine there, but you're not going to get to stay there for the rest of your life because you're blocking traffic."

Doug:
Oh, golly.

Cindy:
I was a little smart ass. Then, I yelled at him for cutting off my clothes on the side of the road. I said, "One, you guys are too young to see a body this old. It will turn you off women forever. Two, these are my new pants." Snipping them right up, like nothing happened. They have to see if you're bleeding on the backside. That's what they said, anyway.

Doug:
Oh, Cindy. I tell you.

Cindy:
That's okay. I made it.

Doug:
You made it, man. You were a smart ass, the whole way.

Cindy:
Can't stand up for as long as I used to.

Doug:
That's a good sign. Currently, we've got Mustard's, Cindy's Back Street.

Cindy:
Soon to have Mustard's at San Francisco International Airport.

Doug:
I just heard about this three days ago.

Cindy:
Isn't it cool? I'm so excited.

Doug:
Do you know how much I travel? A lot.

Cindy:
I know.

Doug:
It's starting to be a drag all the time. I have little things to look forward to.

Cindy:
Well, you can have Mustard's in May. Mustard's will be open at the airport.

Doug:
International terminal?

Cindy:
International terminal.

Doug:
Good, 'cause I'm going to London in May. I'll stop.

Cindy:
Good. I think it'll be really nice.

Doug:
What's it going to be? It's going to be sit down, the whole thing?

Cindy:
Yeah, just like Mustard's.

Doug:
Nice. Congrats.

Cindy:
It's an interesting project, because we're in partnership with a group that does restaurants at the airport. Then, there's all the security stuff you have to go through to get a pass to go to your restaurant and manage it. Then, you have some things delivered pre-security ... Then, all the people that might deliver the ice cream have to go through the security process and get a badge. It's a very complicated way of doing business.

Doug:
Is it? But the guys you're working with are used to dealing with that?

Cindy:
They've been doing this. They have other restaurants in the airport. They were the ones that asked us to do a RFP with them, and we won.

Doug:
That's cool.

Cindy:
Yeah. It'll be an interesting and fun thing. I only do things that are fun now. I've got Mustard's. I understand what Mustard's is, but we had to get fire. Open fire in the airport, which took quite a while, because they don't have that.

Doug:
Oh yeah, I bet. That was-

Cindy:
London Heathrow has it, and a couple other airports have it, so we had to use those as examples that it can be done. Then, the kitchen had to shrink down, so now, there's another kitchen that we can use, because our kitchen had to have so much stuff to support the smoker. It's quite an adventure.

Doug:
Are you going to take some of my favorite people at Mustard's and take them down there to open it?

Cindy:
Well, they'll help opening, but they won't be there long term, because I like them at Mustard's.

Doug:
Well, some of my best friends work at Mustard's.

Cindy:
I'm glad.

Doug:
It's like family time.

Cindy:
It is. It's like family, for me.

Doug:
... I'll never forget this one time. It was great. Annette and I were going to some big winery shindig, but it was one of these things where it was a lot of people. It was everybody. It was consumers, and ... Vintners. it was just a big winery invitation at a place pretty close to Mustard's. It was the springtime. It was evening. They wanted us to dress, so I've got a suit on, and a tie. Annette's got this gorgeous dress. We're dressed up. In Napa, for those of you who don't live here, people don't dress up that much.

We're just, all of a sudden, having a little champagne, dressed up, heading down to this thing. We're pulling in to where this event was, and there's this long driveway. The cars are backed up. They're backed up forever. We're not moving. I'm looking at this thing, going, "It's going to take us 25 minutes to get to the place to park to go into the party." We started talking ... "What do you think?" I said, "What do you think? Mustard's?" "Yeah, good idea." We pulled a U-turn, and blew out of there. Driving past people we knew, going, "Where are the Shafers going?" Pulled into Mustard's. Two seats at the bar.Dave or Curt was there. Your whole staff knows us well.

Cindy:
Yeah. "What are you doing all dressed up?"

Doug:
... We were all dressed up, and we just had this great meal. I'll never forget. It was a lot of fun ...

Cindy:
But some of those big events, you have to escape. I've been to some of them where I've eaten after, too. Where I'm so busy saying, "Hello," and talking to people, and it's over, and you haven't eaten yet.

Doug:
Yeah, it's tough. Well you, through the years, have been wonderfully philanthropic. For those of you who don't know, oftentimes, we'll tag you, Cindy, and your team to cater a meal for some auction event or something like that.

Cindy:
It's fun. I like being included. I like being part of the community.

Doug:
It's a great gift. A lot of people come, and donate lots of money for different things. You do the cooking for it. We all, here in Napa-

Cindy:
It's fun. We love to cook.

Doug:
Well, I know you do. Speaking of cooking, I've got to tell you something. Everyone knows you're a great chef. What everyone doesn't know is how good you are at turning kids on to cooking. You know where I'm going, on this one.

Cindy:
Yeah, I think I do.

Doug:
I have ... Five beautiful children. Two of them are a little younger. You offered to teach them how to make chocolate soufflés. I think Tate was five. Remy was, Annette told me she was in the front pack. She was only one. They spent the day in your kitchen, afternoon, making chocolate soufflés.

Cindy:
Yeah, it was so much fun.

Doug:
I had forgotten this. Annette told me the other day. We came home at 4:00. Tate, who was five, went straight to bed, and slept. Never got up for dinner. He just slept. He was just exhausted. Happy, and chocolate faced.

Cindy:
How cool.

Doug:
Then, that was Tate making soufflés, and a few years later, you guys did it again, and you taught him how to make pies. Both of them.

Cindy:
Yeah, that was fun.

Doug:
I've got to tell you something. At the holidays, my big kids come home, and they're like, "Tate, when are we having pie?"

Cindy:
Yeah? That's awesome. That is fantastic.

Doug:
He is the pie buy, and he just blocks himself into the kitchen, and starts whipping things out and cooking this, cooking that.

Cindy:
I'm so glad.

Doug:
You should see his older siblings. They're like, "Look at Tate go." They're like, "This is fantastic."

Cindy:
Well, good. I'm glad.

Doug:
Between you and Annette, you've taught these kids how to be wonderful chefs.

Cindy:
I love cooking with kids. I just did a big class at the Boys and Girls Club in Calistoga.

Doug:
Oh, cool.

Cindy:
It was hilarious. I taught 10 people how to make lasagna at once. I'd gotten little loaf pans, and they each made their own individual lasagnas. We made a big batch of sauce together, and we made ricotta from scratch. The whole thing.

Doug:
See, look at you ... No one knows about this.

Cindy:
It's fun, though. That's what I do, for my days off.

Doug:
That's fantastic.

Cindy:
It's fun.

Doug:
Well, listen. Thank you for coming and joining us for our inaugural podcast. It's so fun. I didn't know about your Russian father, and all these other great things you've told me, Thanks so much.

Cindy:
Thanks so much, Doug. It's fun being here. It's always good to be with you.

Doug:
Always. See you soon.

Cindy:
Thank you. Bye-bye.