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Friday, October 15, 2021

Fresh food, local style, close to home

JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE
JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE

Preserve Public House captures family tradition, town charm, local flavor

Driving west of Davis, through open fields, along sprawling orchards and just past Interstate 505, the small town of Winters, Calif. emerges. Home to less than 7,000 residents, the rural agricultural town is initially unassuming, however, its spirit becomes evident in the Downtown Historic District where restaurants and boutiques clutter Main Street, paying tribute the history and culture of the town.

Set back just one block from Main Street and tucked into the old Winters train depot building sits Preserve Public House, a restaurant brimming with charm and local character.

JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE
JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE

Preserve is owned by Winters local Cole Ogando and his wife, Sara Ogando, who met while attending school at Saint Mary’s College. After working together in the construction industry for five years, the couple decided to try something new and opened Preserve in 2011.

Cole Ogando explains that the idea for Preserve came about naturally. As a child, his grandparents taught him how to preserve produce and meats, skills historically used by many families in the area. Opening a restaurant was a way for the couple to learn more about food preservation and pass down the practice to their own kids.

“Around here, when we grow all these wonderful crops, when it comes, it comes all at once,” said Cole Ogando. “You can only eat so many apricots until you don’t want to touch an apricot ever again […] So you get a bunch of apricots, you eat them fresh while they are good, you dry a bunch of them or make pies or jams or jellies or cordials or liqueurs, but you do that and then you have that little bit of apricot through the whole year.”

Sara Ogando was introduced to preserving after meeting Cole Ogando, however growing up, food and cooking were important to her family.  

“I grew up with a family that loved food so I’ve always loved food and loved cooking. When we met, that was something we enjoyed doing together, cooking together and everything. And then we started having kids […] So the name [‘Preserve’] is basically two fold because obviously we do a lot of preserves, but just kind of preserving that lifestyle and heritage,” said Sara Ogando.    

The concept of preservation is also evident in the restaurant’s industrial yet elegant decor. Cole Ogando explains that almost everything in the restaurant is made by friends and family, including the tables, couches and cabinetry. Prune drying trays from a local prune dehydrator line the ceiling, and wood panels made out of wine barrels from nearby wineries weave around the side of the bar.

“We wanted something that was cool and sophisticated and sleek, but then humble at the same time and approachable and that would fit in with kind of the Winters lifestyle,” said Sara Ogando. “We used a lot of local craftsmen and local materials to build out everything.”

Starting without a kitchen, Preserve began as a bar offering platters of dry meats, cheeses and fruit as well as sandwiches prepared on a panini press. But as demand grew, so did the restaurant, and a kitchen was added in the summer of 2014 to provide customers with a full menu. Additionally, a quarter-acre garden was incorporated into the restaurant about two years ago to supplement the ingredients used in the kitchen.

“We are slowly weaning ourselves off of deliveries but it’s still, you know when we’re having 2000 guests a week, it’s tough to grow everything and do everything so we’re slowly kind of knocking things off of our list,” said Cole Ogando.

Preserve chef Avery Struthers is tasked with incorporating seasonal and variable ingredients from the garden and local farms into his dishes.

JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE
JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE

“Seasonal stuff is great because you can bring ingredients in, take them out with the seasons and refine the dishes more as opposed to just putting one on that is going to stay on the menu for years,” Struthers said.

He adds that using these local ingredients is only challenging because there are so many options, but the seasonal changes help limit his selection. Having previously lived in Florida and Boston, Struthers explains that he has always been conscious about sustainability and eating locally, but the abundant agriculture in Northern California makes it more feasible.

The menu at Preserve exhibits dishes that incorporate various cultures, drawing from Mexican, Asian, Italian, Spanish and New Orleans influences. Struthers explains that this versatility is essential for cooking with changing ingredients.

“It’s good to have all those tools in your pocket because we try to do farm-to-fork and market-table,” Struthers said. “So what do we have, what does the local person have that they’re bringing in and how can we make it tasty?”

Struthers collaborates with both Sara and Cole Ogando to create the menu and find new ways to use local ingredients. Finding individuals that share their same passion for localism and culture remains an important factor for the owners when hiring new staff. Cole Ogando explains that it was necessary to find a chef who shared their same excitement.

“It wasn’t hard to find [Struthers],” said Cole Ogando. “He kind of fell in our lap. You know it’s like finding friends or a significant other, you just find people through the world, somehow, and you get lucky sometimes.”

The newest project at Preserve is starting a market next door that will offer selections from local farmers and artisans. In addition to selling preserves made in-house, the market will provide a storefront for local farmers to conveniently sell their products. Cole Ogando explains that the restaurant would also be able to pull from that supply and incorporate it into the menu.  He adds that having this supply next door would help Preserve overcome the economic and coordination barriers inherent in the restaurant’s sustainable and local framework.

“The hold ups are the supply chain,” said Cole Ogando. “That’s what we are hoping this next little project helps us with is having a place for them to bring their stuff and then we can just pull straight from there into our restaurant. That’s the reason why people don’t do it […] But we feel like we have an opportunity to try it. If it’s going to work, it will work here.”

According to Cole Ogando, the ultimate goal is to create a circular system where farmers supply goods that are incorporated into meals that are then served to some of those same suppliers.

Sara Ogando explains that the restaurant attracts more locals during the week, while on the weekends Preserve is filled with visitors who often come from the Bay Area and Sacramento. She adds that people are becoming more conscious about where their food comes from and are interested in hearing the story behind Preserve.

Struthers aims to create dishes that highlight the natural flavor of ingredients, allowing guests to appreciate what the area has to offer.

“I hope they love it, and I hope they come to love it because you’re tasting very fresh ingredients with the least done to them,” Struthers said. “I hope they come to appreciate simpler food done better.”

JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE
JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE

Written by: Kayla Zola — features@theaggie.org

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