It’s been six months since the North Bay fires ripped through Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties. Now, one Sonoma County staple has officially decided to rebuild. Beloved by both locals and tourists, Willi’s Wine Bar will rise from the ashes of the Tubbs Fire in a new Santa Rosa location, with owners Mark and Terri Stark are targeting a grand re-opening date of October 9, 2018, exactly one year from when they lost it.
“After the fire we went through a period of time where we felt like we had to let Willi’s go. It had a 15-year run and that space was just so unique in the fact that it was an 1886 building. It was funky, the location was great, and we thought we had to celebrate the 15 years and be done,” said Terri Stark. “But when this other location was presented to us as an option, we felt like we could see a Willi’s Part 2 in that space. Prior to that, we just couldn’t visualize it anywhere else.”
Stark won’t yet disclose where in Santa Rosa exactly Willi’s 2.0 will open, but promises it will carry on Willi’s signature comfy, laid-back style, including a patio for al-fresco drinking and dining. The menu will feature many of Willi’s classic favorites and Stark said they might even bring back some dishes from the original menu, in addition to creating new plates for Willi’s comeback. The wine program is set to be very similar as well, featuring more than 70 wines available for a taste or by the glass.
Even some of the former staff will be rejoining the new digs, which will incorporate two of the only items that were salvageable from the wreckage: the scorched Willi’s Wine Bar sign and an old horseshoe that hung on the back door, which was there when they first moved in.
Willi’s Wine Bar was the first restaurant for the Starks, which they opened in 2002. Since then, they’ve added four additional restaurants to their Starks Reality Restaurant Group portfolio: Willi’s Seafood, Monti’s, Stark’s Steak and Seafood, Bravas Bar de Tapas, and Bird and Bottle, all in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. In addition to the rebuild they’re taking on, the Starks are also working on opening a Jewish-style deli called Grossman’s Jewish Noshery.
“We moved here a year before we opened Willi’s Wine Bar and that’s the restaurant where we made all our connections with people that enabled us to open more and more restaurants,” said Stark. “Without sounding too emotional, losing it was like losing the trunk of the tree, or the heart of our company.” But the diehard support of the local community kept Willi’s memory alive in the aftermath of the fires and made the decision to re-open that much sweeter.
“I can’t tell you the amount of people that have written letters, sent e-mails, checks, and Facebook messages of their memories of the 15 years at Willi’s,” said Stark. “It was overwhelming how many people have reached out, and now that the news has gotten out there that we are rebuilding, it’s even more so.”