THE BABY MIXed GREEN SALAD comes with shaved cucumbers and golden beets in a golden beet muscatel vinaigrette was a part of the 515 Kitchen & Cocktails’ special Santa Cruz Restaurant Week menu. Photo by Sal Ingram

Last week, many of Santa Cruz’s upscale restaurants took part in an annual event focused on offering discounted meals to the community. Initiated four years ago by Santa Cruz Weekly and a host of sponsors, Santa Cruz Restaurant Week is a local development focused on cultivating fine dining opportunities for those individuals living on a modest budget. Since then, the first week of October has been a lively seven days filled with delicious and affordable dining experiences.

Santa Cruz Restaurant Week (SCRW) ran from Oct. 3–10. Along with indelible dining atmosphere, each participating restaurant offered a fixed price menu of $25 for a three-course meal — which includes an appetizer, main course and dessert.

This year, 33 restaurants participated in SCRW, which is more than any of the previous years’ lineups. From Davenport to Scotts Valley to Watsonville, the various restaurant locations celebrated the larger Santa Cruz community by spotlighting the many wonderful restaurants that exist within the county lines.

The initial idea to pursue a Santa Cruz based restaurant week was inspired by Santa Cruz Weekly’s sister newspaper, the Metro Silicon Valley. When SC Weekly heard that the Metro had developed a Silicon Valley Restaurant Week, the staff was eager to bring that emerging dining experiment across the mountains.

Lily Stoicheff, the current coordinator for SCRW, commented on the urge to bring a restaurant week to Santa Cruz. She cited the many privately owned restaurants and the small close-knit community as two major reasons for the development of the week. She found that the surplus of small, locally owned businesses in Santa Cruz made the location ideal for a venture such as SCRW.

“Anticipation has been great,” Stoicheff said. “There’s more promotion, more social networking. We’ve reached over one thousand likes on facebook! There’s lots of energy to take advantage of this opportunity. Going out to dinner is a special treat and SCRW puts that treat within grasp.”

Beyond providing discounted meals to the public, SCRW highlights the commitment each restaurant brings to the city.

“SCRW celebrates the interesting things that restaurateurs, owners and chefs are doing within the county,” Stoicheff said. “It celebrates Santa Cruz to the core.”

Ashley Robello, a manager at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails, spoke about the atmosphere of SCRW.

“It’s adventurous,” Robello said. “There are tons of new restaurants this year, and new attention. People are open to trying new things. And we’re excited to give a taste of our signature dishes and encapsulate what we’re all about. It’s nice to offer discounted prices to the community and bring people close together.”

The week can also cause a heightened sense of stress and caution.

“It can be stressful,” Robello said. “Because it’s outside of our normal mode of operation.”

Certainly, the stressful nature of SCRW can weigh heavily upon the restaurateurs. Amid running around and preparing for the week, each restaurant must present themselves with a cool, calm, and welcoming demeanor. It’s a challenge that some managers have to be ready to handle.

Cindy Martino, one of Café Gabriella’s managers, discussed the inevitable anxiety that accompanies SCRW. “It’s thrilling and scary,” Martino said, “but we thrive on stress. We’re in the food industry — stress is our middle name.”

After serving Santa Cruz for 20 years, Gabriella’s quaint fine dining has garnered a great deal of success.

“After 20 years of this, why wouldn’t we want to be involved?” Martino said. “This week is a nice way to say thank you. It’s a gift to give back to the community.”

Stoicheff also promoted the excitement and eagerness every restaurant brings to the table. For her, the week’s primary goal is to develop strong bonds between the restaurants and the larger community.

“Nothing brings people together more than a meal,” Stoicheff said. “Restaurant Week brings the community together to celebrate restaurants and each other.”

With emphasis on accenting local cuisine and fostering a stronger sense of community, Santa Cruz Restaurant Week presents an opportunity for the citizens of the city to gather around the dinner table and enjoy each other’s company.

For more information, visit or search Santa Cruz Restaurant Week on Facebook and like their page.