History, Philosophy

& FAQ's

 

 

Although a generation removed from our founders, those of us who are currently involved in the ownership and operation of Mudd's Restaurant believe that we continue to faithfully steward this special place tucked into San Ramon's Las Trampas hills.

Mudd's Restaurant was named by our founder, Virginia Mudd. Virginia or Jibe, as she is lovingly called, is the grand daughter of Harvey S. Mudd, founder of Harvey Mudd College a member of The Claremont Colleges in Southern California. The family lineage includes the distant relative, Dr, Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth after he shot President Abraham Lincoln (hence the expression, your name is Mudd).

Virginia's grandfather Harvey and his father, Colonel Seeley Wintersmith Mudd had an appreciation for history, literature and the arts. One of their curiosities was about the origin of copper cooking utensils used by the ancient armies of the Mediterranean. After
uncovering mythological references to ore mining on one of the islands, the Mudds funded an expedition to find the mythical copper minds of Cyprus. Using 20th century hydraulic technology, they were rewarded with one of the world's richest copper deposits.

For decades, the Mudds generously supported numerous institutions of higher learning and in 1955 shortly after the death of Harvey Mudd, a college was founded. A nationally recognized faculty was recruited and together they developed a demanding curriculum stressing a unique balance between the technical disciplines and the liberal arts. In 1957, 48 students enrolled in the first freshman class and reverently called themselves Mudders.



The Ohlone Indians are the first known settlers of our area. They profoundly altered the ecology of the region by burning their land. This was done deliberately to keep the brush from overgrowing the meadowlands and it also perpetuated the digger pines (a source of delicious, highly valued pinenuts) whose seeds germinate best after a fire. Subsequent generations of white settlers followed establishing numerous farms and ranches. By the 1850's, making use of the deep fertile soils of the valley floor and the thick grasslands, the Diablo Valley became the largest wheat producing region west of the Mississippi.

Viirginia Mudd, a visionary in her own right, had frequently rejected the urge of owning a restaurant. As one of the founders of the Creative Learning Center, a pre-school/day care center in Alamo, CA, Virginia had developed the nutrition and food program for the school, which used only natural & fresh foods. In October,1976, she, and then husband Palmer Madden, conceived of an idea that would make their ongoing dream of opening a restaurant a worthwhile goal. With the energy crises and droughts of the era, Virginia and Palmer had become interested in alternative energy, organic gardening, nutrition and health. They became excited about the idea of incorporating all those ideas into one project, with a focus on a restaurant that would serve food grown in its own garden. They would design a building using alternative energy systems, raise as much food as possible to serve in the restaurant, and develop educational programs around organic gardening for suburban dwellers,
natural foods cooking, nutrition, diet, and alternative energy.


When Virginia Mudd first set foot into an old hay field here in San Ramon, she realized, almost instantly, that this was to be the location for her dream. Back then, one could easily pull off and park along a two lane Crow Canyon Road and lazily gaze across the landscape of a walnut orchard to the north and to the east, south and west, a meandering creek canyon filled with majestic and ancient oak and bay trees. This field and creek canyon stand at the eastern mouth of Crow Canyon; a canyon that reaches to the west to join San Francisco Bay with the Diablo Valley. Wind and fog freely navigate this channel bringing with them the seasonal ebb and flow characteristic to this inland valley region.

Once the land was purchased, Virginia & Palmer along with three additional investors formed the non profit Crow Canyon Institute. Two staff members were hired full time.
Jim Fellows, a Master Gardner was hired in May, 1978. He planted the first garden with the idea of growing produce and selling it to local area restaurants. To the Institute's surprise, the culinary world hadn't yet learned to appreciate the unique qualities and advantages of locally grown organic fruits & vegetables. After all, Alice Water's food revolution, that would grow to embody today's prolific California Cuisine, was just in its infancy over the hill, in Berkeley. The second staff member was Kerry Marshall, hired in 1979 to develop the educational program and assist in the development of the entire site.


After the seed germinated, Mudd's very quickly took on a life of her own, and it was all that any of her founders could do to keep up with her growth and demands. Reeling from one crisis to another, employees would occasionally thank Virginia for the fascinating game she had created.

The irony and magic of it all is that Mudd's has shaped and changed the lives of those who were-and are-involved just as much as all of us have shaped and created her. To those of us who currently shepard this vision, we share in Virginia's feelings that the greatest gift has been the people who have come into our lives with creativity, adventure and dedication willing to put everything they have into making Mudd's a success.


Over the years, we have been asked as much about the design of the restaurant buildings as we are asked about the gardens. We are proud of the beauty and functionality of the solar structure and the building's design has won numerous architectural awards for its innovations.

Mudd's aesthetic design imparts a hybrid combination of elegance and down- home comfort. The most striking interior application is a vaulted cedar ceiling, a series of involuted arches formed of narrow kiln dried red cedar wooden slats spaced slightly apart from one another. Throughout the restaurant, the ceiling creates a cathedral effect without the coldness that usually accompanies such magnificent soaring spaces. The plan of the 3700 sq. foot building embodies several interesting features. Based on the shape of a Greek cross, the dining area is both ingenious and straightforward creating several comfortably sized sections and allowing over half of the tables to be next to view windows. The remaining seats are all within six feet of a window. The openness of the plan, in conjunction with the small areas formed by the ends of the cross creates a balance between our guests' dual needs for community and privacy. Large front windows admit winter sunlight for warmth; in summer deciduous plantings block direct sunlight. Dusty Rose porcelain/granite tile and a rich hunter green carpet inter-mix throughout the rooms lending for quiet cozy dining areas while allowing practicality for the heavier pedestrian trafficked paths. Beautifully appointed Danish chairs round out the decor. Their gentle ladder back curve compliments the ceilings, the green fabric seats impeccably match the carpeting and the rich solid teak is a striking contrast to the white stucco walls and cotton tablecloths. The restaurant includes three heated patios where guests may sit, while looking out over the gardens.

The building in front of the main restaurant (our Fireside Banquet Room and offices) is the original farmhouse on the property dating back to the 1930's. After Virginia's purchase, the farmhouse was moved back from Crow Canyon Road, placed on a modern concrete foundation and resurfaced in the same kiln dried redwood siding as the main restaurant. For the first ten years of operation, the farmhouse served as an ecology study
center and a gift shop that sold everything from farm tools to children's toys. In 1992, the farmhouse was remodelled a second time into a delightful 90 seat banquet room and our corporate offices.

Mudd's Restaurant has been innovative & supportive regarding our socially conscious values as well. In 1988, we were one of the first restaurants to become entirely non smoking (including banquet and outdoor dining areas) and were recognized as such by Senator Boatwright in the California State Senate. In 1989, we were the pilot restaurant for commercial glass bottle recycling. We are also proud of our support of the hundreds of non profit organizations that elicit our contributions for donations and gift certificates throughout the year.

We have had a rich history of renowned chefs serving in our galley over our decade and a half of operation. Although there has been a long lineage and their influences on Mudd's have generally been positive, numerous tenets have remained unchanged over the years through varying administrations. These include the importance of fresh seasonal ingredients, an innovative changing menu, and a style
of farm fresh cuisine, the kind of food mama might have made or perhaps did make, if she had had the time, the ingredients and used all of her skills. Joseph Carey began a line of chefs devoted to seasonal cuisine. To read his thoughts on our beginnings click his name. Among our more celebrated alumnus are: Patrick Schoolcraft, Chef/Owner of Patrick Davids in Danville; David Gingrass, one of the original co-chefs with his wife Anne and Wolfgang Puck at Postrio in San Francisco, Bradley Kaderaback, chef at Blackhawk Country Club, and Jeff Madura, current head chef at John Ash & Co. in Sonoma County. Ron Ottobre, former chef at Trader Vic's Emerville and one of the founding chefs at the award winning Tourelle, started with us in 1990.


From May, 1997 to May, 1999 our Chef was Tim Wetzel. Tim was instrumental in our campaign to raise the bar by taking Mudds to a higher level of overall food quality and awareness. Tim re-invigorated for us the beauty of food presentation as well as knowledge about the food itself. Equally important, it was through Tims contacts with farmers in his boyhood home of Byron, in the agricultural belt of Eastern Contra Costa County, that Mudds re-established its commitment to supporting local farmers and food producers.

In May, 1999, it was our great joy to welcome the return of our former Chef, Ron Ottobre. Ron, now the Executive Chef at Mudd's Restaurant. In addition to receiving numerous accolades for his inspired garden cuisine from the likes of Sunset Magazine, The San Jose Mercury, San Francisco Chronicle & Contra Costa Times, Ron also authored our first cookbook, Inspiration from the Garden. He is, also, presently the food editor of the valley's own Sentinel Newspaper. Together with the Management staff we have returned to the mission of sustainable food, education and environmental awareness.

In 1990, Virginia Mudd made the decision to leave the San Francisco Bay Area and move to New Mexico. Likewise, the tenured site manager, Kerry Marshall moved to Mendocino, on the north coast of California. As the General Manager of Mudd's Restaurant, I loved my job so much that, like Victor Kiam, I bought the company.

Over the prior 10 years, 1980 to 1990, Virginia Mudd had allowed her 7+ acres of creeks & canyon to serve as open space for the community of San Ramon. It was also during this period that the gardens brought us national attention. In addition to stories in Sunset Magazine & House Beautiful, Crow Canyon Gardens was one of the Victory Gardens which aired on over 200 stations on PBS, and we were featured in a televised 5 minute segment nationally via ABC's Good Morning America. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian journalists toured Crow Canyon Gardens for ideas on establishing gardens as enterprise zones for urban dwellers in their country. When, in 1990, Virginia made public her intention to sell the site, the City of San Ramon stepped up and purchased it as a park. Since then, the land has been tended by the non profit Crow Canyon Institute; sustaining to this day most of the visionary ideals that Virginia had formulated some 20 years ago. These include, organic and expermental gardening, nature studies, ecological classes, and a children's summer day camp program. In addition to selling organic produce to Mudd's Restaurant, Crow Canyon Institute also grows food for the Contra Costa Food Bank, who, in turn, feeds the homeless in local county shelters. Besides the institute, much of the remaining field area is allocated for community gardens; small garden sized plots leased minimally to residents for their private use. The City of San Ramon has incorporated Crow Canyon Gardens into its master plan which will insure preservation of the creek canyon and a permanent structure for the establishment of a nature studies & ecology center.

As the second owner of the restaurant side of the project, it has been my desire to manage Mudd's Restaurant from three distinct philosophies.
First, I have felt that it is essential that we not stray too far from the initial visions of our founder, Virginia Mudd. The concepts of a forward- looking restaurant, being environmentally conscious as well as being healthy, caring and considerate to our public has served us well over our fifteen years.
Second, the restaurant has to be self sustaining from a business point of view. If a business cannot support itself, then free market theory dictates that it should cease to exist.
Third, I have always believed in the power of coaching. Give a motivated staff an adequate supply of tools & instruction and the result is a genuine, people oriented business.


Over the last 20 years, the human presence within our valley has been substantial. No longer two lanes, Crow Canyon Road is now navigated by an almost constant flow of residents and business people. The valley floor and rolling hills now grow families and the old walnut orchards have been replaced with office buildings and thriving businesses. Now, instead of the largest wheat crop west of the Mississippi, San Ramon is home to the largest office building cafeteria (at SBC/Pacific Bell in Bishop Ranch) west of the Mississippi.

Mudd's, reaches and serves more and more people each year and our skills increase and expand as the seasons come and go. We, the present generation of staff, managers and owners here at Mudd's take great pride in our success in sustaining the heritage, visions and stewardship that were set forth by our predecessors on this land. Much like that first enrolling class at the college named for Harvey, we are the proud Mudders at the restaurant named by Virginia. We encourage all of you who visit our restaurant and the neighboring gardens to take away a bit of this dream to be planted within your own life and your own garden.

Thank you very much for visiting us. I welcome your comments and opinions.

John Ebert, Proprietor (voice message: 925/837-8009) email:
J.Ebert@Mudds.Com

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