Publication Date: Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Alice Restaurant: Anything you want, exceptin' Alice
Alice Restaurant: Anything you want, exceptin' Alice
(January 22, 2003) Local brothers rev up to run Alice's Restaurant
By Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff Writer
On a warm weekend afternoon, Alice's Restaurant can be difficult to spot through the sea of motorcycles parked out front. The landmark restaurant, located on the outskirts of Woodside at the junction of highways 84 and 35, lures motorcyclists from around the world, but the quaint diner isn't just for bikers, say new owners Andy and Jamie Kerr.
"We get hikers, people going to the beach, and lots of people who are going to get their Christmas trees," says Andy Kerr, 37, of Menlo Park .
He and his brother, who grew up just a half a mile away from Alice's, bought the one-acre property, along with the restaurant, service station and "sugar shack" gift shop last August. In a year that has seen the closure of several high-profile restaurants in the Midpeninsula, Alice's is bucking the trend. Business has gone up 20 percent since they took over, the Kerr brothers say.
The kicker is that the two men are not seasoned restauranteurs. Before buying Alice's, they spent 18 years in the printing business and owned Zebra Printing in Mountain View.
"This is a lot easier than printing," says Jamie Kerr, 40, of Redwood City. "And it's much more gratifying."
Originally, they were looking to get into building high-end spec homes, but the timing wasn't auspicious for real estate speculation.
"We bought it for the property, but what we got was a well-run business," he
Besides its landmark status, Alice's came with a seasoned staff with years of experience in all aspects of the restaurant business. Growing up down the street from it, they say they never really appreciated that the restaurant is known all over the world, even though it isn't that Alice's Restaurant.
"People ask me all the time if the restaurant is the one from the Arlo Guthrie song ("You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant"), and I tell them no, that one is back in Massachusetts," says Andy Kerr.
The two men have made a few changes to Alice's, taking care not to alienate the legions of loyal bikers while making the restaurant more family friendly.
"I had one very large guy, who looked like a Hell's Angel, ask me if I was going to make any changes," says Andy Kerr. "I said no, you'd probably kill me if I did, and he said, 'Damn right.'"
While the staff and the rustic diner ambience haven't changed, the brothers have started serving dinner seven nights a week with a chef whose resume includes cooking at the Village Pub and Bella Vista restaurants. While burgers and sandwiches are the rule at lunch, dinners run to veal piccata and other fancier fare.
They're adding custom-blended microbrew beers to the menu, and have introduced "Matthew's Macaroni and Cheese" (named for Jamie's son) to cater to kids.
Desserts now come from the Prolific Oven, although the cheesecake and pies are still made from scratch at Alice's. Andy Kerr says buying practices have improved with high quality ingredients used in all their dishes.
The restaurant's backyard, adjacent to a small reservoir, has been landscaped, and hitching posts have been installed to accommodate equestrians. A new gurgling waterfall is a big hit with little kids, they say.
Currently, the "sugar shack" serves as an office, but the Kerrs are thinking about turning it into a coffee bar, or selling shaved ice or gelato from it in the summer.
The Kerrs are also partners in the new venture across Skyline Boulevard at the Mountain Terrace, best known to long-time locals as the former Skywood Chateau restaurant. After several ill-fated restaurants came and went in short order, the Kerrs joined with six other partners, mostly long-time friends such as Bisher Khalaf, whose family owns the property, to open the Mountain Terrace as a wedding reception and event venue.
Their hands-on approach is evident there -- the brothers have installed landscaping, taken out the volleyball court in back, and spent a week refurbishing the deck, they say.
Terri Shearer, the managing partner, said she's been fielding 20 calls a day since listing the Mountain Terrace in a popular guide to wedding and reception venues, and, in less than a month, has already booked more than a dozen weddings.
While the focus, at the moment, is on marketing to brides -- everybody gets engaged over the holidays, says Ms. Shearer -- the next big push is to market the Mountain Terrace for corporate events.
The versatile and attractive space has quite a few things going for it. The refurbished lodge-like interior contains a large dining room, comfortable bar area and stone fireplaces, overlooking a sunny deck and vast grassy meadow surrounded by redwood trees. It can accommodate 150 seated guests indoors, or 300 to 400 people on the meadow, she says.
The Kerr brothers say they hope the Mountain Terrace can host community events as well. The huge lawn would be ideal for the Skylonda Easter egg hunt, says Andy Kerr.
Locals who want to get a look at the Mountain Terrace won't have to wait to be invited to a wedding, winetasting or corporate team-building event to see it -- it will open for Sunday brunch, catered by JazzFood of Sunnyvale, starting February 16, says Ms. Shearer.
As for the Kerrs, they're rather tickled to be running the places they used to take for granted when they were kids.