Now that the historic Alpine Inn has reopened after an extensive and expensive remodel, management has come up with a solution for keeping the indoor-outdoor tavern in operation year-round: a tent over the outdoor seating area.
The structure that will go up sometime in the middle of February, if things go as scheduled, will cover 22 tables in the Inn's garden that will seat about 120 to 150 guests, according to executive chef Sean Agoliati.
Heating lamps will keep patrons warm under the tent structure, Agoliati said.
The tent is now being assembled and the plans have received approval from the Portola Valley planning department for use for three months out of the year, not necessarily consecutively, he said.
Management is going to keep track of the weather predictions and decide when to put the tent up and take it down, he said, although the goal is to keep it up as continuously as possible.
The tent will be stored on-site or in a storage locker when not is use, he said.
The tent will also help solve the problem of having to furlough workers when the weather is bad. During the first spell of rain and cold weather, the tavern had to lay off eight staff members who have to wait until the weather improves to return to work, Agoliati said.
"Nothing is more uninviting for employees than running a seasonal restaurant," he said. "We want to provide a stable work environment."
Hosts of a private party on Dec. 13 erected a rented tent that was left up over the weekend and prompted a positive reaction from patrons, he said. "Having the tent in place resulted in an upswing is business over that weekend, and we had to get staff for that. Having (our own tent) means that we don't have to change out our staffing."
The rented tent was transparent, but the new tent will be an opaque hemp color so it will blend in with the natural environment, according to Agoliati.
"The town wanted a solid roof to maintain the dark sky," said Alpine Inn operating partner Greg St. Claire. "You won't see light from the tent at night."
The 167-year-old Alpine Inn, the second-oldest operating tavern in California, reopened following a six-month makeover on Aug. 9 and did a brisk business during the fall with the parking lot full on many evenings and weekends.
A group of investors from Portola Valley that include Lori and Deke Hunter, Fred and Stephanie Harman, and Jim Kohlberg, purchased the Inn, which is also known as Rossottis and Zott's, from the family of longtime owner Molly Alexander, who died at the age of 93 in 2018.
St. Claire said he is looking forward to starting the next phase of the remodel, which will involve upgrading and expanding the kitchen.
The tavern is serving food on compostable plates because it has not been able to install commercial dishwashers, he said.
"There is currently very limited gas and electric, and the kitchen is undersized and very antiquated," St. Claire said. "It's very hard on our scullery team, and we want to give them modern equipment."