When I was 11-years-old, I sat on the fence at Mattei’s Tavern waiting to see Olympic speed skating gold medalist, Eric Heiden, come by in a bike race. While I was waiting under the 100-year-old redwood tree, I kept glancing over at the long porch of windows in the Wicker Room of Mattei’s Tavern. I remember thinking that when I grew up I would like to own it. I didn’t even realize at the time that it was such a lofty dream.

Mattei’s became to me what it was to everyone else in the valley: the place we all gathered to celebrate birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries. It was a beloved restaurant filled with memories of personal celebrations.

When I was 19, I cooked for the Barrack family as their chef Monday-Friday. On the weekends I was a waitress at Mattei’s. It was a Charthouse back then and I loved their tomato soup so much that I snuck into the kitchen to copy the recipe and I made that tomato soup from then on. I loved the crisp salad bar with the cold plates. I loved the squaw bread and the artichokes. I loved everything about it.
I went on to pursue my dream of becoming a chef. I left restaurant work to become a caterer because the hours were better for my children. I could work my schedule around their schedules. But I always missed the line. There is nothing quite like working on the line in a restaurant kitchen. The adrenaline rush is similar to the feeling I get when sky-diving. Being on the line always feels like “the big game.” It feels like being in the playoffs every night. I missed it, but I was grateful to be there for my girls at every track meet, swim meet, FFA event and the moments that mattered to them.

I said many, many, many times: “if I ever have a restaurant, it has to be Mattei’s.” I drove by that empty building every time I could and felt as heartbroken as the rest of our valley, that this beloved place was closed.

A few weeks ago I got a call that would change the next decade of my life. I was asked to go to an interview with the new property owner of Mattei’s Tavern. When I met Brian and Shamra Strange, I knew I met soul mates that care as deeply for the history of Mattei’s Tavern as I do. My vision for the food matched their vision. So, it is with great joy and gratitude that I am announcing that I am the new chef owner of the restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern.

The kitchen is the soul of a restaurant and there have been many wonderful chefs before me that made Mattei’s Tavern a place for everyone to celebrate. I am proud to be a part of the history of this landmark.

This is the dream of my life and it only has value if I can share it with all of you. I am grateful for this opportunity to cook for the people I love in this valley I call home.

— Maili