One of the Year's Biggest Restaurant Openings Is Still Happening

David Kinch debuts Mentone this week with takeout pizzas.

David Kinch
Photo: Chris Schmauch

The plan for chef David Kinch was to open Mentone, his highly anticipated restaurant in Aptos, California, this week.

"We're ready to go," he said on Tuesday. "We passed all final inspections. Right now, my managers and kitchen managers are here, and we're trying to perfect our dishes."

Under normal circumstances, which you might remember from not long ago, Kinch would have been seating his first customers on Wednesday. But the plan changed because of the world's battle against COVID-19. So at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Mentone opened as a takeout restaurant with curbside pickup.

Mentone is making margherita pizzas, pesto pizzas, and soppressata pizzas to order. There's a "Riviera salad" for two that is Mentone's version of a salade Niçoise. There are Ligurian, Italian, and Provençal wines, along with cocktails like house negronis, that customers can enjoy at home.

Pizzas are made with dough that's fermented for 48 hours and baked in a wood-fired oven from Italy.

"We're taking it as a good opportunity to start a very limited menu," Kinch said. "Cynically, it's a great way to practice our pizzas. So when we open up [for dine-in service], we're going to be firing on all cylinders."

Mentone is a restaurant inspired by both the Italian and French elements of "Riviera cuisine." But Kinch, as always, wants to showcase California ingredients. He has Taggiasca olive oil made by Wild Poppies in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He's collaborated on a saucisson with Corralitos Market & Sausage Co. in Watsonville. He's looking forward to serving dine-in customers a menu that will include focaccia, farinata, pasta, ratatouille, daube Niçoise, and a daily fish roasted with olive tapenade and peppers.

For the time being, though, Mentone will have a limited takeout menu while also selling gift cards and merchandise.

"Everybody needs cash flow," Kinch said. "I mean, that's everything right now. Takeout keeps people engaged and makes us realize the importance of guests, and it's also our lifeline."

Kinch knows much more than most people about how to bounce back after a devastating turn of events. He had to close and reopen his Los Gatos fine-dining destination Manresa after a fire in both 2014 and 2018. But unfortunately, what's happening to him and his entire industry in 2020 is much worse. His experiences with the fires don't put him in a position to give anybody advice right now.

Mentone Pizza
Alyssa Twelker

"I don't have any kind of Magic 8-Ball," he said. "The only things that the fires have been good for with this is that it's helping emotionally and mentally to deal with something like this yet again."

He's fighting to save all of his restaurants.

"I'm incredibly concerned about my staff," he said. "It's imperative to me that we get up and running as soon as possible, as safe as possible."

He's been heartened by how the to-go family meals at the three-Michelin-starred Manresa have been selling out. But, of course, a $53 dinner of braised chicken, basmati rice, roasted asparagus, baby red kale salad, Parker House rolls, and persimmon tea cake costs much less than the elaborate tasting menus that the restaurant normally serves. Elegant comfort food is what Manresa is doing now, so another recent $53 meal included lasagna Bolognese and Dijon-style green beans. Manresa also has vegetarian meals that are less expensive.

When Manresa was closed after the fires, there was insurance money that helped Kinch offset lost revenue and pay employees. But his insurance doesn't cover the economic impact of a global pandemic.

"I am beyond thankful and feel blessed that we have clients and regular customers over the years who are supporting us through stop-gap measures, purchasing gift cards and merchandise," he said.

And Kinch also launched takeout at The Bywater, his New Orleans-inspired restaurant in Los Gatos, on Wednesday. He's closed his Manresa Bread bakeries, but he might sell baked goods out of their commissary in the near future. His goal is to set things up in a way that will allow him to quickly reopen all of his restaurants for dine-in guests when the time is right.

"I think there's two major phases here," he said. "And actually the phase we're in right now, I think is the easy one. Everybody's fighting to get into position where they can open again and do it safely. That's going to be the easy part. The hard part is, once we're open, is the economic landscape going to be scorched to the point where people can't go out? Rebuilding all our businesses is what's going to be really tough."

One difference between what Kinch has gone through before and what's happening now is that the fires at Manresa only affected one restaurant. COVID-19 has hurt the entire restaurant industry and disrupted the entire economy.

"This is a situation where we're all in this together, and that's what makes it fundamentally different," Kinch said.

Mentone is open for takeout on Wednesdays through Sundays from 4 p.m. until food is sold out. Menu items and merchandise can be ordered online.

Mentone, 174 Aptos Village Way, Aptos, CA

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