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Walnut Creek Magazine

Sunol Ridge: Partners in Craft

Mar 24, 2017 03:44PM ● By Lou Fancher


Meet the men who created this swanky watering hole 

By Lou Fancher

Behind the ranch-style decor and southern-inspired American cuisine at Sunol Ridge, sophistication and commitment to service shine. Customers tout its large selection of carefully curated craft beers—38 on tap—regional wines, specialty cocktails and a signature SunFed ranch burger that owner Christopher George unabashedly calls “the best, no skimp burger in town.” The eclectic menu features satisfying small plates like Ahi tuna poke and fried green tomatoes meant to share, while mains like the braised beef cheeks and tapioca crusted snapper satisfy a hearty appetite. But no meal here is complete without delightful beignets and crème brulee for dessert.

When Chris George and his partner, Mark Flaherty, transformed the restaurant space in 2014, they spared no expense—a leather bar is covered in authentic cow hides, a granite gathering table doubles as a work of art complete with water fall, and an outdoor patio is richly appointed with copper lighting and a community fire pit. Both men share a sincere dedication to fresh, flavorful food served in a lively, well-appointed environment.

George was born and raised in Martinez in a family of six children with schoolteacher parents. His father, a science teacher, had a green thumb. “Everything came from the garden. Only tuna came from a can,” George recalls. “My father was a product of the Depression and believed you raised everything you were going to eat.” George’s mother had a knack for feeding her “little army” with Italian dishes, pork chops and tater tots. As a teenager, he remembers seeing syrup poured out of a bottle for the first time—his family made their own—and thought, “Why not make it yourself?”

Flaherty says an intense curiosity about home-brewed beer forged their friendship. Unknowingly, each gave the other a beer kit one Christmas. After some serious research and much tasting, the idea of opening a simple pub became a substantial restaurant concept.

At Sunol Ridge, Flaherty is the front man—overseeing the beer on tap, refining the menu and handling customer relations. He also responds directly to Yelp and other online reviews by inviting people who report dissatisfaction to come back in and talk with him. “Diners during a special night out don’t want to say something and ruin the evening. I understand that. At first, it was hard not to take bad reviews personally. But now we look at them, dissect them with the staff and fix the problem.”

He says hiring a team with strong people skills has made all the difference for business. “A person can be celebrating an anniversary of a wedding or of a loved one passing away. Two people might be in-and-out, all business—or a couple who want to sit at a table for hours after the meal is over because it’s their first night out without the kids in months. Seasoned and well-trained servers understand the difference.”

Now that Sunol Ridge is established, George’s “day job” as President and CEO of CMG Financial, a privately held mortgage bank, only allows him to visit the restaurant a few times each month. At home, his wife, Teresa, is the family chef. “I have a tough time boiling water, but she’s phenomenal and even leaves me prepared meals with cooking instructions when she’s out of town. Otherwise, I’d probably be eating fried bologna sandwiches,” he says. Or, making more frequent trips to Sunol Ridge for that can’t-miss burger and one of Flaherty’s hand-picked brews. 

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