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Venue spotlight: Palooza Brewery and Gastropub

Do you ever walk into a restaurant or bar and everybody turns and shouts “Norm!” in unison? Me neither. It’s a TV thing from “Cheers.” But if it happens anywhere in Sonoma Valley, it happens in Kenwood’s Palooza Brewery and Gastropub.

Owners Suzette and Jeff Tyler have owned Palooza since 2014. The popular family gathering spot was the outgrowth of the real estate downturn of 2008, when Jeff was working as a general contractor and Suzette was self-employed as a real estate appraiser. The couple found themselves looking for other avenues of income.

“We looked at each other (like), well, gotta figure something out,” recalls Suzette. Jeff, being a sports fan, had a fondness for hot dogs. He found a hot dog cart for sale online, obtained the requisite permits, and “bought the best hot dogs on the market.

“We wanted it top notch,” he said of the hot-dog cart. They set up shop in front of Swede’s Feed along Highway 12 in Kenwood.

Soon, Jeff was making delicious sauces to complement the hot dogs. He experimented with local wine, chutneys, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and came up with some yummy offerings. He went to the wineries whose products were going into the sauces, and they began serving the hot dogs at their events.

A second cart was purchased and the Tylers got doubly busy. Soon Palooza Catering and Events was born. Yet they had a hankering for a brick-and-mortar place.

Valentine’s Day 2014 was opening day for Palooza. It has since become an important neighborhood gathering spot.

A crucible event for Palooza is referred to simply as “the fires.” Jeff recalls the day after the fires began when the power was out all over the area. “The first two or three days, we served pizza. We went up to Mountain Mike’s Pizza and served it all free. We served beer, warm beer, until the refrigerators came back up.”

The Tylers had decided earlier to craft their own beer to serve at the restaurant, but the power outage caused concern. “The first batch was in the tanks down there and we couldn’t get in to service it,” said Suzette. “We were thinking it’s going to be a loss. But when we came back and found out it was OK, we decided to give all the proceeds back to the community. We gave $5,000 to the Rotary Club and the fire station here. We named it Kenwood Love.”

Palooza is also described as a wonderful place to work, by both the front-of-house staff and the kitchen crew.

The Tylers also insist on having a 100-percent sober work environment, which can be hard to achieve when running a pub, says Jeff.

Palooza also has an outdoor pizza oven. Patio seating is popular, as the parents can keep an eye on the kids who just might take on the giant Jenga game. A billiard table and table tennis are inside, as are numerous TVs, usually turned to sporting events.

Palooza is open seven days a week, closing only for Easter, Thanksgiving, and days between Christmas and the first week of the new year. They are open for lunch and dinner.

“We do everything local,” said Suzette. “All wines, beers, even our barstools were made locally, all of them.”

The Tylers offer live music on Thursdays and comedy on the first Friday of the month. The fourth Thursday of the month is reserved for an open mic event. The Summer Comedy Series, which is starting its sixth year, is hosted by Dan Myers, who brings professional comedians with him.

Jeff’s mantra is: “Treat people right, buy good ingredients, and don’t screw up.”

Suzette’s feeling about Palooza is summed up with, “It’s where you come and bring your kids and family and get together and have a great time – great food and music and games.

“It’s kind of our gathering place, a neighborhood gathering place.”

Stop by Palooza, and don’t be surprised if they shout out your name when you walk in the door.

It’s at 910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, paloozafresh.com.

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