Glen Ellen Inn seeks to convert restaurant to rooms

The restaurant business has been Chris Bertrand’s life since he was a teen. That made his recent decision to permanently close the Glen Ellen Inn’s restaurant a particularly difficult one.

Bertrand earned his first paycheck as a Sonoma Valley High School freshman washing dishes at Mary’s Pizza Shack. After college and stints at restaurants in New York City, he was working at Orlando’s in Santa Rosa in 1989 when he met his wife, Karen, who worked at a Mexican restaurant nearby.

The couple dreamed of opening their own place and when Bob Rice offered to sell them his quaint eight-table downtown eatery in 1993, the Glen Ellen Inn, they jumped at the chance.

At the time, the Inn was a misnomer. There were no rooms, just a restaurant but the property had a long and interesting history in town. Since 1940, the little orange building at 13670 Arnold Drive had been a burger joint, liquor store and then a beauty parlor favored by Jack London’s wife Charmian. In the 1970s, the building was owned by Bob Wallace who opened a small sandwich shop, quickly dubbed the Glen Ellen Inn. In the 1980s, Bob Rice bought the business and turned the Glen Ellen Inn into fine dinner spot serving California cuisine.

The Bertrands took over the lease from Rice in 1993 and in 1996, purchased the property itself from Wallace. They began expanding the building and then purchased the adjacent rear the property as well. They decided it was time for the inn to live up to its name, and fully renovated fully renovated the two cottages on that land.

For decades people had stopped by and been confused to learn there were no rooms. Finally in 2001, lodging opened to guests.

“These opportunities kind of fell into our lap and that’s been our experience here and why we love Glen Ellen so much,” said Bertrand.

The Glen Ellen Inn currently includes a 130-seat restaurant, making it the hamlet’s largest by a seat or two. The small property also boasts a small martini bar and seven guest cottages on two parcels totaling .32 acres. It sits in the center of downtown Glen Ellen at the corner of Arnold Drive and O’Donnell Lane, backing up to Calabasas Creek.

For the past 30 years, business has been great for the Bertrands and they have loved running their “quaint, quiet” inn and restaurant.

But “restaurant work is just hard work,” Chris said, even pre-COVID. He describes the Glen Ellen Inn as a “destination restaurant” and as they don’t offer takeout, the pandemic was “really, really hard on us.” The inn itself, was also closed for months.

Over the course of the shutdown, the Bertrands decided that when they reopened, they wanted to shift focus.

The couple have applied for a permit to convert the existing restaurant into two additional guest rooms with a new check-in area. The inn’s small 150-square-foot martini bar would continue its operation unchanged.

“While the restaurant has been closed, we realized we like having people stay with us and sending them out to other places to eat,” said Bertrand. “Locals have said they will really miss the restaurant but we hope they’ll swing by and say hi and have a drink and say hi that way.”

The Glen Ellen Inn won’t offer any meals, not even breakfast.

“We want our guests to enjoy all the great options around town here,” he said. “It’s fun to send them out to experience everything offered here.”

Approval of a modified use permit for the inn requires the processing of a General Plan Amendment and the rezoning of the property.

PLP21-0014 Packet Glen Ellen Inn.pdf

“It’s just me and Karen, we’re not some big corporation,” said Bertrand. “We’re asking the county to help us focus just on our few rooms. We don’t want to have these doors closed forever but we need approval to make this change.”

Bertrand invites anyone in the community who would like to see the plans developed by architect Jerry Tierney’s office to stop by the inn, ask questions and chat.

The Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission will consider the application at its meeting on Thursday, July 28, which will be held remotely via Zoom.

Other Glen Ellen dining spaces

Mill at Glen Ellen - 129 seats: 84 inside, 45 outside

Jack London Saloon - 117 seats: 37 inside, 80 outside

Glen Ellen Star - 95 seats: 68 inside, 27 outside

Yeti - 74 seats: 44 inside and 30 outside

Garden Court Café - 64: 44 inside 20

The Fig Café - Closed indefinitely

Source: Phone, email survey of restaurant managers, 7/20/21

Part of the restaurant section of Glen Ellen Inn on Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen on Monday, July 19, 2021. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Part of the restaurant section of Glen Ellen Inn on Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen on Monday, July 19, 2021. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

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