In Depth: Kendra Baker and Zach Davis

After taking Santa Cruz by storm and launching two successful businesses, The Penny Ice Creamery and The Picnic Basket, you would think co-owners Kendra Baker and Zach Davis had reached capacity. Thankfully for us, however, there was still more to come. And, as it turned out, opening up their third business Assembly, was an organic continuation of their business model and a natural next step in their growth.

There were a lot of factors that went into creating and launching Assembly, aside from the fact that for Zach and Kendra it seemed like another fun thing to do. From a practical sense, with the Picnic Basket really taking off, they were outgrowing their existing kitchen space. Opening Assembly allowed them even greater space for prep and tripled their refrigeration space. In terms of staffing, Assembly created even more room for their staff to grow and develop. From the beginning it has been important to Zach and Kendra to not only retain talent, but also provide really good opportunities to their staff.

For us, having multiple businesses provides an amazing opportunity for someone who may be new to the food scene or maybe just stumbling on the interesting food happening here in Santa Cruz to get a lot of exposure to the industry. They may start off at the Penny, spend some time there, learn about our business, and then eventually they may be ready to work at The Picnic Basket. And after that maybe move on to work at Assembly. — Kendra Baker

In a way you could say Zach and Kendra are incubating foodies both within their staff and among their customers, by providing them with lots of exposure to different kinds of food, various levels of restaurants, and types of service. 

The final piece of the Assembly puzzle has to be community. Having a larger space has allowed them to both give back to local organizations in an even greater way by hosting events and benefits, but also providing a space for actual community building. One of the amazing things about stopping in to Assembly for a drink or a meal, is that more times than not you'll run into someone you know, maybe even be seated next to them at one of the long communal tables. It is truly a place to “assemble”, to meet new people, and to really feel like you are a part of something.

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And, it’s one of the truly unique things about Santa Cruz too, and one of the reasons Zach and Kendra decided to take the leap and start their businesses here.

When I use to commute over the hill, I would walk these streets and not know anyone. And now i’ve had the ability to meet so many people. I have never experienced so much collaborative energy; there are an endless amount of things to participate in and be apart of. There is an encouraging nature here of business and people. It's great to know so many business owners who genuinely care about each other's success and want to help in any way. It feels like people want to lift everyone up to make everything better. — Kendra Baker

The food scene seems to be growing and getting better and better here in Santa Cruz. “Sky's the limit. Geographically, regionally we have access to so many fresh ingredients and the agricultural community is an amazing resource. You look at our farmers markets and you see people who are tremendously committed to the sustainable production of good quality ingredients. All the tools and resources are here for folks in the restaurant side of the food industry to do amazing things. I think we will continue to see good quality restaurants opening and taking advantages of that," says Zach.  

But, both Zach and Kendra are honest about the real challenges they see here too and the challenges to the food industry. While there are a lot creative people with interesting ideas here in Santa Cruz, they stress the need to address how we will retain them with the high cost of living. 

We will continue to see people, like Noah from Mortal Dumpling, who are small producers of good quality delicious stuff, but we will need to figure out how we can help those producers make the leap to the brick and mortar/full scale restaurants. How can we make that work? Is there enough support here? Restaurants are like any other business, they depend on a healthy economy. — Zach Davis

With their unique staffing model of investing in their employee’s foodie development, and the creation of POPUP, which provides kitchen space to small scale producers, Zach and Kendra are major supporters of the Santa Cruz food industry and cheerleaders of a healthy economy. Furthermore, with a high concentration of passionate people and restaurant sales tax revenue seeing steady growth from the end of 2015, we will hopefully see continued expansion of the Santa Cruz Food Industry in Santa Cruz. And as far as Assembly is concerned, there is still more to come.

Want to eat some good food? Check out Assembly at 1108 Pacific Ave. I recommend the Vittles to start!

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