From the moment in 2016 when he bought the bookstore and cafe business that occupies most of the landmark City-owned Depot building from the family of the late Mary Turnbull, who died in September 2015, Vasco owner Paul Lazzareschi longed to modernize the space, respecting its historic, small-town character as a former train and bus depot in the heart of downtown Mill Valley.
In the intervening years, there have been myriad hurdles along the way. There were negotiations with City officials about how best to proceed, how to include the construction of public bathrooms into the project and who was going to pay for it. In April 2018, the City Council unanimously rejected an effort to stop plans to renovate the space and allow construction of the bathrooms, the plans for which were regularly discussed in 2014, were budgeted in 2015 and conceptually date back to 1984.
The Depot first closed for the renovation in March 2019, and the fencing that heralded the beginning of construction went up in late December. Lazzareschi brought in investors to move the project forward, focusing on a project with two major components: an overhaul of the Depot space, bringing the historic building, particularly its bathroom and kitchen, up to code, as well as the construction of the much-needed public restroom adjacent to the Depot.
Then came the pandemic, halting construction in its tracks.
In May 2020, when the Depot project was deemed essential construction amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the construction of the bathrooms and building renovation resumed. The public bathrooms opened this week.
If Lazzareschi and his team are not quite yet ready to celebrate – there is the current state of COVID-19 metrics and the current stay-at-home order for Marin that has effectively halted nearly every business sector in town, including both indoor and outdoor dining – they are ready for a soft opening. That’s is set for Monday, January 25, with takeout food and drinks available 7am-2pm.
“It’s been an incredibly long journey, and we are so grateful to the community for hanging in there with us as we’ve updated and beautified this Mill Valley institution,” say Lazzareschi and Depot Cafe & Bookstore managing partners Mark Martini and Katy Leese, the latter of whom is running the bookstore. “We can’t wait to open next week for takeout, and we’re thrilled to be able to welcome everyone inside when it’s safe to do so.”
Lazzareschi and Martini emphasized that the project was as much of an all-hands-on-deck venture as they could have ever hoped for, with investors coming on board to propel it to the finish line, and a number of local businesses chipping in, including Green Jeans Garden Supply co-owner Xander Wessells donating all of the new greenery around the space and Dvorson’s Restaurant Supply owner Josh Dvorson helping to design the kitchen and providing custom dish ware.
A Chef With a Rep
Upon her return to the Bay Area, she met Mitch Rosenthal, who took Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Postrio to new heights in the 1990s, has run myriad acclaimed restaurants and is now the co-owner of Town Hall and Jersey Pizza in San Francisco. They got married, and what ended up being Pult’s last restaurant gig for a while was at Caffe Museo, the SFMOMA cafe spot that was owned by Bill Higgins, Bill Upson and Gordon Drysdale of Real Restaurants.
Pult and Rosenthal had children soon thereafter, and Pult retired from the restaurant business, raising her kids and writing “Cooking My Way Back Home,” a cookbook with Roswenthal and her brother Jon Pult. “I always kind of missed cooking,” Pult says. “I couldn’t be too creative with our young kids.”
In the past year or so, with one son off to college and a daughter graduating high school, Pult pondered crafting another cookbook. But then a friend introduced her to Lazzareschi, and their conversations led to an agreement that Pult would un-retire and helm the kitchen at the Depot Cafe, which is focusing on food that is healthy, organic, good quality, locally grown and sustainable.
“It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time,” Pult says. “Mostly because I’ve never walked into a place and set the whole thing up from the beginning. The kitchen is fairly small, which allows us to focus the menu but also be creative.”
“I’ve lived here for 21 years, so I kind of feel like I have an idea what is missing in town,” she adds, hinting that there will be some Greek elements, including mezze plates and a cheese board on the menu. “In the past five years, Mill Valley has become a lot more vibrant, with more food choices and much better cooking.”
Pult eyes a farmers market driven and very seasonal menu, with soups, salads and sandwiches, pastries and bakes good, yogurt and granola and a few small egg dishes. All of that will have to wait, however, until indoor and/or outdoor dining reopens. Until then, it’s to-go everything, with plenty of food and drink options, but no hot food.
“I’m truly excited – I’ve always loved restaurant work and it’s a thrill to be creative again,” she says. “A cafe is a place that people go to every day – it can become their place.”
The Man With a Plan
Marin native Matt Borello, who left Peet’s Coffee in 2020 after 10 years as the manager at the downtown Mill Valley cafe and 13 years total at the Bay Area coffee retailer, is the Depot Cafe’s general manager.
Borello’s single-digit move from Peet’s at 88 Throckmorton Ave. to the Depot Cafe at 87 Throckmorton spanned about 40 yard, but “it’s been the leap of a lifetime,” he says. “The amount of responsibility is high, but the amount of love and respect that comes with it is something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Borello says the catalyst for his transition was clear as day.
“I‘ve known Paul (Lazzareschi) and this community for a long time and I really wanted to get more community based,” says Borello, who made Peet’s an active participant of such vital local organizations as Clean Mill Valley and the Mill Valley Artwalk. “Working for a corporation provided a lot of restrictions, and now I’ll have more freedom to do all of those things.”
The Depot Cafe has chosen Linea Coffee (pron. Lin-ee-ah or Luh-NAY-uh – both work), which Borello calls “an amazing company with an amazing product that allows us to showcase a high quality product that is different. Equator is a little bit lighter and Peet’s is a little bit darker, so it kind of puts us right in the middle of what those two are doing here in town.”
Borello says he’s excited to get “back to basics” with “a menu that meets all of the needs of a coffee menu but simplifies it – we’re not doing all of the 55 drinks that are out there.”
Borello says his barista team has gone through extensive training to understand that, much like a baker, “it’s not just understanding a recipe, it’s also understanding time frames and cleaning processes. It’s really back to basics.”
In addition to Linea, Depot Cafe will also feature Clover Sonoma milk from Petaluma, beer from Fort Point and Russian River Brewing Company (Pliny the Elder on tap), tea from Tea Fountain on Miller Ave. and sustainably made and compostable to-go packaging.
The 411: The Depot Cafe & Bookstore opens Monday, Jan. 25. To-go only until outdoor and/or indoor dining is permitted. 87 Throckmorton Avenue. Cafe hours: 7am-2pm. Bookstore hours: 9am-5pm.