A cloud of flour trails behind head chef Charlie Ayers as he swiftly slides three perfectly round pizzas into a red-hot wood-burning stove that emanates heat as Calafia’s customers prepare to indulge.
Standing out from his competitors, former Google head chef Ayers provides a dependable source of healthy, nutritious foods at his restaurant, Calafia, located in Town and Country Village.
Ayers founded the restaurant in 2007 and uses only local, fresh and organic produce in his dishes. By founding Calafia, Ayers hopes to demonstrate the future possibility of locally sustainable, healthy and appetizing dishes.
Ayers created the restaurant to focus on his core values in food — that it be local and fresh — because he says none existed that met his needs.“I opened a restaurant out of my own selfish need, because there was no restaurant near Palo Alto that meets my needs,” Ayers says.
Ayers disapproves of processed and inorganically farmed foods, advocating for more locally dependent restaurants. He only serves ingredients grown on local farms.
“When you can’t trust your government, you can’t trust your neighbor,” Ayers says. “The very least you want to be able to do is trust the person who provides the food for you.”
Ayers even welcomes customers to share their own homegrown produce with him and — from persimmons to lemons — they deliver.
The majority of his ingredients come from local farmers in the bay area, but he also receives mushrooms and other produce from towns surrounding Palo Alto.
“My mushroom forager goes into people’s yards, Los Altos hills and all around here to bring me my porcinis and my other exotic mushrooms,” Ayers says.
All of Calafia’s ingredients are fresh, with the exception of a few canned goods like diced tomatoes, tomato paste and apple sauce. Ayers makes his own pickles, hot sauce and ketchup.
As the years have gone by, Ayers continually strives to perfect his seasonally rotating menu and creates new ones every year.
The menu offers five daily specials including vegetarian and vegan options.
Calafia’s open kitchen allows chefs to perform and display their skills while guests look on and wait attentively for their meals.
“I have always had open kitchens in California; it lends itself to the ebb and flow of energy in a restaurant where it’s exciting for guests to see all the action,” Ayers says.
After Ayers left Google, he began to acquire investors from Silicon Valley to fund Calafia, because he saw a market for food that implemented healthy alternatives to the status quo of meaty entrees, including vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Ayers’ Dragon’s Breath Noodle Breath Bowl and the Vegan Love Plate are some of his most popular dishes.
“It’s kind of like the philosophy Thomas Jefferson had, where you eat meats in very small amounts and compliment it and garnish all your meals with vegetables,” Ayers says.
Soon after the inauguration of Calafia, Ayers gained a vegetarian following that seemed upset when they saw meat dishes alongside the restaurant’s vegetarian options on the menu.
“I was watching and reading the body language of the customers, and that told me right there they wanted to see a segregated, separate [vegetarian] menu,” Ayers says.
It was then that he created two separate menus to accommodate his customers at Calafia.
Creating a separate vegetarian menu was no challenge for Ayers who had cooked vast volumes of diverse food while working at Google.
Alongside the restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Calafia Market-A-Go-Go was created to fit “impatient lifestyles,” Ayers says, very much like his own.
“I am an impatient person and my life is important and costs me money,” Ayers says. “I am not the only person like that; when you’re stuck in a line trying to get out, it’s not reasonable to me and I don’t understand it.”
This section of the restaurant was also created to benefit people on tighter budgets.
“You shouldn’t have to be wealthy to eat healthy,” Ayers says. His philosophy is based on the belief that healthy and nutritious foods should be affordable and accessible to every diner who comes through the door.
“I provide what they know they can get day-in, day-out, seven days a week, multiple times a day, high-quality, locally-sourced.”