Owner Cinthya Cisneros planned to open her restaurant, La Cheve Bakery and Brews, on March 18. However, the following day, Napa County and California COVID-19 shelter-at-home orders went into effect, shutting down restaurants, and in Cisneros’s case, preventing her from opening at all.
To further complicate things, because the restaurant was unable to open prior to the orders, Cisneros did not qualify for any small business loans or other assistance. “It literally broke my heart,” she said.
Still, she moved forward with plan to open. “The reality is that La Cheve was already a part of our lives, so I had to figure out how to allow it to still survive during this tough time,” she recalls. Nearly two months later, on Thursday, May 14, La Cheve opened for pick-up, and on Thursday, May 21, for outdoor patio and limited inside dining.
“Opening a restaurant is tough,” Cisneros said, “but opening it during COVID-19 has added a whole other layer that I never expected.”
A few years ago when Cisneros began looking for a location for her restaurant, her first choice was Napa’s oldest building, the Old Adobe, which dates to 1845. It was recently restored by then owner Justin Altamura. She has lived nearby since she was 15 years old
“The Adobe always had my heart when I was negotiating with other spaces. It never felt as right as the Adobe,” she said. Cisneros chose the name La Cheve as a homage to her homebrewing. She described how she and her family would gather in the garage for her beermaking, which brought them even closer. Her father nicknamed the garage La Cheve, Mexican slang for beer, so it was a befitting name for the restaurant.
Cisneros describes La Cheve as “a little piece of Mexico that marries our passion for beer, food and baked goods.” Her mother – whom she fondly calls, “Mamma Juana” – makes the restaurant’s pan dulce, pastries, and other baked goods daily.
What inspired her to open La Cheve?
“When you see your momma wake up at 2:30 a.m. for 24 years to give all her heart, sweat, and tears at a local bakery, she deserves it,” Cisneros replied. “When you see your dad wake up at 4 a.m. to give it his all in a labor-intensive job for 25 years, he deserves it. When you want to provide an independence pathway for your brother, who is autistic, he deserves it. When you want to set a great example for your little sister, she deserves it. When you want to create a space where your comunidad will create beautiful new memories forever, they deserve it. That’s why I decided to go into this tough industry.”
La Cheve also offers local beers, draft beers made by Cisneros herself, local wines from Mexican-American, family-owned wineries, Goat Rock cider, kombucha, Proyecto Diaz coffee, traditional Mexican lunch and dinner dishes, and Mexican breakfast weekend mornings. Also available are vegan and gluten-free meal accommodations, as well as pastries para los doggies from Napa Valley’s drool. dog cookies.
In spite of – or perhaps because of COVID-19’s impact – Cisneros said La Cheve has been warmly and enthusiastically received by the Napa community. The most popular menu item is Mamma Juana’s concha, a Mexican pan dulce, which resembles a seashell with its round shape and patterned design. It is in such high demand that Cisneros takes daily, prepaid orders of 100 conchas, in addition to making hundreds for restaurant walk-ins. In a recent social media post, Cisneros told followers, “Mamma Juana baked 600 conchas today.” During the first four days open – in addition to selling all of those conchas – La Cheve sold 288 growlers of beer and sold out of all daily pastries and baked goods.
La Cheve sells the conchas first thing every morning during breakfast hours. Although Proyecto Diaz coffee is the traditional beverage accompaniment, Cisneros also offers a weekly “Pastry and Cheve” pairing. During opening week, she paired the concha with her own porter, “Un arroz con Maria Juarez,” an ode to Old Adobe’s original female owner, wife of Don Cayetano Juarez. Brewed with rice, lactose, cinnamon, and vanilla, it mirrors the sweetness and cinnamon notes of the concha, resulting in an unexpectedly delightful tasting experience.
In addition to the conchas, Momma Juana also makes “Los Boozy Pastries,” which include a liqueur as part of the recipe. The opening week’s selection was a shortcake made with apricot liqueur, real whipped cream, and topped with a strawberry.
On La Cheve’s lunch and dinner menu, one will find Cisneros’s versions of traditional Mexican meals, such as tacos, quesadilla, ceviche, burrito de chile relleno, and torta plancha, which is made with Momma Juana’s bolillo – a Mexican take on a baguette, but shorter and flatter. Weekend breakfast items include chilaquiles, burrito de chorizo, cornmeal pancakes, and mollete, the latter also made with Momma Juana’s bolillo.
Beyond the food and drink that La Cheve serves is the notable and enduring theme of family. In nearly every social media post, in the restaurant’s signage, and in other written and spoken communications, Cisneros addresses everyone as “Familia.” On La Cheve’s website, one finds a quote, “Un brindis por aquellos que nos sonrien desde el cielo.” – “A toast to those who smile at us from heaven.” What is the significance of that? Cisneros said she wanted to pay tribute to all who have come before her, the family and residents who paved the way for La Cheve, as well as Old Adobe’s original Juarez family.