After about two years of planning, permits and extensive reconstruction, the former Hamlet Restaurant at Exotic Gardens in Cambria finally is morphing into Centrally Grown, a specialty market, casual café and bar, catering service and garden nursery filled with edibles.
The store/café is due to open its doors for a so-called “soft opening” perhaps as early as Thursday, Jan. 29, or no later than sometime in the first week of February, according to staff.
As of Tuesday, Jan. 27, according to Operations Analyst Brigette Olmos-Arreola (a 2004 Coast Union High School grad), the market’s shelves were fully stocked and staffers were getting last-minute instructions on such essentials as the point-of-sale and coffee-brewing systems.
A full-scale restaurant upstairs is to be completed later, although nobody’s guessing yet how much later.
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The emphasis will be on sustainable, fresh, local products with minimal packaging. As part of the “less is more” philosophy, owner Dave Robertson is even considering recyclable produce crates and reusable take-out containers for everything from bulk items to pizza. Customers who bring the containers back to use again would get a discount.
How fresh? How local? As Robertson wandered through Centrally Grown’s garden areas Jan. 7, pausing here and there to pluck and munch a leaf of lettuce or a sprig of cilantro, he said he’s even considering bottling water from his Red Mountain Road-area ranches and selling it at Centrally Grown. And he’d rather wait longer for a wood-fired pizza oven built locally than buy a ready-made one and have it delivered sooner.
Most landscaping on Centrally Grown’s campus is edible or bears fruit that is, from Robertson’s impromptu brunch salad ingredients to strawberries, apples, citrus, avocados, rhubarb, kale and more.
In construction, too, Robertson said he has emphasized using local workers, equipment, supplies and products, and above all, reusing and repurposing as many elements as possible.
His recycling of things that evoke memories of The Hamlet should please friends and fans of the former establishment.
Maggie and Norman Hamlet launched their eponymous restaurant in Harmony in 1975. Three years later, they relocated to San Simeon. In 1981, they began converting the dilapidated property on
Exotic Gardens Drive into a restaurant oasis overlooking Highway 1 and the ocean. They moved the restaurant to the new locale in 1982. They added jazz concerts a little more than two decades ago.
Maggie Hamlet died in 1997, and Norman Hamlet died in 2007. The restaurant went to their longtime partner, Roy Ford. After Ford’s death in 2009, his three daughters kept the operation going for a while until they sold the business and the property in early February 2012 to Robertson and Centrally Grown for $2.475 million.
So far, Robertson’s remodeling has included:
- Removing, redesigning and redoing the former Exotic Gardens plantings.
- Removing some buildings he said were unsafe.
- Expanding into a two-story alcove what had been the front entranceway (and having craftsman Matt Humphrey reuse the previous front door in a custom-made table).
- Redoing the inside of the main building.
- Creating a sweeping outdoor staircase and recirculating waterfall.
- Multiple iterations of how to arrange the new commercial elements and the emphasis of the Centrally Grown establishment.
The result — for now — is an expansive upscale market with counter-order café stations for pick-up/ take-out meals, with nearly all the seating outside.
There are separate stations for wood-fired pizza/flatbreads and homemade ice cream; a juice bar; and areas for take-out soups, sandwiches, salads, wraps, pastries, quick breads, local herbs and bulk bin supplies, among other items.
But how the elements are arranged now may not be how they stay. It’s to be an evolutionary, responsive process, Robertson said.
About Centrally Grown
Centrally Grown is at 7432 Exotic Gardens Drive, across Highway 1 from the northernmost access to Moonstone Beach Drive. The campus sits on an ocean-view bluff east of the highway, about a mile north of Cambria. For more, go to www.centrallygrown.com.