If you stop by at LaDonna’s in Atascadero, you’ll mostly likely meet LaDonna herself.
The new restaurant, located at 6195 El Camino Real in the heart of Atascadero’s downtown, is a labor of love for owner and chef LaDonna White and her fiancé, Aaron Ezell, who also bartends for the restaurant.
The couple built the space from scratch — literally, down to the inlaid stone on the tables — and hope to fill a need in the community.
“I want everyone that’s here to have a place that’s unlike anywhere else in the county,” said White, who works in wealth management. “Where, when they walk through the doors, it’s special because they’re family — like they’re coming over to my house. And that’s how we treat them.
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“They’re less my customers and more ... we are a community. We are a family.”
LaDonna’s, which offers appetizers such as deviled quail eggs and entrees that include pork roast with twice-baked potatoes and creamed corn, serves farm-to-table fare, White said.
The restaurant also offers live music on Friday nights, featuring local acts.
“We want to support everyone local possible, plus it tastes better,” White said. “If all the local businesses support one another then we can all make it, be successful, raise our families.”
When it came to designing the menu, White knew she wanted customers to feel “truly satiated.”
“I agonized over it for seven months,” said White, who also considered the restaurant’s cooking and refrigeration space. “It’s not just about the way it looks or the way it tastes ... I really wanted it to be delicious but also beautiful.”
Right now, LaDonna’s, which opened Aug. 17, is open from 5 to 10 p.m. daily during the week and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily on weekends.
That will change in about a month, once all the restaurant’s details are finalized and the kitchen is completely finished, White said. LaDonna’s will then offer lunch and Sunday brunch, according to White.
White, who previously worked designing restaurants in New York, attended culinary school at Cuesta College and studied viticulture at Cal Poly. She and Ezell, who has a background in landscaping, decided they wanted to open a restaurant on their first date.
“We wanted to bring some magic,” she said. And so far, she said, the community is responding to it — and to her and Ezell’s hands-on approach.
“We’re not really like a traditional restaurant where you have bussers and hosts and servers and you maybe never meet the owners,” White said. “I will greet you, I will serve you, I will take your dishes and cook for you.”
White said she and Ezell secured the lease for the restaurant in January and got their permits in March. They’ve been working on it nonstop since, with help from their family and friends.
“This was a Century 21, so we took an office building and built a kitchen,” White said. (The couple declined to say how much they’ve invested in the restaurant.)
One of the restaurant’s defining features is a canopy made of umbrellas that floats high over the sidewalk, which White and Ezell built themselves. White said her teenage children showed her pictures of similar canopies at restaurants abroad, which provided the inspiration.
White said she loves watching people react to the canopy. She remembers watching a dad walk up to the restaurant while holding his crying young son.
“They crested the corner,” White said, and the boy looked up. “He stopped crying and he said, ‘Oh, it’s wonderful!’ That was the most touching thing. All of this was worth that.”
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