Meet the Faces of Sonoma County Tourism
What do the baker, the brewer, and the candlestick maker have in common? Or the winemaker, concierge, dishwasher, tour operator, or server?
They are the faces of tourism in Sonoma County.
Nearly 20,000 people work in the local tourism industry, which brings in $1.82 billion in destination spending, including nearly $150 million in state and local taxes. (Find more facts on our statistics page.) They greet countless guests, perform their jobs with smiles and a welcoming attitude, and offer assistance when needed. They put a friendly “face” on Sonoma County every day.
The personal stories behind the smiles show that they are neighbors, friends, and residents of Sonoma County. They are the ones who know the best picnic spots, a good trail to discover, or a great art gallery featuring local artists. They also volunteer for local non-profits, show up for the PTA, and cheer kids on from the sidelines of the soccer field.
Here you’ll meet some of your neighbors who work in tourism. These are the Faces of Sonoma County Tourism.
Check back regularly, as throughout the year we will add new profiles.
Visitors connect with thousands of enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and friendly hospitality professionals. Meet the people who make it a priority to provide amazing service.
Tourism professionals do more than provide exceptional customer service to visitors. They give back to their communities by volunteering, fund-raising, sponsoring children's activities, and donating funds. Find out more about those who are making a difference in their communities.
Rosalyn White, Co-Director, Ratna Ling Retreat Center
Peter & Nancy Lang, Founders of Safari West & Safari West Wildlife Foundation
Rick Corcoran, General Manager at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in Sonoma
Visitors are the reason Sonoma County has a thriving hospitality and tourism industry. Meet some of the people who choose to visit and why.
Peter Testi, CTA, Winery Generalist at Old World Winery
Aaron Costa, CTA, Wine Touring Guide at Healdsburg Vino Tours
Megan Perkins, CTA, Account Manager at Russian River Vacation Homes in Guerneville
Deborah Klein, CTA, Marketing Director at Sonoma Canopy Tours in Occidental
Carol and Tony Anello, Spud Point Crab Company, Bodega Bay
Carrie Brown, Jimtown Store, Alexander Valley
Ana Keller, Keller Estate Winery, Petaluma
Transcendence Theatre Company, Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley
Miguel Lujan,Samagse Massage, Santa Rosa
Amy Levin, St. Florian's Brewery, Windsor
Let us know about others (including yourself!) who should be featured as a Face of Tourism. Click the Contact Us link above to send an email with name, title, company, email address, and other pertinent information. Our team will contact the person to get more information.
Banquet Captain at DoubleTree Hotel, Rohnert Park
Irene Angeles “absolutely loves” her job as banquet captain at Rohnert Park's DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Sonoma Wine Country.
"I work with the best people, from dishwasher to general manager, and I meet people from around the world,” Irene said. “I’ll do this as long as I can."
At age 80, she’s been doing it longer than most — and with irrepressible joie de vivre.
Born and raised in Scotland, Irene immigrated to Canada with her parents in 1957. Four years later she moved to San Francisco with her husband and first child. Three more kids came along, and for a decade Irene enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom. But in the early 1970s, she wanted to get back to work.
"I’m not one to sit around,” she said, her Scottish accent still strong. “I like to be busy.”
She took her first service sector job, working lunches at Camelot Fish and Chips in Pacifica. From there she moved to increasingly upscale eateries, eventually entering the hotel industry to work banquets at Burlingame’s Embassy Suites.
Around 1990, when she moved to the Sonoma County town of Windsor, Irene agreed to help out temporarily at a new Embassy Suites in San Rafael — and stayed more than 16 years.
“I loved it there,” she said. “I made so many friends. But 11 years ago, the daily 90-mile round trip commute from Windsor was getting to me. I was 69 — no spring chicken, let’s face it. I needed something closer to home.”
A friend recommended Irene to the general manager at Rohnert Park’s DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Sonoma Wine Country, which was much nearer to her home in Windsor, and she’s been there ever since.
“I absolutely love it here,” Irene said, “and I really like taking care of guests and helping them feel special. We get so many people from all over. We do conventions, business meetings, social events. There’s always something exciting going on.”
One big recent hotel event was Irene’s surprise 80th birthday bash.
“I opened the door to the Chardonnay Room and everything was pitch black,” she said. “When the lights came on, more than 100 people started singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ I started to cry. Everybody was hugging me. They gave me money, flowers, gifts — I felt like Queen for a Day. This is another family, really, so kind and loving.”
Owner, Roy's Chicago Dogs at The Yard
Chris Caudill worked as a chef for decades, mostly in the kind of high-end restaurants that serve exquisite dishes at top-tier prices. But in 2011, when it came time to start a place of his own, he went in a completely different direction. He wanted an authentic dive with great food at modest prices. The result? Roy's Chicago Dogs at the Yard.
Built into one side of the Petaluma Livestock Auction Yard and shaped long and narrow like a diner, Roy's holds a dozen or so counter seats and very few tables, plays 1950s R&B, and boasts a vintage décor that’s heavy on the side of album covers and musician photos.
"This place is everything I'm into," Caudill says. "I've always loved dives, blues music and juke joints — they've been huge in my life. Roy's is like my man cave, a juke joint without the alcohol, a dive where the family can come, with records all over the walls from the 1940s and 1950s."
Roy's specializes in 100 percent Vienna beef dogs, polish sausages, Italian beef, pastrami, and brisket. Dozens of toppings range from the familiar to hell fire sauce, Roy's spicy slaw, and pineapple mustard, while sides include bleu cheese pesto fries and Asia go potato salad.
If you don't like the combinations on the menu, you're free to make up your own. On Fridays Caudill fires up the BBQ and patrons line up for slow-smoked St. Louis-style ribs, mac ‘n cheese, and coleslaw. The most popular item on the daily menu?
"The Chicago Dog and Italian Beef sandwiches," says Caudill. "Everything else plays off those two. East Coast-style pastrami is also a big item."
The hot dogs, beef, pastrami, everything except the brisket, is Vienna beef, shipped from Chicago. Caudill smokes the brisket and barbecue himself — 100 percent hand-cut brisket, no by-product.
"We get all kinds of different people here," Caudill says. "Every Monday there's a livestock auction, so we'll get lots of ranchers and people in the livestock industry. It's like walking back into the 1950s, with cowboys in big hats, cowboy boots.”
During the week it’s the community in general, people who work or live nearby. “We also get a lot of hipsters from SF, because we've got an underground thing going on, with word spreading because people like authenticity,” Caudill adds. “We get lots of people from the Midwest and especially Chicago, people who need a Chicago taste hit."
Chris owns Roy's with his wife, Sara, and mother-in-law Ginny Schropp, who works behind the counter a few days each week. Tourists come away with great tips for sightseeing, thanks to Schropp.
"Ginny is dialed into this community," said Caudill. "She raised my wife and her other kids here, and she's great at pointing people in the right direction for what they want to do, what shops to see — we even send them to other restaurants. She's a great promoter of Petaluma."
Historian & Brand Ambassador at Buena Vista Winery
As the resident historian, brand ambassador, and character-portrayer at Sonoma's historic Buena Vista Winery, George Webber gets to wear great costumes, write and act in plays and videos, and travel the country hosting wine dinners, making presentations, and selling wine.
"I get to do for a living what I really want to do," he said recently. "I'm one of those people who made my avocation my vocation, and vice versa."
On the road or at the winery, Webber is almost always dressed as Count Agoston Haraszthy, a controversial Hungarian aristocrat who founded Buena Vista in 1857. Twirling a cane, sporting a tophat, and wearing an elegant frock coat and silk cravat, the tall and imposing Webber stays rigorously in character as he leads tours, talks about Buena Vista's storied history, praises the wine, or spins one amazing tale after another about his (i.e., the Count's) fascinating life.
Webber fell in love with acting as a child and continued with it through college. After graduation he took a job in the wine sector. He had a head for business, and before long he was working at the Pacific Stock Exchange.
Twenty years later, after computers abolished his floor broker job, Webber returned to acting and combined it with another big love, history. Dressed as historic characters such as General Mariano Vallejo and Mark Twain, he brought the past to life while leading tours around historic venues or acting in plays.
One day in 2011, Webber was strolling around Sonoma Plaza dressed as a Victorian gentleman when he ran into a mutual friend walking with Jean Charles Boisset, the new owner of Buena Vista Winery.
"My friend introduced us," Webber recalled, "and Boisset asked if I could play the role of Haraszthy."
Friendly, outgoing, and a true actorly ham, Webber cherishes his countless daily interactions with winery visitors.
"True hospitality comes from the inside," he noted, "and it's about providing meaningful and pleasant experiences for people. … And the best thing is that it's not about me. I'm just a vehicle for this region and this winery and the character that I portray. So I let the character do the job and I just sit back and relax."
Co-Director, Ratna Ling Retreat Center
In a beautiful and remote corner of Sonoma County, earnings from the Ratna Ling Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center help support efforts to keep alive the traditions and works of Tibetan culture.
Perched on a redwood-crowned hill near Cazadero, about six miles east of the Pacific Ocean and Salt Point State Park, Ratna Ling is the perfect place to disconnect from everyday life. Open to everyone — you don’t need to be a Buddhist — it’s the kind of sublime and peaceful destination that soothes the spirit and restores energy.
The surroundings are stunning: ancient redwood forests embraced by wisps of sea-driven fog, nearby hiking trails offering endless ocean views, and isolated coves for intimate picnic.
“When we first started thinking about building Ratna Ling,” said Rosalyn White, the center’s co-director, “we wanted a beautiful rural setting — and you can’t get much more beautiful than Sonoma County. We sometimes call Ratna Ling our Little Shangri-La.”
It’s not coincidence that White compares the center to a mythical Himalayan paradise. In 1959, when Tibet was invaded by Communist China, a young lama named Tarthang Tulku, schooled in an ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition, escaped to India. A decade later he settled in Berkeley, California, and began founding numerous organizations, including Dharma Publishing, to help keep alive the traditions and works of Tibetan culture. After operating expenses, Ratna Ling’s earnings help support these endeavors. White has worked with Tarthang Tulku’s organizations since 1975.
“Mostly with Dharma Publishing,” she said. “I was trained as an artist, so for years I was an illustrator there. Then I was director for a few years, and spent another couple of years directing the Tibetan Aid Project. I’ve been co-director of Ratna Ling for about three and a half years.”
Tarthang Tulku founded Ratna Ling in 2004. “We decided that it was a good idea to have a retreat center open to the public,” said White. “This property became available, construction took five years, and we’ve been open since 2009. Most of the staff volunteer, but we employ 10 people locally. We host about 8,000 guests annually, most from the Bay Area — but people come from all over the world. They often incorporate a visit here into a big trip along the coast.”
Guests are free to customize a personal retreat from available Ratna Ling meditation or yoga classes — Kummye yoga, qigong, mindful movement, and more. They can also, for an additional cost, enjoy a variety of treatments at the on-site Mandala Wellness Center, including Swedish massage, aromatherapy and Tibetan singing bowl treatment.
Other ways to spend time at the center include attending a retreat coordinated by an outside group and hosted by Ratna Ling on topics ranging from vegetarian cooking to holistic medicine, or attending one of Ratna Ling’s own retreats given throughout the year, such as August’s Mind and Body Rejuvenation (see calendar for more).
Accommodations are in 14 beautifully furnished private cottages that offer luxury bedding, Jacuzzi bathtubs, gas fireplaces, hardwood floors, and other amenities. Three organic vegetarian meals a day reflect the best of local produce, much of it grown in Ratna Ling’s gardens.
“This is such a special place,” White said. “After we go down to the city and return, most of us say: ‘Ah, back to Shangri-La!’”
Founders of Safari West & Safari West Wildlife Foundation
Ride in a vintage open-air safari vehicle over golden hills, through forested patches, past waterholes, and along flat savanna terrain. Spot Watusi cattle with horns measuring six feet across, a distant gazelle swiftly racing and leaping, a baby giraffe bending long legs to dip its head down for a spicy nibble of grass, and the bizarre beauty of an East African crowned crane.
That exact scenario can be yours —without the time and expense of traveling to Africa. Enjoy this trek in Sonoma County at Safari West, a wildlife preserve and African-style oasis that's home to more than 900 exotic mammals and birds. It's one of only six private facilities in North America to be fully accredited by and a member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
"We're a working ranch with a lot of animals," said Aphrodite Caserta, director of marketing and communications. "We've got animal keepers, vets, maintenance workers, landscape keepers, front office and restaurant staff, tour guides. During the high season we employ 140, and in the off-season it goes down to about 80. We try to keep the core staff busy all year."
Founded in 1993 on 150 acres by Peter and Nancy Lang, Safari West has evolved and grown. Today, its 400 acres hosts more than 60,000 people per year.
"To my mind, we have built the only facility of its type in the U.S.,” said CEO Peter Lang. “You arrive here, spend the night in a tented safari camp, get in a vehicle with a guide who has no script and no pre-described route. Our guides work with each other. … They try to keep each tour unique. If an animal is giving birth, they stop and watch. If a tour takes a bit longer, that’s no problem."
Safari West is a profit-making business with a passion for philanthropic endeavor geared to wildlife preservation through breeding, education, research, and public interaction. It donates more than $55,000 each year to field conservation efforts of wildlife organizations.
In addition, the nonprofit Safari West Wildlife Foundation is dedicated to the protection and preservation of wildlife, helping the public develop an appreciation for the natural environment and conservation through safaris, seminars, workshops, wildlife camps for children, and other efforts.
One of the most popular programs is the Junior Keepers, which gives kids 12-16 a chance to volunteer at Safari West and work directly with animals. Many Keepers have gone on to related careers, including one who is now a veterinarian and another who is a biology professor in South America.
Plus, the foundation's Discover Africa Scholarship Program subsidizes the cost of one classroom field trip to Safari West per month to schools that would otherwise be unable to afford this vital educational program.
"We bring in about 20,000 kids per year," Lang noted. "Some kids from inner cities are afraid of animals when they come, but after we let them touch and feel an animal they lose that fear."
General Manager at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn in Sonoma
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn takes a high-energy and often innovative approach to supporting the local community.
"My favorite example," said General Manager Rick Corcoran, "is the elementary school that we've adopted — El Verano, just a three-minute car drive from here. A couple of the hotel's managers went to school there, and many of our colleagues have children who go there, so we're emotionally connected to it. It's not a one-shot deal where we put on an event to raise funds and when it's over say 'See you next year!' For us it's a long-term thing, and the whole team embraces it."
The Sonoma Mission Inn has a long-term, multi-faceted commitment to the El Verano school goes beyond fund-raising to include Secret Santa gifts, taking kids on environmental hikes, appreciation lunches for teachers, and much more.
In fact, Rick swapped jobs with El Verano’s principal. "The principal came and ran my hotel," he said, "and I went over there and ran her school. Both of us were totally wiped out when it was over, but that was one of the best days I've had during my tenure here."
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn takes a high-energy approach to supporting the local community. “For us it's a long-term commitment,” said General Manager Rick Corcoran, “The whole team here embraces it.”
The hotel, which employs 425 local residents, extends its philanthropic commitment to many other community sectors, including the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction and organizations such as YWCA Sonoma County and Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance.
Sonoma County visitors returning each spring from Minnesota
Eight years ago Minnesotans Kim and David Gottenborg visited Sonoma County in need of a getaway from jam-packed schedules and responsibilities. Back home they work busy jobs (David’s a chiropractor, Kim teaches sixth grade math), have five kids, and live on and manage their own 2,200-tree apple orchard.
The Gottenborgs sought a laid-back, natural environment where they could slow down but also find fun things to do. Having honeymooned in Napa years before, they had a rough idea about Sonoma Valley and decided to give it a try. They booked into Kenwood's historic Birmingham B&B (now Casa Bella), where then-owners Jerry and Nancy made them feel right at home.
That first vacation was perfection, and the Gottenborgs have returned to the Sonoma Valley every spring since, staying from five to nine days.
"This region seems familiar to us," David explained. "Just like home it's hilly, there are lakes, it's green in spring, and the weather's good."
“And we like the people here,” Kim added.
Each trip the Gottenborgs make a one-day visit somewhere outside Sonoma Valley. "We've been to Sebastopol, Petaluma, and Napa," Kim said. "This year we tried the brews at Bear Republic in Healdsburg and the Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa."
Mostly, though, the couple takes it easy, enjoying leisurely walks, morning coffee at sunny cafés, and looking at art (they’re fans of Imagery’s label collection). One day this spring they watched basketball playoffs at the Jack London Inn. They've hiked at Sugarloaf and Jack London state parks, and they’re members of Kenwood’s MacLeod, Kunde, and Landmark wineries.
Their favorite eatery was the former Kenwood Restaurant under the ownership of Max and Susan Schacher, where they once sat with Tommy Smothers and watched the Academy Awards. "We became friends with Jerry [Cabral], the bartender,” Kim said, “who was part-owner of the restaurant. After it sold he moved away, but he once came back to Kenwood to see us when we were here."
The Gottenborgs usually stay in Kenwood, but this year opted for an Air Bnb in Glen Ellen owned by artist John Sumner, who specializes in painting cats and dogs.
"Back home our lives are so busy," David said. "Our work, the farm, the kids, our appointments, the kids’ appointments. When we come here, it's just the two of us with nothing to do. It's wonderful."
Sonoma County Visitors Coming from Michigan
Just a few minutes of conversation with Barb Cazier, Zandy Ford and Carole Hockeborn, and you know they're good friends.
They're used to laughing with each other, like to tease, and when you ask a question they all share in giving the answer.
The three women, who hail from Michigan's lake country, became friends through ski club. Recently, when Carole re-connected with an old friend through Facebook who lives in the Bay Area, they all decided to come out for a visit.
"I have a cousin who lives out here, too," said Barb. "He turned out to be an excellent tour guide." The trio started out in San Francisco, then headed south on Highway 1 to Big Sur, stopping in Carmel and other scenic spots before heading back north.
"Now we're here in Sonoma County," said Zandy. "Just for three days. We stopped in the tourist center in Petaluma (Visit Petaluma on Lakeville Street) — that's a great place to get information and maps. We walked around downtown Petaluma. What a lovely place, and all those shops. We're staying in Sonoma tonight.”
The three friends want to see redwood trees, so they'll be visiting Armstrong Redwoods State Park. They'll also stop at Korbel Winery for a tour and tasting and, if they have time, follow the Russian River to its mouth. "It's amazingly beautiful in Sonoma County," Carole said. "We’re all glad to be here."
Sonoma County Visitor Coming from Manchester, England
In mid-September, three branches of a far-flung family flew to Seattle from their homes in England, Singapore, and New Jersey, piled into a rented RV, and took off on a fun-filled mobile family reunion.
Along the way they curbed the RV's wheels for three days at the KAO Campground in Petaluma.
"It's great," said Jack Johnson, a veterinary surgeon from Manchester, England. "It's the perfect location to check all the boxes of what we'd like to do. We get to see Wine Country, go wine tasting, and use Petaluma as a base to explore San Francisco."
"This campground is the best equipped we've stayed in so far,” he added. “We've been keeping a survey of showers all the way from Seattle, and these are the best by far. It's the first time we've had a pool, too, and there's a proper shop on the site, the staff is really friendly. The whole place is brilliant, really.
"I really like California. I didn't realize there was so much going on, so much variety. I realize now why people like it so much."
Winery Generalist at Old World Winery
As a winery generalist at Old World Winery in the Russian River Valley town of Fulton, Peter Testi does a little bit of everything.
"I create our promotional material and keep the inventory,” he said. “I'm also in the tasting room one or two days a week, and that — combined with facilitating onsite winery events and offsite pourings — allows me to interact with people who come from just about everywhere."
After selling a successful three-store chain of bicycle shops that he co-owned in Portland, Oregon, Peter retired to Santa Rosa in 2000. After two years he relocated, but returned to Santa Rosa in 2011. A year later he volunteered to help some winery-owning friends, Bob and Carlene Rue, with a special event.
"I had a great time,” he said. “I started helping out on a regular basis, and at some point they asked if I would consider coming out of retirement on a limited basis. I did, and I've never regretted the decision."
Peter spent more than four years managing the tasting room at Robert Rue Vineyard Winery until it was sold in 2016. He then moved to Old World Winery and his present position, assisting owner and winemaker Darek Trowbridge.
As a Certified Travel Ambassador (CTA), Peter believes that part of his job involves being a good host for Sonoma County.
"I like to be a resource for people,” he said, “whether they’re asking about directions, or wondering where to eat or what to do. I enjoy answering all sorts of questions that have nothing to do with wine, because visitors have a bigger experience when they know about everything that Sonoma County has to offer.”
Wine Touring Guide at Healdsburg Vino Tours
Aaron Costa leads wine treks for Healdsburg Vino Tours, which he founded in 2015. Aaron was born, brought up, and still lives in Healdsburg, surrounded by vineyards. He leads every tour himself, covering ground he’s known very well all his life.
"It can be overwhelming as a tourist to learn that there are more than 425 wineries in Sonoma County," he said. "A good tour guide can help you find wineries you'll love." Aaron believes that customer service is about going out of your way and exceeding expectations every single time.
Talking about previous hospitality experiences he had before opening his own business, Aaron said, “I made sure that every customer had a great time, and if something went awry I helped to make it right. I learned that customer service is about going out of your way and exceeding expectations every single time.”
He enjoys recommending Sonoma County's attractions and venues, and has helped tourists find hotels, restaurants, wineries, shopping, spas, cocktail bars, cigars, hiking, outdoor activities, art, history, beer — “anything and everything they could possibly want to do or see.”
Account Manager at Russian River Vacation Homes in Guerneville
After seven years as an account manager at Guerneville’s Russian River Vacation Homes, Megan Perkins can't imagine being happier.
"I really love my job,” she said. “We manage about 60 vacation homes, and rent to people who want to vacation on the Russian River — families, large groups of friends. People on vacation tend to be happy, and that makes me happy.”
Russian River Vacation Homes has a small international clientele, mostly from Europe, but most guests hail from the U.S., with the majority coming from Northern California.
“There’s an art to helping people put together an ideal vacation, Megan believes. “They know they’re coming here,” Megan said, “but they don’t necessarily know anything about the Russian River or Sonoma County. That’s where everyone in our office, being local, makes a real difference.”
Marketing Director at Sonoma Canopy Tours in Occidental
In 2009, Occidental's Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds, a non-profit founded in 1940 to serve schools and churches, needed a massive facility upgrade.
When Alliance Redwoods explored the feasibility of constructing a zip-line, said Marketing Director Deborah Klein, "We were told that, given our terrain, the uniqueness of our coastal redwoods, our proximity to San Francisco and the wine country, we could end up being one of the best canopy tours in the world."
The high initial costs of building the infrastructure has since been recovered, and Sonoma Canopy Tours now devotes considerable time and money to philanthropic and educational causes. For example, for every flight booked, one dollar is donated to a fund that provides at-risk youth an outdoor adventure experience. To date, more than $310,000 has gone to non-profit organizations located in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Lake counties.
Non-profits that complete a donation form can receive two weekday flights (total value $198), which can be used to raise funds by live or silent auction, or a raffle to their attendees. About 250 of these donations are given each year.
Owners of Spud Point Crab Company, Bodega Bay
Carol and Tony Anello thought they were slowing down when they built a chowder shack next to their Bodega Bay house.
“We opened our little Spud Point Crab Company when he retired from the fire department,” Carol says. “The shop was going to be a little mom and pop operation run with our daughters. Well it became more than what we ever dreamed it would – we now need to have eight employees plus ourselves to keep it going.”
“We love our business and meeting people from all over the world and telling them about the history of Bodega Bay and the fishing industry. People are really interested in the process of how the product goes from the ocean to their tables,” relates Carol.
And if they weren’t making world-famous chowder? “If we didn't have Spud Pt. Crab Co. the only other thing I would do is maybe turn our shop into a very small gift shop with homemade things from the local people in the area. We have so many crafty and talented people here in our town, it would be a one of a kind shop with a little bit of everything.”
Owner of Jimtown Store, Alexander Valley
The artist in the vineyards.
Carrie Brown owns the Jimtown Store, a restaurant and community gathering spot in northern Sonoma County. There are about 20 employees there, depending on the season. She opened her business in 1991.
“My late husband John Werner and I were living in New York and happened upon the closed Jimtown Store with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it in 1988. It took us several years to make a deal with the previous owners to acquire the landmark store and then it took us several years to do major reconstruction and to reopen.
“We immediately found ourselves in the business of taking care of locals and travelers from all over the country and the world. I soon figured out that my job is to be the ‘concierge’ to the Valley, offering advice on where to picnic, taste wine, eat, walk, stay, shop and find the hidden, offbeat places that make our county so special!”
“This is a hands-on job and while it is rewarding it also takes an incredible amount of dedication and time.”
And if she didn’t work in tourism, what would she be doing?
“Work on art projects like the design book I'm managing to sneak into my daily life for a publisher in New York. Travel more; in fact all my trips are inspirational, I always return home with new ideas for Jimtown.”
Keller Estate Winery, Petaluma
A dozen chickens, three sons, two dogs, a husband and a winery.
For the past 17 years, Ana Keller has been at Keller Estate Winery, situated on the hills outside Petaluma.
“I live in Petaluma with my husband, three boys, two dogs, maybe one cat - we're on our way to the shelter- 12 chickens and family that visits all the time! (Who doesn't want to have family to visit in Sonoma?)”
Ana got into the tourism business by accident. “It turns out if you make wine, you have to sell it, and well, you want people to come to your tasting room and see how awesome your region is!”
Prior to her wine-making career, Ana was a biochemist. Unlike the exactitudes of a laboratory, wine making has more variables over which she has little control. Planning for the future is always a challenge: “We only get to harvest fruit once a year and we have to be reading our sales numbers, the economy and our growth plan and then try to get Mother Nature to oblige.”
Ana is active with trade organizations and the community. She is often on the road promoting Sonoma County. A native of Mexico, she helped Visit California promote California wine during the Mexican Media and Trade Mission in 2014. And of course she talked about Sonoma County, too.
Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley
The actors at the writer's house – Transcendence Theater
(L to R: Stephan Stubbins, Amy Miller and Brad Surosky)
Amy Miller is the artistic director of Transcendence Theatre Company, which puts on the popular “Broadway Under the Stars” during the summer months at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen.
The company has eight employees and brings in 120 artists and contractors throughout the year.
“We toured the US in RVs for two-and-a-half months looking for a location to permanently settle our company. After that trip we chose Sonoma County as our home, and we moved in late 2011 when we discovered we could help save Jack London State Historic Park and we planted our roots in Sonoma.”
“We've had great success already: attracting more than 36,000 attendees to our events, raising more than $117,000 for Jack London State Historic Park, being named Theater Of The Year by Broadway World San Francisco… as well as being written up in the NY Times, the Huffington Post and more.”
“Our biggest challenge is managing our growth with the staff and funding to make our future sustainable.”
Owner of Samagse Massage, Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa resident Miguel Lujan’s life changed dramatically when he was hit by a car in 2004.
“After the accident I had to go through a lot of rehab. In the process I had to finish college, study in Thailand with monks, learn how to walk and drive again. I went to massage school and started by setting up a chair in the lobby of the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country.”
Lujan now has seven therapists on call for Samagse Massage and can employ up to 30 for large events like the Gran Fondo bicycle ride.
“I was in the funeral business for over 15 years before getting into massage. Now I don’t have just a job but an amazing career. I love that my work has allowed me to be the man I am and create enough work for others to join me.”
Lujan is committed to Sonoma County. He buys his massage equipment from a Sebastopol manufacturer, and uses Sonoma County products when making spa treatments.
“I volunteer with Sutter VNA hospice doing palliative massage, and I’m the coordinator with Out and About Sonoma County as well as doing chair massages at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country to raise money for Roseland Elementary School. I have a full life and love everything Sonoma County has blessed me with.”
Owner of St. Florian's Brewery, Windsor
Windsor businesswoman Amy Levin wears many hats: she runs a successful and growing brewery along with her husband (and brewmaster) Aron, she is a mother raising two small kids (hence the small play are in the brewery tasting room and office) and she is active with local business marketing.
St. Florian’s Brewery & Tap Station is tucked away in an industrial park south of the Windsor Town Green, establishing a beachhead for other businesses like a winery, a distillery and a cide-maker. The company currently employs 7 people.
Before she got involved in the brewery, Levin was a stay-at-home mom and before that, she was in sales and marketing for the tech industry.
How did she get involved in the tourism and brewing industry? Maybe it’s her humanitarian instinct.: she wants to share great beer and support worthy non-profits.
“There's a LONG story to that; however, the nutshell answer is that I thought my husband made incredibly tasty beer that I felt guilty keeping under our own roof... I wanted to share it with others while using it as means to raise funds for fire-related and community-based organizations.”
Levin’s husband Aron is a fire fighter with Windsor Fire Department, and one of the missions of St. Florian’s Brewery is to raise funds for fire-related organizations, helping victims of fire and supporting fire fighters. St. Florian was a Roman soldier who organized early fire brigades and is the patron saint of firefighters.
If she wasn’t running one of the larger craft breweries in Sonoma County, Levin says she would either be a stay at home mom or “do something of a philanthropic nature.”