Despite the chaos of living and working in a COVID-19 world, Dustin Valette’s restaurant, The Matheson, is still slated to open in March of 2021, and while some changes have been made to accommodate more outdoor dining, the local restaurateur is excited for his new endeavor.

“We’re still looking at somewhere around March of next year,” Valette said of the opening date. “We’re just dealing with the normal complexities of a little bit of a slowdown. The hard part we had was just the random components for construction.” 

For instance, during one of the construction phases, they had to wait for a specific set of brackets that took a long time to order.

The outbreak of a worldwide pandemic also certainly did not help things and did delay some progress on construction.

“COVID did delay our process and it was something we definitely did not anticipate,” Valette said. “The main thing that we realized is that we were able to pivot and instead of working on project ‘A’ we were able to work on project ‘B,’ and it also gave us the opportunity where we are able to make some modifications.”

He said because the restaurant has a fair amount of outdoor space they can work on maximizing outdoor space use and use of their outdoor patio as well as the rooftop patio, which will be a separate, more casual dining experience called, “Roof 106.”

“When we built The Matheson, we really wanted to have that outdoor feel and pay homage to the Plaza, and for us to be able to exemplify that right now, we’re very fortunate,” Valette said.

Some other changes to accommodate living in a COVID environment include adding more individual chairs instead of having banquettes and focusing on making the outdoor area as spacious and comfortable as possible.

With these changes underway, Valette said now they’re back on track in terms of progress.

“Now we are finally back on track,” he said.

Construction on the 98-seat Matheson eatery started in the summer of 2019 after a June demolition party where attendees got to take a swing at the walls of the building with a sledgehammer. 

Before construction could begin, the process to get the plans approved was a long and arduous one that spanned several months. The proposed project was first brought to the Healdsburg Planning Commission in September of 2018 for a planning commission workshop. 

At the time, the project was hotly contested among some residents, and there were concerns that the design was too dark and modern, and largely out of scale with nearby buildings. Other concerns included the high number of seats, which was initially set at 318, noise disturbances from the rooftop deck, trash enclosure and the amount of parking.

Elements of the design were reconfigured to mitigate concerns and the seating was reduced by 20%.   

In February 2019, the planning commission approved the revised design in a 4-1 vote. Shortly after in March, an appeal on the commission’s approval for the project was filed, however, the Healdsburg City Council voted unanimously to deny the appeal and the project lurched forward.

Valette said when they started construction the biggest thing they wanted to work on was honoring the history of the building. The building at 106 Matheson Street housed Valette’s great grandfather, Honore Valette’s first bakery.

“It’s a piece of history for my family and that’s what got me so involved in it, is that we really wanted to make sure that we’re protecting and preserving that building... and preserving that piece of history, preserving that piece of family lineage and preserving the authenticity of the walls,” Valette said.

He said while they are careful to preserve the building’s history, it will have a new structure that is seismically sound. He said the most difficult aspect of the remodel has been striking a balance between old and new.

“At the end, we’re still keeping the existing, original walls. We’re still able to keep that piece of history for my family and for Healdsburg,” Valette said. 

He added that he’s excited to be able to work with local artisans, crafters, constructors and vendors.

“We are very fortunate about The Matheson and we are very excited to be able to be working with these amazing artisans and amazing craft makers. I can’t express my gratitude enough to be able to work with Jerry Eddinger and to be able to work with people who are craftsmen … Everything we have has a piece of history to it and everything we have is supporting the craft and small businesses and in this crazy time we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I can’t express enough my joy and gratitude that we’re able to trudge through and move forward with our project and that we’re able to keep these people employed and keep our community strong, keep our farmers going, keep our winemakers going, our ranchers going etc. We are able to keep all of these pieces together,” Valette said.

When asked if he’s nervous about opening during a time when there are so many unknowns, he said he feels like they are part of the solution in terms of being able to keep a little piece of the economy going by continuing with construction and work on the restaurant.

“The way we are looking at it is we know that we want to stay in Healdsburg. Healdsburg is my home, it’s where my family is, it’s where I live and it’s a community that I resonate with and we know that no matter what the future looks like, whatever happens, we know that we want to be here and we want to be part of the Healdsburg community,” he concluded.

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