The Ranch House
The Ranch House restaurant began in one of the first houses built in the Ojai Valley in 1875, when Alan and Helen Hooker converted it into a boarding house in 1949.The couple moved to Ojai from Columbus, Ohio, where Alan had been managing a bakery.
The Boarders, at first mostly friends, paid $14.00 a week, including meals. Alan did the cooking, which was strictly vegetarian, and Helen had charge of the housekeeping and service at the large table where everyone ate. As the boarders invited guests for dinner, and their guests other guests, Alan procured a restaurant license, and in February 1950, the couple christened their vegetarian guest house the Ranch House Restaurant.
In February 1954, the old Ranch House propriety was sold, and the restaurant closed. It wasn’t until roughly two years later that, with the help of a few good friends, Alan was able to build a new restaurant of the half acre of land for sale at the foot of the hill below the old Ranch House. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, 1956, the new Ranch House opened with a maximum seating of sixteen – the price for dinner on opening day, an exorbitant $3.50! A baker was hired, but Alan continued to do all the cooking himself, while Helen again took charge of the dining room as both hostess and waitress. Alan bought secondhand wrought-iron tables from the Oaks Hotel in town; Helen found fifty used chairs on sale at Mexican restaurant for a dollar apiece; which the Ojai artist-ceramist Beatrice Wood painted them and made the dishes and bowls . A waitress and dishwasher were hired, and the restaurant opened in time for the Ojai Music Festival,.
But even with the restaurant’s expansion and generous help from friends, Alan and Helen continued to find themselves struggling to maintain the business, and again the restaurant closed. In order to reopen, two important changes had to be made. First, Alan and Helen decided to save money by living at the restaurant. The original dining room was partitioned off, and part of it was converted into a tiny bedroom with barely enough space for two beds, two small chests of drawers, a little vanity for Helen, and a desk for bookkeeping. A tiny shower was installed, and a door cut through the bedroom wall provided them access to the ladies room. The couple moved in February 1958, and lived there until 1969.
The second major change came with their decision to serve meat. The main reason for the restaurant’s closing was that they were still trying to operate as strictly vegetarian restaurant. Although both longtime vegetarians, they began serving meat along with the homemade bread and desserts, and the fresh vegetables.
Alan and Helen were as reluctant about serving wine as there were serving meat. Nevertheless, they decided to allow customers to bring their own wine and pay a corkage fee of 25 cent per bottle. (Initially the brook in the garden served as the only place for customers to chill their white wine!). In 1964 Alan procured a wine and beer license. Knowing nothing about wine, he went down to the corner liquor store, randomly selected six bottles of wine, and typed up a makeshift wine list – a modest beginning for what is considered today one of the best wine lists in the world. Alan often remarked that he’d had a lifelong love affair with food. Food, its preparation, and the social delight of eating with others were all passions of his. At the age of three, he would stand outside his home in Carpentersville, Illinois, and invite passers-by in for dinner. During the Roaring ‘20s when he played piano in a jazz band, he’d prepare dinner for the other members of the band while on the road. Constantly experimenting with food, he kept track of all his creations in what he called his “food diaries.” Alan invented hundreds of recipes. From these extensive notes kept over the years came the cookbooks, Alan Hooker’s New Approach to Cooking, and the Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery and Herbs Cookery.
The Ranch House Restaurant’s reputation has clearly withstood the test of time, as it continues, now in its sixth decade there has been a procession of famous people: John Lennon, and Yoko Ono, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Dave Mason, Resse Witherspoon, Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Ann Margret, Robert Redford, Malcom Mcdowell, Barbra Streisand and many others.
Through the years articles about the restaurant have appeared in numerous newspaper and magazines, such as the Los Angeles Times, Gourmet, California and Travel & Leisure. Along with praise for the food- the homemade breads and desserts, fresh vegetables, herbs and delicious entrees – the Ranch House wine list, featuring a dazzling array of over 600 imported and domestic wines, has been a 13 time consecutive winner of the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award and was named one of the 100 most romantic restaurants in the USA in 2014 by Conde Nast and Open Table.
Today the Ranch house is owned by Italian artist and designer Maria Angela Perna and local Restaurant and Hotelier Steve Edelson who brought Russel Burnelli and Chef Sean Kingsbury who Proudly prepares all our fine cuisine without the use of any Freezers Microwave Ovens or Fryers.