‘Eat, Smile, Repeat:’ Winner of local chef event to open Twelve 28 Kitchen in Penn Valley | TheUnion.com

‘Eat, Smile, Repeat:’ Winner of local chef event to open Twelve 28 Kitchen in Penn Valley

Twelve 28 Kitchen owner Zach Sterner won the “Best Local Chef” competition at September’s Bounty of the County farm-to-fork event. His father Michael and mother Laurie are co-owners of the new restaurant.
Submitted photo |

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Twelve 28 Kitchen

Owner/Chef: Zach Sterner

10118 Commercial Ave., Penn Valley

Phone: 707-225-7326


Since age 16, Zach Sterner has been cooking for others. Next month he starts cooking for himself — and Nevada County — at his own restaurant when he opens the new Twelve 28 Kitchen.

“I’ve always worked for other people and done other’s people’s food,” Sterner said. “Now I’m finally going to do my food. Hopefully Nevada County will enjoy it.”

Sterner has spent 16 years working in Sonoma County at small cafes, bakeries, prestigious restaurants, and even as a private chef for a wealthy family. His parents — who will work in the new restaurant but prefer to be silent partners — moved to Lake Wildwood a year ago and started looking for an investment opportunity. When space became available in Penn Valley’s Gateway Center, plans for Twelve 28 Kitchen started taking shape.

“The name was my mom’s idea,” explained Sterner. “My birthday is Dec. 28.”

Sterner said the focus at Twelve 28 Kitchen will be house-made creations and an ever-changing, eclectic menu.

“We’ll do food from scratch, such as baking our own bread for sandwiches. We’ll offer different styles of cuisine. We’re not a Mexican, Italian, or French restaurant, but you’ll be able to order those types of cuisine here. I like doing different things so I never get stuck in a rut,” said Sterner. “We’ll definitely utilize the local produce and proteins as well.”

Sterner teamed up with farmers Chris Riccio and Mark Sheffer from Bitney Springs Farm to win last month’s “Best Local Chef” competition at the farm-to-fork event called Bounty of the County. His dish of Asian-style meatballs incorporated produce from Bitney Springs Farm, plus ground pork from pigs raised by Riccio and Sheffer.

Since that time, Sterner has befriended the farmers and even hired Sheffer to do plumbing work during the restaurant’s construction phase. Sheffer said he’ll be happy to see the restaurant open.

“We seldom leave the farm, but will start doing so regularly once Twelve 28 opens its doors. We work hard all day, and we’ll enjoy fabulous food in the evening,” said Sheffer.

Others are equally excited.

“Penn Valley is all abuzz about Zach’s restaurant. We’ve seen his menu, and it’s not your standard, everyday fare. It’s a little different with the farm-to-fork angle,” said Mike Mastrobonato, president of the Penn Valley Area Chamber of Commerce. “Plus, Zach’s a good guy and he’s going to participate in the community. We can’t wait for him to open. There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation in Penn Valley about the restaurant opening here.”

Once the 49-seat restaurant begins operations — tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15 — it will be open for lunch and dinner. Sterner expects the hours to be 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. He’s developing a limited happy hour menu to be served from 3 to 5 p.m. at the wine and beer bar. Craft beers and locally-produced wines will be available, plus selections from Sonoma County, where he grew up.

“We’re trying to create a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere,” said Sterner, adding that he and his father are hand-crafting the tables and bar. “We want customers to feel special here, and want to bring their friends and family. It’s important they enjoy themselves while they’re here.”

Sterner said he hopes his restaurant lives up to its slogan of “Eat, Smile, Repeat,” and becomes a destination for all of Nevada County.

“I’ve heard that people in Penn Valley don’t go up the hill, and folks from Grass Valley and Nevada City don’t come down the hill,” he said. “But Nevada City and Grass Valley are not that far if you think about it. It’ll definitely be worth the trip to come down here.”

Sterner said he and his parents don’t feel comfortable sharing the price of the on-going restaurant renovation except to say, “It is our life savings involved in it.”

The restaurant will employ at least a dozen people, although many will work part-time. Sterner predicted he will work seven days a week for the first few months.

“We’ll be closed on Tuesdays,” he said. “We’ll get deliveries on Mondays, so I’ll work Tuesdays doing my prep. I’m used to working all day, every day. I can’t wait to do that again, especially for myself this time.”

With no family — yet — Sterner said he enjoys the hours of a workaholic.

“Twelve 28 Kitchen is my baby,” he said.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

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