Like many entrepreneurial endeavors, the girl & the fig was founded on the principle that if you’re going to work long hard hours, it might as well be for yourself. Since its opening 19 years ago, the girl & the fig has become a Sonoma staple with locations on the square, in Glen Ellen, on-the-go catering, and online.
We were fortunate enough to interview owner, Sondra Bernstein, regarding the amazing brand she has built. I think you will enjoy reading her answers below just as they were given to me. Just as I felt while interviewing George Bevan, Sondra is one of those people, that given 10 minutes with, could teach you more than you’d learn during 4 years of college.
What inspired you to start the business?
SB: Well, I'd spent years in restaurants before starting out on my own. I had waited tables through college and fallen in love with the hospitality business. By the time I got to Viansa (where I met John - our executive chef), I'd spent a lot of time working long hours for other people. It finally occurred to me that if I was going to work this hard it was going to be for myself!
The concept for the original restaurant - what is now the fig café - came about as a natural extension of living and working in wine country. It just makes sense that in an area this bountiful, you'd want to highlight what people are growing and producing locally. What the farmers, ranchers, winemakers, artisans are creating here - that's what makes this valley so special.
What has helped you grow from the single restaurant in Glen Ellen to where you are today?
SB: I've been lucky to work with some wonderful people. Surrounding myself with really smart, talented individuals and letting them do their jobs - that's how I enjoy working.
What has it been like developing your business into so many different branches?
SB: It's been exciting and exhilarating; it's also been challenging and frustrating, and caused me many sleepless nights! I've always believed in diversifying your business - As Kelly knows well - it keeps people's attention, and provides you with new ways to serve them. For me, it's all about making people happy - whether that's a memorable meal or an experience with family and friends.
What do you wish you would have known just starting out?
SB: I wish I had a crystal ball from the very beginning! If I was going to go back and do it all again, I'd sell chocolate fig kisses beginning on day 1. What I can honestly say is that I have no regrets. Everything has been a learning experience and I've brought that along with me to where I am now.
What is one piece of advice for those just starting out?
SB: I tell people - do your homework. Learn as much as you can, gather as much information as possible before you start. I also believe that you should be a listener, be adaptable, and be flexible.
Where do you see the business going?
SB: I just want to always be fine-tuning what we're doing, and to always be open to new ideas and ventures that fit the culture of what we've tried to create. I just want to keep our focus on providing the best experience that we possibly can - that's what we're always working toward.
"'Country food with a French passion' is the way I describe the food at the girl & the fig. We are blessed to live & work in a beautiful place, with fertile land, and talented producers. We know where most of our food products are coming from, and many of these ingredients are actually farmed by our own staff. Join us at the table with your friends and family - relax, have a nice meal with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Tell a story, laugh a bit, create a memory and share our passion."