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Eateries under new ownership

  • Josh Norwitt, left, Miriam Donaldson, right, and daughter Poppy stand in front of Three Cooks Cafe, which they bought from longtime owner Bobby Mangano and are turning into Wishbone Cafe. (Victoria Webb/ For the Argus-Courier)

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” the saying goes. That combination of planning and chance is playing a role in the change-overs taking place at some of the city’s best-known bars and restaurants, where long-time owners are retiring and younger Petalumans are stepping in with their own plans, eager to make their mark on this food-loving city.

Take the couple Miriam Donaldson and Josh Norwitt, who count themselves fortunate to have found the ideal place to launch their first independent venture together: A restaurant that will take over the current Three Cooks Café at the junction of Magnolia Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard North.

“We looked for almost two years to find the right location in Petaluma,” said Donaldson. Their hard work, enthusiasm and good timing coincided with Three Cook’s owner and chef Bobby Mangano’s desire to retire after 27 years at the stove.

Similar stories are cropping up in Petaluma as one generation yields the baton to another. When Graziano’s Ristorante closed after 30 years this summer, a younger group of restaurateurs formed to take over the space. Joe O’Donnell, former general manager of McNear’s, and son of McNear’s partner Kenny O’Donnell, is a full partner and will don the executive chef’s toque, overseeing the steakhouse and raw seafood bar to be called Seared. The other partners are all life-long Petalumans: Kent Armbright, Jeff and Stacy Inglin and Carrie O’Donnell.

Seared has retained the servers and much of the kitchen staff to provide a smooth transition for the customers. The building’s location in the historic downtown district was a significant factor in the decision to open the new restaurant.

By far the largest space to change hands is the 8,000-square-foot property that was Kodiak Jack’s for 17 years, until the owners moved out in July of 2012. Enter John Jones and Kristin McMaster, business and life partners. The two had been scouting for a location to open a community-oriented restaurant and performance space in Sonoma. “We saw a vision the day we walked in here,” said McMaster. They secured a 14-year lease in November of 2012, initially funding the new venture themselves, and are in the middle of a total remodel, with a tentative opening planned for September.

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