SLO CAL has a rich history of strong-willed women who have changed the community into what it is today. From international events brought to SLO CAL to educational initiatives supporting local businesses, these ladies are stepping forward to show the best of the SLO CAL community. Meet three SLO CAL women who are making history in SLO CAL today:

Join Shanny Covey for Farm-to-Table Culinary Experiences

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Shanny Covey of Robin's Restaurant

After 38 years in the restaurant business, SLO CAL restaurateur Shanny Covey continues to grow, thrive

Shanny Covey is many things: A passionate business owner, a hobbyist gardener, a meticulous bookkeeper, a dedicated mother. One thing she is not? Lazy.

A lifelong restaurateur, Shanny is half the power duo responsible for iconic Cambria eatery Robin’s—not to mention SLO culinary destinations Novo and Luna Red. Alongside longtime business partner and former husband Robin Covey, the team has shown what longevity can look like in a notoriously difficult industry.

“Running a restaurant is not for sissies,” Shanny said with a laugh. “There’s so much involved and it’s a 24/7 job. There’s been a lot to juggle.”

Singapore to SLO CAL

It might have never happened if Shanny hadn’t left her homeland. She immigrated from Singapore to the US In the ’70s, attending LSU as a food science major and eventually transferring to Cal Poly to major in food technology. Her senior project? A soy-based yogurt that was pretty revolutionary for the time.

“The reason I love food so much is really because I’m from Singapore and it’s a food-centric place,” Shanny said, adding that the island country is famous for its breadth of international flavors. “We had so many French ethnic foods available to us. Of course, I developed a love for Southeast Asian cuisine, which is very fragrant in spices.”

When Shanny met Robin, sparks flew. They also shared a similar preference for farmer’s market produce and pungent, aromatic food. This would be the initial seed that birthed Robin’s in 1985. Next would come a string of successful restaurants–many of which have garnered high praise in the culinary world.

“It’s very important that the food we create is very flavor-forward,” Shanny said, noting that various travels have helped inspire Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian and French themes. You can taste this melding of words at the duo’s subsequent restaurants: Novo, established in 2003 and Luna Red, opened in 2007. Simmering curries, cioppino, fresh spring rolls and duck cassoulet are all par for the course.

That said, the farmer’s market produce might be the team’s true secret sauce.

“Shopping at local farmer’s markets costs more, but it’s important to feel good about what we give our guests,” Shanny said. “That’s what I believe in and how I eat, and I want to give my guests the same thing.”

From “the back room” to Robin’s Restaurant

While the idea of “farm-to-table” is commonplace these days, it wasn’t always so. Let’s head back to 1980, the year Shanny and Robin opened a humble health food store in the sleepy seaside town of Cambria.

“We converted the backroom into a little dining area and we started having these gatherings once a month where Robin would cook a meal for fifty people,” Shanny said. “That was the very beginning of Robin’s. Gathering at the table with friends, the community–it was really special. We thought, ‘OK. We really want to do this.’”

Now a time-honored Cambria fixture, Robin’s continues to delight patrons with farmer’s market-fresh ingredients so vibrant they seem to levitate off the plate. Paired with a lush garden setting and crackling fireplace, the refrain “meet me at Robins” has become ubiquitous on the SLO CAL coast.

Robin's RestaurantPhoto credit: Highway 1 Road Trip

A woman of many hats

A harmonious table aside, home is another realm. If the idea of raising a family while juggling a few farm-to-table restaurants sounds intense, you’re not alone.

While building a SLO CAL food empire through the ‘90s and into a new millennium, Shanny and Robin raised one son and adopted another. Shanny even homeschooled their first child up to sixth-grade education (yes–when the then-couple first opened Robin’s, they had a toddler in tow).

These days, Shanny hopes to get a little more gardening done. That is, when she isn’t busy running Robin’s, of which she is now sole proprietor. In addition to this workload, she continues to share co-ownership of Luna Red with Robin. The business partners recently sold SLO general store and cafe Mint + Craft to a former employee.

“It’s been a long haul, and it’s been wonderful. I think about when I should hand the baton to someone else, but part of me doesn’t want to let go,” Shanny said. “So much of my identity is in what I do here. I love the business. I love the hospitality side. It would be very difficult for me to just stop, but I feel it will be time soon.”

Growth never ends

True “retirement” might come in a series of microscopic baby steps for Shanny. Just take a look at her current calendar: The New Year has brought lots of fresh ideas and logistics to the table. In fact, readers should be on the lookout for alluring new offerings at Robin’s in 2023, including a tentative return to prix fixe dinners.

“I’m a goal-setter. Every year, I look at my restaurant and I see what I want to do to improve,” Shanny said. “That’s an ongoing process. I love getting excited about the menu, so it’s important that I work with a chef who’s equally excited alongside me.”

While maintaining a healthy work culture for some 50 employees is a tall order no matter how you slice it, Shanny has never shied from an opportunity to grow. As always, her gentle voice becomes joyfully animated when the topic turns to how she can expand—both as a businesswoman and as a human being.

“I did not get into this business knowing how to run a business,” she said simply. “I’m naturally business-minded, but my leadership skills–that is something I’m still learning. After 38 years, some people might think I have it down, but I don’t. There’s something new to learn every time.”

 

By: Hayley Cain

Join Michelle Barrera In March For At Her Table: A Week Long Food Festival

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Michelle Barrera of Enjoy SLO/At Her Table

At Her Table: 10-Day Food Festival, March 1-10, 2024 

Michelle Barrera, creator of Enjoy SLO and At Her Table, is making waves in the SLO CAL community. After moving to SLO CAL in 2017, Michelle instantly fell in love with the community and knew she wanted to promote the variety that the county has to offer. After starting her online platform, Enjoy SLO, which promotes best happenings around the county, she quickly began dipping her feet into other projects that benefited the community. And so, in 2021 during a global pandemic, SLO County’s first At Her Table event was created. 

Starting a Dine-Out Event

At Her Table is a seven-day food festival celebrating women in the food and drink industry. The weeklong celebration includes women-owned and co-owned businesses in the food, beverage and lodging industies offering a variety of stand-alone events happening throughout the week from wine and food pairing events, tours, dinners, panel discussions and restaurant menu specials and more. This seven-day event is held in March to celebrate Women’s History Month with a handful of the events falling on International Women’s Day. 

Michelle started At Her Table after going through a hard time in the pandemic and seeing local restaurants going through a hard time themselves. “One of my visions was to do one of those luxury to-go boxes that you see in Los Angeles,” said Michelle. Eventually, the vision grew into something much larger. Michelle began reaching out to contacts in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas to find support. While searching for ideas, she learned of national non-profits driven by women restaurateurs on a mission to empower and advance all women-identifying entrepreneurs in the food and drink industry. Michelle wanted to create similar programs in SLO CAL.  

A dinner event from At Her Table: 7 Day Food Festival
Photo credit: Richard Fusillo Photography. Photo courtesy of At Her Table.

The Power of Community

Since starting At Her Table, the organization is now fiscally sponsored by a 501(3)(c) status and works to support the community through sponsors and donations. Michelle is grateful for the support she has received for At Her Table. Starting with 36 participating businesses it has now tripled in size. Many SLO CAL restaurant owners have stepped up to help put on the event and make it the best it can be, showing the collaboration of the SLO CAL community. 

“The best part of SLO CAL is that we’re such a tight-knit community,” Michelle said. “I knew there was something here, having everyone come together, it’s like family here.” Michelle doesn’t want At Her Table to be a women-only event, though. She encourages everyone to get involved and celebrate the women in their lives they are thankful for. 

Michelle Barrera is an inspiration to the SLO CAL community for her drive, selflessness, and overall love for the destination. Michelle thanks the women in her life who have welcomed her and provided support since coming to SLO CAL. Some of these women include Gail Cayetano Classick of Edible San Luis Obispo, Lynette Sonne of FARMstead ED and Dina Samson of RE:Her.

Don’t-Miss Events in March

There are over 50 At Her Table events, activities, and food specials happening all week long ranging from progressive menus, facility tours, food pairings, street fairs, winemaker dinners, and much more. For the full list of At Her Table events, visit athertable.com.

 

By: Camille Silvera

Join Skye McLennan In Spring For SLO International Film Festival

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Skye McLennan of SLO International Film Festival

SLO International Film Festival April 25-30 2024

Skye McLennan is the leader of the SLO International Film Festival and believes in collaboration, hard work and entertainment through cinema.

The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival will be in its 30th year for good reason...Originally starting as a group of moviegoers showing retrospect films at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, the event has grown into an international festival bringing in filmmakers from around the world. The festival screens independent films ranging from documentaries, narratives, music videos, short films, student films and a Central Coast filmmaker showcase. Over a span of six days from April 25 - April 30, with an encore week May 1 - 7, movie fanatics will have the chance to see a variety of films in theaters in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles.

A Passion for Film

Skye is a SLO CAL local herself, having grown up in Templeton. She studied film in San Francisco and has worked for film festivals all over including Sydney, Sundance, Tribeca, and San Francisco. Before moving back to SLO CAL to work for the SLO Film Fest, Skye worked in the film industry in Australia. 

“I fell in love with film festivals,” Skye said. “The community aspect, seeing incredible films on a big screen, meeting filmmakers.” Skye's move home coincided with a vacancy in the SLO International Film Festival, offering the perfect opportunity to utilize the experience she built over the years. Skye looks up and gives a nod to Wendy Eidson who ran the festival for 17 years before Skye came aboard. 

Fremont Theater
An Ideal Destination

SLO CAL is a great place for an international film festival due to its proximity to major cities, and its variety of cinemas available for use. SLO CAL’s variety of top-notch theaters adds to the appeal from the gorgeous classic art deco Fremont Theater to the Palm Theatre, the world's first solar-powered independent film theatre. Other venues showing this year’s films include San Luis Obispo's SLO Brew The Rock, Downtown Center Cinemas and Paso Robles's Park Cinemas.

“[The SLO Film Fest] feels like it has a small-town vibe while still being classy and fun and that’s what makes it feel so special, compared to your big film festivals like Sundance, for example,” Skye explained. “They can feel very unapproachable and for us, it’s about the mixture of community and inviting people from out of town.”

Skye encourages all to attend the SLO International Film Festival to see the passion and work that goes into the films. The SLO Film Festival will have many opportunities throughout the week to get the full experience and connect with other cinephiles.

Experience the SLO CAL International Film Festival in April 2022

The 6-day adventure will offer special events including Opening Night, King Vidor, Surf Nite, and Closing Night. Various tickets are available at slofilmfest.org depending on if you want to attend in-person events, get access to the daytime festival lounge, or purchase individual tickets to film screenings. Check out what you are most interested in and get your individual tickets or check out a week-long pass to see them all on the big screen.

 

By: Camille Silvera

Join Lynette Sonne On FARMstead ED's Farm Trail

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Lynette Sonne of Farmstead ED

Visit farms and ranches in SLO CAL year round, and attend the Open Farm Days weekend happening June 21-23, 2024

Lynette Sonne established SLO CAL’s first-ever farm trail, providing visitors with hands-on farm experiences, educational workshops, and most importantly fun for all, year-round.

An Aha! Moment

Lynette created FARMstead ED in 2014 after having an aha! moment one day while riding horses on her friend’s cattle ranch. “People had been coming to me and asking questions like, ‘where did that great steak come from?’ and ‘where did you get that yummy honey?’ and ‘ah these salads are so great!’” Lynette realized that many people didn’t know the origins of SLO CAL's delicious foods were sourced from local family farms. And while Farm-to-Table has been a popular concept, most people weren’t getting out to the farms and didn’t know how the food was grown or who was even growing it. 

Lynette herself is a 5th generation SLO CAL native whose family has a long history in agriculture. “As a woman in agriculture you have to be able to be independent, you have to be able to be okay with getting your hands dirty and figuring it out,” Lynette proclaimed. She learned early on from her mother and grandmother the motto of “There’s nothing you can’t do” which she now stands by.  From Lynette’s great grandfather and grandfather being the town’s milkman to several cousins growing grain and beef, the importance of supporting local agriculture was ingrained in her early on. 

kids interacting with goats on a farmPhoto credit: Brittany App. Photo provided by: FARMstead ED

Supporting SLO CAL Family Farms

SLO CAL is a prime spot for agriculture thanks to its weather and microclimates. “We have a bajillion different microclimates—there are so many. With so many different microclimates and terrain, we’re able to grow so many different things.”  Because of this, SLO CAL produces not just wine grapes, but beef, strawberries, and olive oil, to name a few. 

Each farm on Lynette's farm trail is family-owned, offering unique learning experiences. “You get to the farm, you meet the farmer, you take a tour, we always have a classroom session, then the hands-on experience,” she says. The farm tours all differ in experiences from jam and soap making, seaweed foraging, honey harvesting, alpaca meet & greets and produce u-picks. 

By creating the FARMstead ED Farm Trail, Lynette is not only teaching visitors about agricultural knowledge but is helping bring awareness to these SLO CAL family farms and creating memorable experiences. “We have helped farmers develop a platform in which to bridge the gap to afford continuing being a family farm,” she concluded. 

Find SLO CAL Farm Tours For Your Family Experience:

Not only does FARMstead ED produce the farm trail, but they also host hands-on workshops throughout the year like the Grow Your Own series, the annual Open Farm Days, and classes teaching cheese and sausage making. To find farm tours, visit farmsteaded.com to see an interactive and printable map of the Farm Trail. Once you have an idea of where you want to explore, contact the farms to book your tours.

 

By: Camille Silvera