How did taste come about?
In 2002, when Mark Berkner was driving back from Sacramento to bring a new hot water heater to the St. George Hotel in Volcano he owned with his wife, Tracey Berkner, he decided to drive down Main Street in Plymouth. He spotted a for-sale sign on the side of an old building that used to be the Sportsman Club bar. “It had been shut for many years, the building was listing to one side and was a mess — my kinda place,” he says. He and Tracey bought the building about eight months later and sold the St. George — they bought it in 1997 — in 2004, freeing them to focus on extensive renovations needed to create Taste Restaurant. “Mark is a visionary,” says Tracey. “He sees the potential in these wonderful old buildings. The St. George (built in 1862) was our first project.” Tracey says renovating the Sportsman Club (built in 1918) also was challenging. “The bar … was painted black and had a very, very thick coat of veneer,” she says. “This was my project. It took months to get to the other side of the paint, and we were rewarded with a beautiful mahogany bar.” Taste, highly rated by Zagat and praised by The New York Times, has become a destination, especially for visitors to Amador County’s more than 40 wineries.
Mark says there wasn’t a restaurant in the county with a focus on wine and seasonally driven menus. “If you look at Plymouth on the map,” he says, “it was in a great location for us and affordable. People said it was in the middle of nowhere. The wineries of Amador and El Dorado (counties) are just to the east … Rancho Murieta and El Dorado Hills were an easy shot from the west and northwest, so Plymouth was actually in the center of everything.” In 2008, Mark and Tracey purchased an apartment complex on Main Street with the idea to create live-work studios, extended-stay condos or a hotel, but they didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to get a construction loan. They operated the apartments for seven years before eventually finding financing in 2014. Two years later, they opened Rest, a 16-room boutique hotel. “We had spent years at Taste helping people plan their visit to the area by recommending lodging and wineries,” Tracey says. “It was time to start sending them to our own establishment.”
What’s up on Main Street?
When they opened Taste, Mark says, Main Street had few businesses. “Main Street Plymouth has seen some slow change,” he says. “Much of that is due to building owners not wanting to do anything with their property or waiting for the perfect high-priced offer.” Mark says the addition of a roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 49 “has caused more people to wander down Main Street.” Many new businesses have opened in the past few years, he says, including a brewery, two wine-tasting rooms, a bar and cafe, a clothing and home-decor store, a local artists gallery — plus the relocation of the Plymouth Library. “The community of Plymouth wants more businesses to open, and they want to support them,” Mark says. “The vibe on Main Street is one of hope that our business district will continue to grow and give people a reason to keep visiting our community.”
What about the names?
Tracey says when they were planning their restaurant, they had sticky notes with ideas and concepts, and they used a thesaurus to look up food. “We wrote down some of the synonyms and eventually chose Taste,” she says. “Of course, we discovered there were many Taste restaurants.” So they decided on Taste Restaurant and Wine Bar (the formal name). When they were thinking of names for the hotel, she says, “it started as a joke that we would have to continue with a one-word name, but it stuck.” She says the joke with business owners in town is they need to change their businesses to one-word names. “The locals are always giving us one-word names for businesses they want to open,” she says. “Sip, the wine bar, and Awake, the coffee shop.”
How did this partnership begin?
Mark and Tracey met working in a kitchen in 1989 when they both worked for Marriott. In 1992, they took a wine and food-pairing class at the California Culinary Academy. In 1997, they left Marriott and bought the St. George Hotel in Volcano, launching their long partnership in the hospitality industry. “I can’t imagine working in this industry and being married to someone who is not,” says Mark, who also runs the culinary arts program at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. “It is a very challenging, stressful business with long hours at night, weekends and holidays.” Though they have no children, “we have many, many ‘children’ we have raised and mentored over the 22 years we have been in business together.”
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