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On the Cusp of Fifth Anniversary of Fire That Destroyed It, Sonoma County’s Willi’s Wine Bar Celebrates 20 Years 

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Guests Share Favorite Recollections 

SANTA ROSA, CA, August 24, 2022— In spite of its original location being lost in the October  2017 Tubbs Fire, Willi’s Wine Bar marks its 20th anniversary. The beloved roadhouse was the first  of Mark and Terri Stark’s seven highly awarded restaurants in Sonoma County, California. The James Beard Award nominated husband and wife restaurateurs recognized the milestone by inviting guests to share their favorite memories and photos of Willi’s Wine Bar over the years via the restaurant’s social media platforms for the past month. A drawing was held to select twenty submitters and their guests to join a friends and family anniversary party held at the restaurant last week. 

“We’re all in need of a good celebration these days and one way that we thought to spread  the good feelings was to invite our guests to share their fondest memories of Willi’s Wine Bar over the years,” said Terri Stark. “We’ve heard from dozens of guests about everything from Willi’s being a favorite after-work hangout to first dates, birthdays, proposals, prom dinners, and everything in between. One trio of friends even recreated a photo that appeared of them in our local paper when we first opened twenty years ago.” 

Originally launched in August 2002, Willi’s was the first of the now seven restaurants owned and operated by Chef Mark and Terri Stark, proprietors of the Stark Reality Restaurant group. It was among the first Sonoma County restaurants to introduce the “small plates” concept, typically paired with a wide variety of select local wines. After the 1886 landmark roadhouse location on Old Redwood Highway was lost in the Tubbs Fire of 2017, the Starks re-opened Willi’s in May 2019 in its new location at the Town & Country Center in Santa Rosa’s McDonald  Mansion neighborhood.  

The dining scene in Sonoma County, and certainly in Santa Rosa, was very different when  Mark & Terri opened their flagship restaurant in 2002. There were several white tablecloth fine dining spots, a couple of Italian dinner houses and many casual bar and grill-type  establishments, but nothing that combined a relaxed vibe with upscale food, wine, and  ambiance. 

“The idea of focusing on small plates stemmed from Terri’s and my preference to sit at the bar and only order the appetizers,” says Mark. Pairing international small plates with an extensive array of wines by the taste, glass, and bottle has proven to be an enduring favorite of Willi’s Wine Bar customers, and the staff is adept at creating just the right match for diners. 

Recently, the Wine Bar has expanded to offer classic and craft cocktails. 

Right out of the gate, the restaurant won recognition for its wine list from the Wine Spectator, the first of many local and national accolades including Michelin Bib Gourmand awards and spots on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants. 

“We’re so grateful for our long-term guests and our staff,” says Terri. “They were the ones who absolutely would not let Willi’s Wine Bar die. We couldn’t see trying to re-create the original Willi’s, so we found a way to bring many of the things that people loved about Willi’s back and even take advantage of some opportunities that a new location provided. We wouldn’t be here without our supporters, and it was important to us to make them part of our celebration.” 

For more information about Willi’s Wine Bar and Mark and Terri Stark, visit  www.williswinebar.net or call 707.526.3096.  

Willi’s Wine Bar is located at 1415 Town and Country Drive in Santa Rosa, California and is  open every day from 11:30am to 9:00pm.

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