The Picnic Basket shares secrets for healthy eating

By JONDI GUMZ - Santa Cruz Sentinel

Ask co-owners Zach Davis or Kendra Baker about what's healthy on the menu at The Picnic Basket, and the answer is: Pretty much everything.

"Our philosophy is using fresh food locally grown so it doesn't have to be frozen or canned and keeps all nutrient value," said Davis, 35. "Kendra says color is flavor. Greens, reds, orange - those are vitamins. It's a beautiful intersection of good flavor and healthy food."

Baker, 33, who fills the role of chef, offers mouth-watering descriptions of the Picnic salad, which has roasted chicken, red butter lettuce from Dirty Girl Farms and yogurt dressing and the ricotta and beet panini with greens, toasted walnuts and a touch of honey. Each is $7.50.

"It's rewarding to feel proud of the things you're serving," she said.

That explains why after only 14 months in operation The Picnic Basket was chosen by the Go for Health! Collaborative to receive the 2012 Ultimate Golden Carrot Award, which recognizes restaurants that go above and beyond in offering healthy menu choices.

"Thank you for what you do," said county health director Giang Nguyen at a ceremony Wednesday outside The Picnic Basket on Beach Street, across from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Statistics from a 2009 United Way report show 57 percent of adults and 25 percent of children in Santa Cruz County are obese.

"It's very concerning," Nguyen said. "People are eating out much more than 40 years ago. It makes nutrient value and calorie content very important."

Davis and Baker are not only restaurateurs, they are also parents who want their children to eat healthy. Baker has a 2-year-old son, and Davis has two sons, one age 2 years and one 8 months.

The two partners are the entrepreneurs behind The Penny Ice Creamery at 913 Cedar St., where they make ice cream from scratch using locally farmed and organic ingredients. They operate a Penny Ice Creamery kiosk on Pacific Avenue and plan to open on 41st Avenue in Pleasure Point in a spot vacated by Verve Coffee Roasters, which moved to a larger space.

The partners have hired Evan Van Valkenberg as general manager. They employ 52 people in all, including 22 to 25 during the tourist peak at The Picnic Basket and stay open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

"The winter didn't slow down as much as we thought it would," said Davis, pausing to scoop up a stray plastic spoon from the floor.

As Roy Orbison's tune "Pretty Woman" played in the background, Davis said his eatery is the first to apply for sidewalk seating under a newly amended ordinance.

He suggested the change after thinking brightly colored umbrellas would attract people doing a Google map search of the beach area.

"Everybody agreed it was a good idea," he said, noting it aligned with retail guru Robert Gibbs' advice to "activate the public spaces."

Mike Van Oordt, from St. Louis, found The Picnic Basket on Yelp.com and ordered the breakfast burrito, $8.50, with eggs, pinto beans, potatoes, cabbage, jack cheese and Linda's salsa.

"It's really fresh," he said. "I like the ingredients."

This year, 22 local restaurants received the Golden Carrot Award.

Megan Joseph of the United Way of Santa Cruz County said she is looking for a way to make the public, especially families, aware of the restaurants making an effort to offer healthy choices.