Meet Cindy Daniel, the gardener, dancer, designer, dreamer, and entrepreneur behind Healdsburg Shed—which is celebrating its fifth anniversary.
Photos by Mitch Tobias
With a handwoven basket on her arm, Cindy Daniel clips branches from a blooming California bay laurel tree. The simple Portuguese fishing basket, available for sale at her award-winning indoor-outdoor market and café, Healdsburg Shed, was made famous years ago by fashion icon Jane Birkin (of the Birkin bag). Wearing gray leather boots and a navy blue dress embroidered with creamy flowers, Daniel walks along the edges of a Dry Creek Valley vineyard looking every bit as stylish as if she’d walked off the pages of a fashion magazine.
“It’s such a beautiful morning!” exclaims the effervescent Daniel, 61, whose cheeks are positively glowing. She leans toward the cluster of tiny yellow flowers clinging to the bay laurel’s slender green leaves and inhales deeply.
On this sunny spring morning, Daniel has joined a handful of foraging enthusiasts for a Healdsburg Shed workshop—an edible plants walk with culinary director and rock-star chef Perry Hoffman. Wild orange calendula flowers brighten gnarled grapevines as Hoffman points out edible plants growing along the creek—from miner’s lettuce to flowering trillium. Daniel collects these plants in her basket, many of them the same wild greens that will be served after the walk in a stunning lunch at the upstairs event space at Healdsburg Shed.
In 2013, Daniel and her husband, Doug Lipton (who holds a Ph.D. in soil science), opened this striking 10,000-square-foot market, café, and community gathering place to critical acclaim, winning the 2014 James Beard Award for restaurant design. Daniel worked closely with Jensen Architects of San Francisco on the design of the barnlike glass, wood, and recycled metal building that spills out onto North Street next to Foss Creek.
For many in this small Wine Country town, Shed was a game changer. Located just a half block from Healdsburg Plaza, Shed established a “modern grange” where farmers, chefs, and others interested in “good farming, good cooking, good eating” could meet to discuss the environment, the food supply, the enjoyment of food, and so much more. Events, classes, and lectures are held in the space, along with private parties.
Shed has come of age and is celebrating its fifth year anniversary. On a Saturday morning, teeming with locals and visitors alike, Shed feels like a Wine Country destination. It’s become the place to be in Healdsburg. And yet it’s also the corner store, the local coffee shop, and the town bookstore. The housewares section is chock-full of handmade items designed to help people live a better and healthier life.
The fermentation bar features the vintage beverage Shrub, and the counter features juicy kumquats in large glass jars. There’s also house-smoked fish in the larder (a recent winner at the Good Food Awards), and the pantry is bursting with colorful organic produce and preserved items. Designer gardening tools are for sale in a cart at the front of the store. And all this hands-in-the-dirt sustainability looks stylish, too, thanks to Daniel.
“I feel happier weeding a garden than doing almost anything else,” she says. “It’s a meditation.”
A woman of myriad talents, Daniel first moved to California from Boulder, Colorado, to join San Francisco’s Wallflower Order Dance Collective. Later, Daniel opened Telaio (Italian for “loom”), a store located near Market Street’s Zuni Café that featured unique items from local designers. After their two sons, Henri and Oliver, were born, Daniel and Lipton purchased 16 acres off West Dry Creek Road and built HomeFarm, a French–inspired farmhouse with blue shutters.
Daniel had spent a semester in France during college, and she gained a deep appreciation for the French way of life. From the long entrance drive lined with poplar trees to the citrus groves and bounty of organic produce, HomeFarm is as stunning and sylvan as Daniel herself. Add thousands of bees and a handful of hives, dozens of chickens, and rows of vines that produce an aromatic HomeFarm Muscat dessert wine and a sultry Rhône–style rosé, and you have nothing less than an environmentalist’s Shangri-La.
With an enthusiasm for eco-friendly pursuits, such as fermenting vegetables, canning preserves, and nurturing small casks of aging balsamic vinegar (a project they began with East Bay celebrity chef Paul Bertolli, now proprietor of Fra’ Mani), Daniel and Lipton have shown that it’s possible to implement sustainable farming practices and live lightly on the land. After creating HomeFarm, they realized they had a story they wanted to tell. Thus, Shed was born.
“We wanted to create a place where the beauty and vitality of the complete food cycle—from growing to preparing to eating—would be visible,” explains Daniel.
Most of what HomeFarm produces is sold at Shed. And what is not consumed there—including kitchen scraps from the restaurant—is returned to the land at HomeFarm as compost or fed to the chickens.
A focus on environmental education played a definite role in developing the philosophy of Shed, but it didn’t begin there. While she was raising her children, Daniel launched a speaker series in the 774-seat Jackson Theater at Sonoma Country Day School, which invited nationally acclaimed environmental leaders—from author Bill McKibben, to The Kitchen Sisters radio personalities, to renowned Stone Barns chef Dan Barber—to speak in a serious forum. And in her spare time, Daniel also ran a yoga studio.
“I never set out with a particular career goal,” says Daniel, as we sit in her eclectic living room. “I love to cook and to grow food, but I never thought about opening a restaurant or a market. We were just living the way we felt it was important to live.”
With sustainability and environmental education foremost in their minds, Daniel and Lipton are proud that a huge piece of Shed’s real estate is devoted to the classes and workshops that take place in the event space upstairs.
To the roomful of edible plant enthusiasts who have gathered for lunch at the conclusion of the foraging walk, Shed is clearly achieving its goal. One young man says he can’t seem to stop himself from signing up for classes. With a handful already under his belt, he has entirely changed his thinking about the environment. A couple have traveled from the East Coast just to see Shed. They say they’ll return home with a new understanding of how to eat.
Cameras poised, participants ooh and aah as Hoffman begins the lunch presentation. Setting the tabletop with sauces, wild greens, and herbs; HomeFarm vegetables and eggs; and a raft of edible flowers, Shed’s illustrious chef creates an artistic tableau Daniel aptly describes as “a Jackson Pollock painting.”
As our group of happy foragers sits down to enjoy lunch, the tables bloom with billowing arrangements of wild herbs and flowers.
“What are the blue flowers?” someone asks.
“Oh, those are forget-me-nots,” replies Daniel, a woman who doesn’t forget her flowers.
Doubtless, visitors will not be forgetting Daniel or Healdsburg Shedanytime soon, either.
Upcoming Events at Shed
EDIBLE SEAWEED FORAGING
Participants will gather up to 10 pounds of seaweed varieties such as kombu, nori, and bladderwrack with local seaweed expert Heidi Herrmann (aka Queen of Low Tide). June 3, 7:30–10:30 a.m. $90.
KNIFE SKILLS WORKSHOP
Learn the difference between a bread knife, a boning knife, and a carving knife with culinary educator and chef Joel Whitaker. June 9, 1–2:30 p.m. $35.
CHEESE COURSE: UNITED STATES OF CHEESE
Participants will sample cheese from seven states and learn cheese appreciation—paired with a glass of wine or beer from Shed’s fermentation bar—with expert Janet Fletcher. June 23, 1–2:30 p.m. $65.
HERBAL WELLNESS: SUMMER SKINCARE
Learn how to use herbs to create self-care remedies to improve skin and vitality with herbalist Trinity Ava. June 30, 1–4 p.m. $65.