The olallieberries have been ripening slowly this year.

Mother Nature, and the late season rains, have been a challenge for the supply of olallieberries that sweeten the flaky and much sought-after pies made famous by Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero.

In 2003, Duarte’s Tavern, the coastside’s legendary restaurant and family business since 1894, was recognized as an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation. Visitors come from all over the world for their specialty dishes.

“The winter we had affected it. During the drought they ripened earlier,” said Tim Duarte, fourth generation family member and general manager.

An olallieberry, a cross between a loganberry and a youngberry, are the backbone of why people keep coming back to Duarte’s Tavern. Three classic dishes that draw locals and visitors to the business are the artichoke soup, fresh fruit pies and seafood. The pies require the famous olallieberry.

“They don’t ship well,” Duarte said. “We grow 100% of our own because olallieberries are not a commercial berry.”

On two patches of land about a half mile up the road from the restaurant, the first olallieberry harvest will be picked by hand.

Tim Duarte grew up in the family business that was originally started as a bar by his great-grandfather in 1894 and has been serving food since 1935.

In the field

Before farm-to-table was a concept, there was Tim’s dad Ron’s garden out back behind the 125-year old family business. Now, the plot is tended by the fifth generation of Duarte family members, Ben Duarte.

“This year, we have more berries than previous years,” said Ben Duarte, Tim’s son who started working for the family business after graduating from Washington State University’s organic and sustainable agriculture program.

As the olallieberry season runs only from May to July, they have to pay close attention to the berries as Ben Duarte oversees the gardens. They are expecting 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of olallieberries from their garden patch. Following an olallieberry shortage (a crisis for the business) about five years ago when the prized fruit was not available, the family decided to grow their own.

“Some of the canes are 20-30 years old and they’re still producing quite well,” Ben Duarte said.

Ben Duarte climbs down from his tractor and heads into the barn to take a break. He came back to the coast as he enjoys being a part of both agriculture and the family’s restaurant business. Ben Duarte is committed to the 2,200 new plants they put in a few years ago and to ensuring that the berries will thrive and produce regularly.

“My involvement in the restaurant is through the agriculture aspect,” he said.

In the kitchen

In the restaurant’s kitchen, Maria Huerta has worked at Duarte’s Tavern since 1989. She started washing dishes and making pies and jams and cleaning fish. Now she manages the back of the house.

“The restaurant is my home and I enjoy my job,” Huerta said. “This is my favorite time in the summer and it’s exciting to have a lot of work with peaches, apricots and olallieberries,” she said.

At the counter, customer Jennifer Castner, who used to live in Moss Beach and now resides in Michigan, enjoys her pie with a friend.

“We make a point to visit Duarte’s when we’re at the coast as it’s a tradition for our family to come back,” said Castner. “I have to get olallieberry pies here as they don’t grow in Michigan.”

For years, the olallieberry pie has been Duarte’s Tavern’s number one seller followed by the strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Customer tastes have become more discerning over the years as they become more knowledgeable about sustainability, agriculture and food.

“Customers are getting pickier as they gain knowledge with the allergic food and the vegetarian food movements,” Tim Duarte said. “If we don’t have artichoke soup on the menu, people get really upset.”

Next generation

Yet, the next chapter for Duarte’s Tavern rests with getting the next generation of family members involved in the business. Ben Duarte’s niece works at the restaurant as a waitress and has been there for three years.

With Ben Duarte taking over his grandfather’s garden and the agricultural aspect, he continues in the learning phase of the business, especially as he tends to the olallieberries.

“With a little love, a little water and fertilizing, the berries will last,” he said. “It’s just basic care.”

Duarte’s Tavern is located at 202 Stage Road in Pescadero. It is open Wednesday through Monday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Tuesdays. Call (650) 879-0464 or go to duartestavern.com for more information.

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