Terri Stark Bio - Stark Reality Restaurants
Media Contact: Holly Hansen
Proprietor, Stark Reality Restaurants, Sonoma County California
Willi’s Wine Bar, Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar,
Monti’s, Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Bravas Bar de Tapas
Opening Summer 2015: Bird & The Bottle
James Beard Award Semifinalist for 2013 Outstanding Restaurateur
Terri Stark loves a good time. Growing up in San Mateo California, she was
known for throwing multi-course dinner parties for her friends, complete
with menus and stemware, while in high school. Little did she imagine that
not too many years in the future she’d be the co-owner and operator with
her husband Mark of five (soon to be six) thriving restaurants and a
catering business in Sonoma County with a staff of close to 300. The rest of
the country has taken notice. Terri and Mark were semifinalists for the 2013
James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur, the food world’s
equivalent of an Academy Award.
Terri majored in hospitality at the University of Oregon earning a bachelor's
degree in Leisure Services, a fact that she finds funny every time she
mentions it. She and Mark met in 1995 while both were working for the California Cafe Restaurant Group in
Palo Alto: he as a regional chef and she as manager of the catering department. Terri had found in Mark
someone just as passionate about hospitality as she was. They married in 1999.
When Terri took a job as catering director for the company that owns LuLu Restaurant in San Francisco and
Zibibbo in Palo Alto, she hired Mark, but they shared a dream of one day opening their own restaurant.
That day arrived sooner than either of them expected. In 2001 the Starks relocated to Santa Rosa, where
Terri’s family roots stretch back four generations. Terri came across the Orchard Inn on Old Redwood
Highway and envisioned it as the ideal location for the restaurant that she and Mark had dreamed of. She
was surprised to discover that it was for sale.
Terri and Mark scraped together money from friends and family and maxed out their credit cards to buy
the property and start their first restaurant, Willi’s Wine Bar, in 2002. Willi’s introduced small plates to the
area. The Starks often joke that in the beginning, people thought that they were opening a “topless” bar,
not a tapas bar. The concept caught on quickly. Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar in Healdsburg followed in 2003
and Monti’s opened in 2004. In 2006 the couple launched Stark Reality Restaurants with 150 employees.
They opened Stark’s Steak & Seafood in 2008, and Bravas Bar de Tapas in 2012.
The Starks are hands-on owners and operators
of their restaurants. Mark is executive chef and
Terri handles all of the business operations. She
even has an opportunity to showcase her
creative flair by developing the interior design
concepts for each of the restaurants.
From opening their first venture, Willi’s Wine Bar
in 2002, to their most recent, Bravas in 2012,
Mark and Terri’s restaurants have consistently
earned top accolades and praise including
San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Bay Area Restaurant status (Willi’s Wine Bar and Bravas), Michelin Bib
Gourmand (Monti’s Rotisserie, Willi’s Wine Bar), and Travel + Leisure Top 20 US Tapas Restaurants (Bravas).
More than awards and accolades, Terri and Mark are most proud of being able to provide mentorship and
employment to so many workers in the local culinary field. They have offered health care to their full time
employees since the day they opened, a rarity in the days before the Affordable Care Act. Another rarity
in the restaurant business: many of their employees have been with them for ten years or more. The Starks
are committed to promoting from within, what Terri refers to as "stocking our own pond." All of their chefs
started out working for them as cooks, and, in some cases, dishwashers. The biggest measure of success,
according to Mark, "At least 20 employees who started out washing dishes and bussing tables now own
their houses; more than anything else, that is our greatest accomplishment."
Says Terri, "Everyone thinks opening restaurants is going to be really, really fun, but it’s 90 percent business."
Through hard work, business acumen, and a great partnership with Mark, Terri has realized her dreams and
is able to indulge her passion for entertaining almost every day. Despite her hectic schedule and heavy
workload, she can frequently be found greeting guests in one of the Stark restaurants. She looks forward to
the Starks’ next venture, Bird & The Bottle, slated to open on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa in summer 2015.
For more information about Stark Reality Restaurants, visit www.starkrestaurants.com.