Updated: Oct 3, 2021
A Restaurant Where "Options are a Thing" and Delicious, Health-Conscious Mexican Family Recipes Are Served With Love at 7984 California Ave in Fair Oaks Village
We're pleased to introduce Lorena M Van Rein, one of the three owners of Wild Rooster Bistro (along with Salvador Sánchez and Roció Fierro), in our Business Spotlight Series.
We're spotlighting various merchants in the Fair Oaks Village, as well as individuals who support what FOVEC does, all while giving you a little insight into our history and what we do for the Village. We encourage you to share these local stories and visit with merchants to get to know them firsthand.
We connected with Lorena to learn more about her and her business, Wild Rooster Bistro.
What is Wild Rooster Bistro? How would you describe it to a friend?
We cook recipes that our mamas, our grandmothers, and our aunts cooked for us. We try to honor them by incorporating their recipes into our restaurant.
We also have a saying at our restaurant, and it’s printed on our menus: Options are kind of our thing. Which is another way of saying we want to find things on our menu that you will like, and then maybe tweak them a little to turn them into things you will really love because they fit your taste buds or your nutritional needs. We want to serve you food that you will come back for.
Why did you start the business? How did you and your business partners meet?
My partners and I have known each other for more than 25 years, and we’ve worked in restaurants in the Sacramento region pretty much that whole time.
About three years ago, we were getting together for breakfast or lunch pretty regularly and the idea of the restaurant came from those shared meals.
We are all from Mexico, but we consider ourselves long-time Californians, too, and we love the food here, but we all have those moments when we yearn for the food our mamas made.
This restaurant was built around that idea – that we could take California ingredients, which are truly the best in the world, and use them to bring new magic to the recipes our mothers taught us.
What were all of your previous education/experience/backgrounds?
I think the three of us have literally done every job you can do in a restaurant, from busser, dishwasher, and server to cooking the food and managing the books.
I have a degree in International Business Law; Rocio graduated as a dentist in Mexico, has managed small restaurants, and she has also been a Realtor, independent businesswoman, and an investor in house remodeling; and Salvador got his early experience in his family’s meat business, then his first job in America was as a server and it was then that he discovered he enjoyed it and received real satisfaction from it.
All three of us also really like the idea of providing jobs for people in our community.
Personally speaking, what is your favorite thing about your business?
Fair Oaks is our favorite thing about our business. It really is a “village” in the best sense. Business owners help each other out.
I don’t live here (although I’d like to someday), but I have run the California International Marathon (CIM) through Fair Oaks, right past my restaurant, for many years now, and this little town center around the park just lights up with people cheering and entire families coming out. It’s a highlight for the runners.
That’s just one example of how special this place is.
What is a common question you get?
Customers ask a lot about our vegan options. It’s a great compliment that we often have to convince customers that the vegan dishes and ingredients really are vegan.
Then, the next question is always, “Can you really do that and still make it taste like Mexican food?” And the answer is “Yes.” We work really hard to find ways to make that possible.
Sometimes it’s as simple as really flavorful salsas and fresh ingredients. But we also spend a lot of time and effort with our suppliers to find alternatives like new versions of soy/tofu ingredients that soak up flavors better, or creating dessert recipes that are sweet and tasty without being “heavy.”
What inspired the menu?
Family recipes. Most of our recipes come from our mamas, grandmas, and aunts, and from our own memories of eating fresh, hot, delicious food at the kitchen table while they bustled around in their aprons.
What is your most popular dish?
Our Chile Relleno. It’s baked instead of fried, so it’s a lighter meal than a typical version of this dish, but it’s so full of flavor. We get so many compliments on it.
Personally, what is your favorite dish at your restaurant?
Lorena: Vegan tacos de asada – this is one of the dishes that always prompts questions about whether it’s really vegan (yes, it really is).
Rocio: Cochinita Pibil – it’s just an explosion of flavors with every bite.
Salvador: Chile Relleno just delicious without frying it.
What's the biggest compliment you've received?
We have a lot of “regulars” and we meet a lot of new customers who come in because someone who lives in Fair Oaks told them they had to try us out. Those are the highest compliments a customer can give us – a referral.
Also, when you come into our restaurant, you’ll notice a lot of roosters – stuffed animals, paintings, and even hand-crafted wooden or ceramic or paper roosters. These are all gifts from our customers.
Why did you choose to be in Fair Oaks Village?
Our location used to be a pretty popular French restaurant, and the owner was ready to retire. We met and ate at his place before it closed, and we really felt a strong sense of community here.
There are a lot of “neighborhoods” in our region, but few of them achieve the sense of community that Fair Oaks has. We loved that from the very beginning and we wanted to be a part of it.
Are you involved with or do you support any local nonprofits, community organizations or causes?
One of our favorite things about this location is the park and all of the events and family gatherings that go on here.
We have sponsored and helped out with the big, local events like the Chicken Festival (of course) and theatre performances. We support Fair Oaks businesses when they are promoting special events, and we also like to help out non-profits centered on food assistance.
We also sponsor a local cycling team, “Team City Sacramento,” which has done regular rides from Downtown Sacramento to Fair Oaks along the bike trail for many years now, stopping at local businesses like ours and the local donut and coffee shops. They use Fair Oaks as their destination, and that’s exactly the kind of support our businesses need from our surrounding communities.
What are some of your favorite businesses in the Village?
Well, the restaurant business is kind of a giant family. Dysfunctional, sure, but still a family. So we are friends with a lot of folks who you might expect us to think of as competitors.
I think the best of us understand that nobody eats at the same place every day. In a sense, we’re all in this together – when a place like Fair Oaks Village has several really good options, it becomes a culinary destination rather than just one place to eat. That’s good for all of us.
What is the importance of Fair Oaks Village community to you?
Community was kind of the whole point behind our restaurant. We wanted to open a restaurant where locals would become regulars and friends. My partners and I have always been in and around the restaurant business in the Sacramento region and the community has always been something pretty special.
I think Fair Oaks is the best example of that. Sure, it’s nice to go to a place with a famous chef once in a while, but our restaurant is more about the feeling of a familiar, comfortable, personal meal made and shared by family, served by someone who remembers what you ordered last time you were here.
What is the importance of FOVEC to the community?
We appreciate the foundational idea that FOVEC has that no matter what improvements we seek, we need to preserve the sense of community that Fair Oaks has established. It really is a gem, and it’s worth protecting.
What improvements and enhancements, in your opinion, are sorely needed in order to make this a more attractive business district without taking away the charm of the village?
Parking is something our customers mention often. Especially when there is a big event, there’s just not enough. I suppose that’s always going to be an issue. I’d like to see us work more with nearby churches, the park district, and larger businesses that may have space available in their off-peak times. Maybe a shared, off-street lot for business owners would help free up more street parking for our customers.
Do you have any upcoming events or specials that people should know about?
We are updating our menu right now, so we are looking forward to introducing some new dishes very soon. We have some new flavors to introduce to you…
For our fellow business owners in town who like to celebrate the holidays with their staff, we also cater and can even reserve our dining room for your special events.
Anything else you'd like to add?
It’s almost “New Year’s resolution” time, and every year we encourage our customers to consider a healthy resolution. Maybe eat a vegetarian or vegan meal once a day or one day a week, or walk/bicycle to dinner instead of driving.