One of Half Moon Bay's most popular restaurants got a national seal of approval earlier this week when it was named one of the top 100 kid-friendly restaurants in the nation.
, operated by husband-and-wife team Paul and Julie Shenkman along with business partner and Executive Chef Lewis Rossman, was chosen by diners of online restaurant reservation service Open Table in their 2011 Diners' Choice Awards competition. The awards were determined based on feedback given by the diners on the website between June 2010 and May 2011.
"At Sam’s we have spent a great deal of time on our kids menu, working closely with the organization to make it as healthy and wholesome as possible, while still appealing to our younger guests,” said Rossman.
The restaurant started working with Half Moon Bay Coastside organization Well Kiddos in 2010, said Manu Hipkins, Moss Beach resident and founder of Well Kiddos, after she approached Rossman and Julie Shenkman (Shenkman) with the prospect.
"Lewis and Julie pledged their support immediately," Hipkins said.
Hipkins first sat down with Rossman and Shenkman to discuss what dishes parents tended to order for their children, then discussed the ingredients and ideas on how to make the dish healthier, she said.
"We were mutually inspired by the idea that parents shouldn’t have to sacrifice their commitment to healthy eating just to enjoy a family meal out," Shenkman said.
After making inital changes to the children's menu — for example, replacing an organic peanut butter and jelly sandwich with grilled salmon — the trio met regularly to brainstorm new menu items as well as how to educate parents about menu choices and ingredients over the course of six months, according to Shenkman.
"We periodically did in-restaurant surveys of parents ordering off of our kids menus, to learn what was important to them, and get feedback on how we were doing," Shenkman said. The group continues to meet periodically to discuss the children's menu.
The menu features Schwarz all-beef antibiotic-free hot dogs with no added hormones, sustainably-fished items "whenever possible," Shenkman says, fruit and vegetables that are seasonal and local "when available," and Strauss Family Creamery's organic soft-serve ice cream. Dishes containing dairy products are rBST-free, and food is cooked with cholesterol- and trans-fat-free vegetable oil, according to Shenkman.
Shenkman said that the group learned that "the trick is two-fold: to make healthier items available and tasty, and encourage kids to order them — and to make traditional kids' items healthier, while keeping the good taste."
"I think this award is sending an important signal as it recognizes the importance of including children as customers who are valued," said Hipkins.
Half Moon Bay-area restaurants that have worked with Well Kiddos to develop healthy children's menus include , , Cafe Gibraltar, , and .
The city of Half Moon Bay has also endorsed the program, Hipkins says, and has asked other chefs to offer healthy choices on their menus as well.
"I hope that this award will inspire other restaurateurs to come up with some innovative ideas for their menus and overall offering to families," Hipkins said.
To read an article about Sam's ChowderMobile published on Half Moon Bay Patch, click . The food truck also made a very local stop at Harbor Village on July 4 weekend at an organized by Half Moon Bay-based Grub Town Army.