The History of the Ranch House
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
A brief overview of an extensive and treasured history.
The Ranch House began in one of the first homes in the Ojai Valley in 1875. Alan and Helen Hooker converted this into a boarding house in 1949 after relocating from Columbus, Ohio, where Alan had been managing a bakery.
The boarders paid $14 a week for meals and housing. Alan cooked strictly vegetarian meals while Helen was in charge of housekeeping and serviced the large table where everyone shared meals. As guest lists grew, Alan procured a restaurant license in February of 1950, and so the couple christened their vegetarian guest house The Ranch House Restaurant.
In 1954, the Ranch House property was sold and the restaurant closed. Two years later, with the help of a few close friends, Alan was able to build a new restaurant on the half acre of land for sale at the foot of the hill below the old Ranch House.
Alan bought second hand wrought-iron tables from the Oaks Hotel in town and Helen found 50 used chairs on sale at a Mexican restaurant for a dollar apiece, which renowned Ojai artist and ceramicist Beatrice Wood painted, as well as made all their dishes and bowls. A baker, a waitress, and a dishwasher were hired while Alan continued cooking and Helen served the guests.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1956, the new Ranch House opened with a maximum seating of sixteen. The price for dinner on this opening day was an exorbitant $3.50!
Despite the restaurant’s expansion and generous contributions from friends, Alan and Helen struggled to maintain the business, and the restaurant closed once again. To save money, Alan and Helen decided to live in the restaurant. They partitioned off the original dining room and converted this into a tiny bedroom, barely enough space for two beds, a few drawers, and a desk for bookkeeping. Alan and Helen lived in the Ranch House from February of 1958 to 1969.
Until this point, the Ranch House was attempting to operate as strictly vegetarian, however this was strongly contributing to their financial troubles. Although longtime vegetarians, Alan and Helen began to serve meat alongside their fresh breads, desserts, and vegetables. Just as reluctant to serve wine, they started to allow customers to bring their own wine and charged a corkage fee of 25 cents per bottle. Customers would chill their wine in the small brook in the Ranch House garden.
Alan procured a wine and beer license in 1964, and with little to no knowledge of wine, he selected six bottles of wine from the corner liquor store and created a makeshift wine list - a modest beginning for what is considered today one of the best wine lists in the world.
The Ranch House’s reputation has withstood the test of time, and it continues today at the start of its seventh decade with a notable procession of celebrity admirers: John Lennon, and Yoko Ono, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Dave Mason, Reese Witherspoon, Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret, Robert Redford, Malcom McDowell, Barbara Streisand, and many others.
Over the years, newspapers and magazines such as the Los Angeles Times, Gourmet California, and Travel & Leisure have praised the Ranch House’s homemade breads and desserts, fresh vegetables, delicious entrees, as well as the wine list. This dazzling array features over 600 domestic and imported wines, and remained 13 time winner of the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award. The Ranch House is named one of the 100 most romantic restaurants in the USA by Conde Naste and Open Table in 2014.
Today, the Ranch House is owned by Italian artist and designer Maria Angela Edelson and local restaurant and hotelier Steve Edelson. Russel Brunelli and the Chef proudly prepare our fine cuisine in the style that Alan Hooker had always envisioned: no freezer, no fryer, only fresh and beautiful ingredients.