Santa Margarita exemplifies one of the best small rural towns in San Luis Obispo County. It is also home to one of the best local restaurants in SLO County. The Jacksons’ Range restaurant only believes in one form of advertising—word-of-mouth. As I interviewed Carol (McRoberts) Guenther, she answered my questions surrounding the Range Restaurant and the devoted people, Jeff and Lindsay Jackson, who made it their dream. Carol and her husband Rich Guenther were long-time teachers at Monarch Grove Elementary School in Los Osos where Carol taught first grade and Rich 5th grade. The Jacksons’ children eventually would become their students.
Carol’s daughter Lindsay and her husband Jeff, purchased the building in 2004, and after a two-year process of acquiring permits, remodeling, and selling sandwiches and salads to get by—opened a unique destination of fine dining with a menu that offers grass-fed filet mignon, organic chicken, mouth-watering lamb creations, and other local favorite dishes. At first, the small building could only seat a limited number of people, and customers would wait in line outside to get in—and if it was raining, they’d wait in their cars until a table came open. Those days, the children bussed the tables, swept the floors, and when old, served the food or helped in the kitchen.
Later, the ambiance flourished when the patio opened up and outdoor dining complemented by warm breezy evenings clearly enhanced the familial eating experience. The inside walls proudly display vintage country album covers, an old western decor, and a hometown country feel that any old school cowboy would enjoy. Heck, if one is lucky, Jade Jackson and her band might even be playing there in the patio. With cowboy regalia lining the enclosure, friendly hosts and waiters, the place brims with laughter, old acquaintances reuniting, birthdays be- ing celebrated, and new babies being shown off by proud grandmothers—a family community brought together by the simple elegance of professionally prepared food and melt-in-your-mouth desserts.
Jeff and Lindsay first met in the Rio Rita—a small bar near the border of Mexico. Lindsay and Zanzara were 18 and (like many San Diego students) would drive across the border to Tijuana. One such night, Zanzara leaned over to Lindsay and nodded in the direction of two handsome young American men sitting at a table near them.
“Someday, we are going to marry those two guys and have their babies.” Lindsay blushed, but took another peek at her future husband. Sure enough, Zanzara married Seth soon afterwards, and Lindsay would eventually elope with Jeff. Zanzara never missed being present at the birth of each of Lindsay’s children; Lindsay returned the devoted gift of friendship by doing the same for her life-long friend.
Early on, Jeff’s mother (Rosalina) and father (Jack Jackson) struggled financially. They owned a few acres, so they grew and raised their own food. “My husband never bought me flowers,” quipped Rosalina, “but he brought me the best asparagus a man could grow.” Together, they shared their love for cooking “poor man’s food” with their son. “They didn’t have much, but they learned to make what they had taste good,” shared Lindsay.
Jeff and his four brothers honored their father’s Naval service—all five of them joined the military to serve their country. When the Army discovered Jeff’s cooking skills, they made him a cook.
After his service, he returned to school and earned a culinary degree and began working in high-end hotels such as the Coronado Hotel in San Diego (where he grew up), the Meridian, and the Carlton. Jeff also cooked at the Inn at Morro Bay (a job Zanzara found for him) and for the children at Camp Keep in Montano de Oro where he made the food so delicious even the pickiest kids would go back for seconds.
Eventually, Jeff would become part owner of a new restaurant replacing The Salty Pelican—Mare Blu. However, Jeff soon sold his partnership in Mare Blu when he and Lindsay discovered the town of Santa Margarita. Together, they purchased a small home in Santa Margarita and a funky commercial business that would eventually become the Range. Lindsay enhanced the children’s education with real-world experiences—working in the restaurant, counting money, writing thank you cards, etc. Even today, the Range has no computers, no credit card machines, and no cell phones. Like the decor, they are old school, genuine, and honest.
Soon, the Jackson children found their own passions as they matured. Cheyne studied cooking for two years at the famous Culinary Institute of America located in New York (situated in an old monastery with a decor that reminds one of J.K. Rowlings’ Hogwarts School). He finished his final year at the Culinary Institute on the Napa Valley Campus and now creates delicious dishes with his dad at the Range. Cheyne recently married his sweetheart, Jessy Bates. The newlyweds decided to make Santa Margarita their home. Why not? Young families are attracted to the small town because 55% of the population is under ten years old and 35% is under two.
Jade Jackson has been playing music and performing since her early teens, attended Cal Arts for four years, and once again is on tour with legendary Mike Ness (his wife Christine and Lindsay are life-long friends) of Social Distortion fame; Jade’s band will be the opening act. Jade often credits Central Coast Songwriters for mentoring her along
the way as she gets ready to present her newest album—Good Time Gone. She recently left to go on tour and will perform 29 shows in 44 days, two countries, and 24 cities—hopefully, this whirlwind tour will add another step on her stair-way to fame. I can remember being moved profoundly by her talented songwriting skills as I listened to her sing “Wait For Me”. Another song, “Rio Rita” tells the story of her mom and dad’s first meeting in Mexico.
Her younger sister, Audrey, is currently in her third year at Cal Arts studying visual arts. She designed the t-shirt sporting the Jade Jackson Band’s latest album and is rapidly developing her own artistic style and expression (see the picture of Audrey in her art studio). Her artistry has also found its way on to Ancient Peaks wine labels—raising money for charitable women’s causes.
The latest Jackson venture involves the purchase of the old bar across the street from the Range. This new establishment opened July 4th, 2017 with a new name—Rosalina (after Jeff’s mom). Currently, the bar offers a place for the locals to have a drink and share stories with bartender/journalist John-O while the kitchen is being remodeled. It is also the home of the Audrey Jackson Art Gallery.
The Range is open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. Jeff and Lindsay would be happy to meet you as would long-time Greek waiter Demetrius (A.K.A. Memo) and first waitress Jessica. I know my wife and I will be returning on a regular basis to take a walk back in history in the charm-filled town that honors family, friends, and good food.