Restaurateur Sommer Peterson says Shangri-la, with its Palm Springs ambiance, offers a trifecta of great food, craft cocktails, and outdoor activity with an added vibe of celebration. “I’ve always tried to have that third element.” In San Francisco, she owned the Bowling Club, a bowling alley with great food and cocktails. That combination drew regulars, even those who never bowled but loved being in a space where people were celebrating. According to Peterson, “That’s what drives me every day. Having the bocce ball with the idea you can be out there with your friends, have a cocktail in your hand and throw a ball and hoot and holler and just let your hair down. The world has gotten so serious. Can we just escape for a minute and provide that place?”
When you first opened, you thought the most popular attractions to Shangri-la would be the service, fire-pits, and bocce ball. What would you say now?
We lost our entire kitchen staff with each Covid shut-down and rebuilt with a new chef and staff each time. The food changed every four or five months. But the environment and the service we provide were unchanged. Our guests can come as they are, be treated very well, and get excellent service without pretension. People here want fun dining, not fine dining. They want an experience, and they want to have a good time.
One of the surprises was that 75% of their customers are female of all ages. Peterson says it’s fantastic as a woman business owner to see women who want to celebrate know they are safe at Shangri-la. Peterson wanted Shangri-la to be beautiful and have people feel comfortable but didn’t anticipate tables of “Shangri-ladies.” Sometimes they come in all glammed up to have exquisite cocktails and take pictures, or they come to relax after work. Shangri-la has one of the only bars where women can sit alone, have a nice cocktail, eat, and not feel like prey.
How are you managing the ever-changing Covid regulations?
We opened with outdoor dining only a couple of weeks ago, and Indoor dining reopened yesterday. We played by the rules. We care about our community even at a financial cost to us. We didn’t feel putting people’s health, and safety was the right thing to do. If you don’t have a healthy and strong community, you ultimately don’t have a business. That was a very financially tough decision. Our philosophy on life and how we treat people was a straightforward path for us to follow. We feel strongly about being respectful of what’s going on in the world and can hold our heads up high. Fair Oaks is a wide demographic. It’s getting a little bit younger, more families are moving in, but we have a considerable population of retired people. We needed to make sure we keep everyone safe and have them feel welcome. A lot of people told us, “You’re the only restaurant I feel good about eating at. That’s a huge compliment because they understand what we’re doing. I’ll only support the people who played by the rules.”
What is your vision for Fair Oaks Village?
Peterson says the blessing and the curse of groups are that people come in separate cars. A party of six could mean six vehicles. She hopes that when things lighten up, people will start to take advantage of ride services. They can imbibe without worrying about being behind the wheel or looking for a parking place. It’s affordable if you live near.
A love letter
Peterson was born and raised in Fair Oaks. When she moved back to her hometown, she felt like Fair Oaks didn’t have all the amenities a great town should have and found herself getting on the freeway to have a good meal or quality cocktail in the type of environment she was used to. That’s when she decided to take on this big project in her hometown. Peterson explained, “We have a couple of restaurants, but where is our environment, that destination? If you don’t have it, you have to build it. That’s my love-letter to Fair Oaks.