Foodie, Jennifer Cazares, was born into a household of gourmet cooking. She grew up in the small rural town of Boonville, California (in Anderson Valley, north of San Francisco), where gardening was common, fast food was nonexistent, and her mom, Earlene Merriman-Wiley, was known as the chef. Jennifer spent hours in the kitchen with her mom, closely observing her mother’s every move, so not to miss a step. From the early age of about 10, Jennifer was typing (yes, on a real typewriter!) recipes that her mother made, so she’d have them for when she got older. Although her mom was not known as a pastry chef, Jennifer took a real interest in making desserts. When she was about 12 years old she started her own dessert business – making and delivering desserts to people in the town where she grew up, and even was making desserts for Bear Wallow Resort, a local restaurant and lodge. As a teenager during the summer, she worked as a line cook at the Redwood Drive-In and worked at Boont Berry Farm (https://www.facebook.com/BoontBerry), both in Boonville.
Then college began and she worked on a professional career in Human Resources, and put cooking and baking on the back burner. After graduating from University of San Diego in 1989, with degrees in Business Administration and English, Jennifer started her professional career in Human Resources. But by 2000, she made a very bold decision and walked away from the corporate world for a career in the culinary arts – following her passion for food and wine!
She started “Merriman & Wiley, Catering and Event Planning”, which later morphed into “The Land of Cookies”, highlighting cookie decorating parties for children, cookie favors for all occasions, and scrumptious cookies by the dozen. While in the catering business for about 7 years, customers were asking, “Why don’t you open a restaurant?” Now married, Jennifer and her husband, Marc, gave that a lot of thought and together made the leap!
In 2007, Jennifer and her husband Marc opened Little Star Cafe, a unique restaurant concept located in Walnut Creek, California. Little Star Cafe was the first of its kind restaurant, designed for parents and their pre-school aged children. The cafe featured an enclosed play area, so parents could see their children through the glass wall, but could actually enjoy a relaxing meal out, have a glass of wine from their impressive collection of California wines, or a micro-brewery beer, and of course enjoy an amazing dessert, Jennifer’s speciality. Unfortunately all good things come to an end….and in July 2009, Little Star Cafe closed its doors.
Speed forward to 2015, and Jennifer can’t stay out of the kitchen!