By Elliott Bochstein, RCAC staff writer
Wildflower Boutique Motel owner Jeff Hansen was so pleased with Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s (RCAC) financial assistance that he recommended it to Elyse and David Hopps, owners of an up-and-coming startup restaurant in Point Arena named Izakaya Gama. The couple both earned their culinary stripes as sushi apprentices around 2005.
“I studied sushi for the first seven years of my culinary career before switching over to pastry,” Elyse explained. “David studied sushi and Japanese food for 13 years collectively. He worked in two Michelin-starred restaurants, but we always knew our heart was in Japanese cuisine.”
As soon as the Hopps moved to the Mendocino Coast in 2018, they quickly embraced Point Arena’s tight-knit community. By 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic was well underway. They designed their business plan to meet the realities of a global health emergency and offered take-out only. Typical izakaya dishes include pickles, skewers, sashimi and other appetizers meant to be shared over drinks. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just taking our favorite dishes; dishes that were taught to us, and dishes that to this day inspire us, and provide them to the community that we love,” Elyse said.
The pop-up was an instant smash-hit in a town with few dining options. Having decided to settle in a permanent brick-and-mortar location, they chose a property adjacent to the Wildflower that Hansen had purchased, stripped down and converted into an ideal space for a modern restaurant.
“We viewed the building and picked the space in March 2020—not the most ideal time to open a business,” Elyse said. “The construction was a bit chaotic and due to COVID-related supply chain issues; but the buildout took longer than anticipated,” Elyse admits. As with the Wildflower, it took a community effort – woodworkers, plumbers, cooks, servers – to transform their vision into a reality.
At Hansen’s urging, they contacted RCAC and began working with its Loan Fund to secure the financing necessary to open their doors. Loan Officer Bill Reynolds and Credit Manager Robert Longman immediately saw the potential in the Hopps’ business model and helped them secure a $75,000 RCAC loan guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Community Advantage (CA) pilot loan program. As a CA Lender, RCAC provides small businesses and entrepreneurs with the capital, technical assistance and management training they need to succeed, fostering job creation and economic renewal in underserved communities across the Rural West.
“I remember thinking: here we have lots of sushi and seafood specialties and they’re right next to the coast, this huge source of food right there in the ocean,” Reynolds said. “They have all these small local wineries and farms for the best greens and vegetables–all the ingredients were there with no need for vendors from San Francisco.”
Izakaya Gama’s opening this March received local and national acclaim, with publications such as Eater SF, Forbes and the Los Angeles Times including the restaurant in its must-visit lists. The eatery has firmly established itself as a top regional destination, with reservations solidly booked nearly every night. The restaurant is a source of stable employment for locals, and the Hopps donate a portion of their proceeds to Point Arena’s art community.
“RCAC gave us the funds to start our business off right and eventually pay it forward to our community,” Elyse said. “We are very grateful for the assistance.”
Wildflower Boutique Motel: RCAC Loan Fund financing supports one-of-a-kind roadside inn
About three hours north of San Francisco along California’s salt-misted, serpentine Highway One lies Point Arena, a Mendocino County town of 500 that is among the smallest incorporated communities in the state. Surrounded by blooming coastal prairies, towering bluffs and ancient Douglas fir, cypress and redwood groves, the town contains some of the most breathtaking natural beauty in the American West. Read more