Rather appropriately, Chez Panisse was made out of a structure built as a single-family home in the 1930s. From the time of its purchase in 1971, it’s been molded to accommodate a business—a family, really—that necessarily expanded over several decades of use.
When the restaurant first opened its doors, the downstairs hearth—now the most prominent feature of the kitchen—had yet to be built. All the grilling for dinner service was performed over a steel drum in the back courtyard. This ad hoc outdoor grill station was adjacent to where the first pastry chef and co-owner of the restaurant, Lindsey Shere, conceived of confections in the gussied-up toolshed that predated a formal pastry department. The addition of an open kitchen upstairs in 1980—to execute a café menu distinct from the downstairs prix fixe—was followed by a series of auxiliary buildings, storage areas, a wine cave, staff changing rooms, and offices next door, both for the restaurant and the Edible Schoolyard Project. Chez Panisse spread out like a kind of medieval market town—in phases and as dictated by a growing family—and prevailed despite two significant fires, in 1982 and again in 2013.