By Pamela Dozois


The decision to open a new restaurant in the midst of the coronavirus shutdown was one not for the faint of heart. Chef Michael Cherney and his wife, Sarah, did not let the unfortunate circumstances dampen their enthusiasm or resolve. They opened their eatery, named peasants FEAST on April 1 and have been wonderfully supported by the local community. 

“Opening a restaurant is hard,” Michael Cherney said. “Opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic is an entirely new game that not many, if any, have done.” 

“My husband and I had been actively looking for a space to open our first restaurant for the past three years,” said Sarah Cherney. “In November of last year we entered into escrow. The location was really important to us because we wanted it to be a very special and unique space for our community.”

The Cherneys closed escrow on March 1 and, per their lease agreement, they were required to open for business within 30 days. Two weeks into painting and redecorating is when the COVID-19 announcement was made and everything was supposed to shut down. 

“My path has never been easy and I don’t ever expect it to be. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as rewarding,” said Chef Michael Cherney of peasants FEAST.
Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

“We had already signed our lease so there was no turning back,” Sarah Cherney said. “We halted all of our interior design, the chairs are still unpacked, we stopped construction of our tables and we had to completely reinvent our business model. We hired three people instead of 15 that we had planned for. We cut our opening menu by one third. So our new plan of action was ‘take-out’ which thankfully has been going quite well.” 

“I’ve personally been working towards owning and operating my own restaurant for the past 15-plus years,” Michael Cherney explained. “To this day, I still remember the first day at The Art Institute of California culinary school in Santa Monica, when the Chef Instructors took us into Bistro 31, a student run restaurant, sat us down and said, ‘This industry is not for everybody. A quarter of you won’t make it. The work is hard. The hours are long. The pay is low. If you want to have ANY chance of being successful in this industry you have to accept that you will never see your family, never attend another birthday party, holiday party, social gathering, etc…..unless you’re the one cooking for it.’ 

“It didn’t bother me. My mind was set. I had a clear vision of my goal. I wanted to be a chef and own my own restaurant. I had my fun when I was younger and knew I was ready to put my head down and put in the work.”

He would go to his first class, Baking and Pastries, at 6 a.m., finish around 3 p.m. and drive straight to work at Ortolan, five miles away, but a 45-minute drive, (this is in L.A.). On his way, Cherney would read notes, go over prep lists, and review flash cards. He would usually get off around 11 p.m. or midnight, and do it all over again the next day for pretty much the next three years.

“I was the only person in the Ortolan kitchen who was still in culinary school, not to mention, still in my first introductory class,” Cherney recalled. “I was also the only person who spoke English. The kitchen brigade was built of mostly visa students from France or other parts of Europe who had been working in the hospitality industry since they were 11 years old. Here I was at 19, just starting, and already nearly a decade behind everyone else. They would point and scream, and I would do the best I could to understand, translate and execute.” 

After graduating, Cherney was offered a position as Chef de Partie at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas and worked under Robuchon, who is the world’s most decorated Michelin star chef. 

Cherney was offered the position of sous chef, once there was an opening, and waited three years, developing his palate and perfecting his skills. When the position failed to materialize, he felt that it was time to move on. 

peasants FEAST offers many choices for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike, along with desserts, which are updated regularly.
Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

Cherney wanted to get closer to the food itself so he did a lot of traveling to Central and South America, the Middle East, China, and the United States. His visits to each locale strengthened his understanding of the various cultural cuisines and inspired him to get more involved with the roots of his ingredients. He volunteered on a 40-acre sustainable and organic farm in Northern California and that is where he discovered a love for the farmer, fisherman and rancher and the ingredients that go into his recipes.

Upon his return to Southern California, Cherney joined the Nichols brothers’ team as Chef de Cuisine at Sides Hardware and Shoes, in Los Olivos. That is where he met Sarah, who was general manager of the restaurant. 

Both Cherney and his wife grew up in the San Fernando Valley, living just one town over from each other, but didn’t meet until their serendipitous encounter at Sides.

“I’ve spent my life mostly in the hospitality industry but my degree is in theater,” Sarah Cherney said. “I taught drama in grades 5-8 at Solvang School for 3 years. I stayed home for a short while to raise my two youngest children, then went to work at Sides Hardware & Shoes. That’s where I met my husband Michael.” 

“A bunch of co-workers decided to eat dinner at Sides and for some strange reason they all canceled,” Sarah continued. “So I called Michael to let him know and to see if he still wanted to go, since it would just be the two of us. He said ‘It will be really awkward’ but he still wanted to have dinner. As a sous chef he hadn’t eaten a composed meal there yet, so he was game and we have been inseparable ever since.

“Once we got to know each other – that was it! One of the first times we were together, Michael cooked me a meal made from everything in his garden. That was more than seven years ago. We’ve been married for two years. A year after our ‘this is not a date’ encounter, we returned to Sides, sat at the same table #23 and requested the same server, Jeni Gilbert, on whose property we would eventually marry.”

Sarah said she has been coming to Solvang since she was born. Her grandparents moved to Solvang to retire in the late 1980s, followed by her mother in 1997 and then she arrived in 1998. 

“My first Christmas was spent at the Alisal when I was 6 months old,” Sarah said. “I remember spending many summer vacations with my grandparents and attending plays at Theaterfest, which I could walk to from their house.”

Since his time at Sides, Michael Cherney has worked up and down the Central Coast creating local, seasonal comfort food with a twist. He served as executive chef at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Buellton, and catered private events in Paso Robles, all experiences which he says deepened his connection to his community. In 2019, the Cherneys started a Santa Ynez Valley catering company, peasants FEAST, which allowed Michael Cherney the opportunity to test recipes, and share his culinary concepts, by way of his often-sold-out “pop up” events throughout the wine region.

“Part of our love for hospitality has to do with our families,” Sarah continued. “Everyone in both our families were food-lovers and loved to cook. Some of our dishes are named after family members because it was their recipe. It makes their memory live on every day. 

“The ‘peasants’ part in our business name is our way of saying ‘community.’ We really value the people who do the work that brings the food to our kitchen, which then allows us to craft great meals. The ‘FEAST ’part is for my mom. She believed in the power of shared meals to bring people together. We want to create a space which celebrates that, and which offers delicious foods and welcoming experiences for everyone.”

Peasants FEAST offers many choices for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike, along with desserts, which are updated regularly. The soups and the Family Meal change every week or two as well as the market salad and the Chef’s Specials, which also change weekly. It also offers a selection of local boutique wines and a revolving selection of local craft beers. 

“My path has never been easy and I don’t ever expect it to be. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as rewarding,” Michael said. “To sit here in our empty restaurant, knowing that I’ve poured everything I have into it, not being able to share it with our community is heartbreaking. Since opening, we’ve had a great response from the community and are truly grateful and appreciative to be surrounded by such a loving, supportive group of people. But at the end of the day, all we want to do is welcome the public into our new home, here in Solvang, at peasants FEAST.” 

Peasants FEAST is located at 487 Atterdag Road at the corner of Copenhagen Drive. For more information, or to order take-out, call the restaurant directly at 805-686-4555 or visit // FEAST // @peasantsFEAST.