Local professor presents research on Black people in Santa Clara County

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN AND ARI STROBER, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Local author and historian Jan Batiste Adkins will be speaking at the Los Altos History Museum in a Zoom event on Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. to commemorate the contributions of Black visionaries in the Bay Area.

African Americans have a long, yet relatively unknown history in Santa Clara County brought to light in Adkins’s recent book.

Adkins, an adjunct faculty member and lecturer at San Jose City College, wrote “History of African Americans of San Jose and Santa Clara County” to educate her students on the contributions of African American people to the history of California. 

While Adkins was working on her master’s degree at San Jose State University, she found that she had trouble finding local literature written by Black people in the Bay Area. Adkins then set out to find Black writers and read their accounts of why they arrived in this area and what they contributed to the local community. Her interest in researching grew from there, leading her to local libraries and historical societies.

“I wanted to research more; I wanted to find out more about some of the early pioneers,” Adkins said. 

Jan Batiste Adkins, an adjunct faculty member and lecturer at San Jose City College. (courtesy Jan Batiste Adkins)

With this newfound interest in researching the history of Black families in Santa Clara County, she began to study the paths that African American people took to get to the region.

“African American families started to come to this area in waves of migration both before and after the Civil War,” Adkins said. “They heard the call ‘Go west young man, go west,’ and free men and women came to California to buy land to establish businesses, establish farms, and establish schools.” 

Adkins explained that prior to the Civil War, many families of African heritage came to California as slaves. However, miners in the area believed that slave owners received an unfair advantage through employing slave labor, allowing enslaved workers to go to court in California and win their freedom.

“Miners collaborated with abolitionists to work towards freeing the slaves in California,” Adkins said. “Thus Black families were able to build Black schools, Black churches and Black businesses in this area.” 

Through hundreds of historical accounts and photographs, Adkins’s book pieces together the stories of the Black pioneers whose names are unknown to history but played an important role in local development.

One of those pioneers, Sam McDonald, was born in Louisiana in 1884. A descendent of slaves, he worked various jobs before settling in South Palo Alto, then known as Mayfield, where he eventually became superintendent of athletic grounds and buildings at Stanford University and deputy sheriff for Santa Clara County. McDonald began acquiring property in the local hills and eventually bought 400 acres of land that he later donated to Stanford. 

As Adkins described, McDonald’s legacy lives on through his “pet project” of planting gardens and cooking food alongside children at the Stanford Convalescent Home for Underprivileged Children, now known as the McDonald House. 

“I think someone needs to write a movie about him,” Adkins said.

In her book, Adkins also features the story of Roy Clay. Originally from Kansas, Clay worked with Hewlett Packard during the early years when the company was founded in a garage in Palo Alto. After working in Hewlett Packard, Roy Clay started his own successful company called Rod Electronics. Eventually, he became the mayor of Palo Alto.

“He loved kids and loved making people happy,” Adkins said. “He tried to help students understand the impact of racism and how to succeed. He made a big impact on the local community.”

Throughout the webinar, Adkins will present those stories along with others and share the past of Santa Clara County.  

“Santa Clara County has historically attracted people of color, not just African Americans, but Asians and Hispanic families,” she said. “We have a lot to be proud of and I look forward to discussing this diversity.”

Register to listen to Adkins’s talk here.

Gluten-free bakery Sweet Diplomacy brings a community of food lovers often left out, together

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY

When Melody Hu happened to run out of regular flour while baking muffins at home one afternoon five years ago, she discovered gluten-free, mochiko rice flour to be a perfectly delicious substitute. The result of this accidental discovery is Sweet Diplomacy, a 100% gluten-free bakery nestled in downtown Los Altos. 

Sweet Diplomacy, which has always been a to-go operation, began with an uncertain start, opening its storefront in December 2019 mere months before the pandemic began, but Hu said community support has been essential to helping the fledgling bakery thrive.

Hu said Sweet Diplomacy’s mission is to “bring people together to celebrate world flavors and inclusive tastes.” In addition to being entirely gluten-free, the bakery accommodates a range of other dietary restrictions, serving dairy-free, vegan and paleo desserts.

As for those “world flavors,” many of Sweet Diplomacy’s desserts draw influence from European, Asian and American cuisines. Hu, a native of Taiwan who grew up eating mochiko rice-based desserts, said she wants to capture the Bay Area’s unique mixing and matching of cultures in her baking. 

“When you come to Sweet Diplomacy, not only are you getting special diet-friendly treats, but we’re also bringing you on a kind of culinary magic carpet [ride] with us to try different flavors,” Hu said, referring to the shop’s Flavor of the Week cupcakes, which can range from Japanese flavors to Mexican hot chocolate. 

Sweet Diplomacy’s signature gluten-free cupcakes topped with Italian meringue buttercream. (Emily McNally)

As for the special diet-friendly element of the bakery, surprisingly neither Hu nor the rest of the staff have dietary restrictions. But Hu said that she was inspired by the community of people she encountered in the bakery’s early days selling gluten-free mochiko muffins at farmers’ markets and pop-ups. 

“These are people who enjoy good food — handmade, flavorful food — but who also have dietary restrictions,” Hu said, and serving that community “became a passion and a calling that [she] fell into.”

As one can imagine, adapting recipes for desserts that are traditionally chock-full of sugar, butter and wheat flour to be gluten-free and special diet–friendly comes with many challenges. 

Hu said the hardest part is using limited ingredients to create the right textures and flavors that make a dessert recognizable. In the earlier days of her operation, she would list every ingredient on Excel spreadsheets and tweak recipes by the gram, conducting countless trials to get each one perfect. 

“Gluten-free and vegan baking is about as hard as it gets,” Hu said. “It really took a lot of time and a lot of tears and scraping of bottoms of pans.”

Now, with a few years of experience under her belt and the help of team members, she’s simplified her process for creating recipes. 

But more than its carefully crafted treats, manager AnaLisse Johansson says Sweet Diplomacy is built on a strong relationship between the team and the community members they serve. Many of their customers trust the bakery to provide for their dietary needs, which in some cases can be life-threatening. For full transparency, ingredients of each product are listed on the bakery’s website so customers know exactly what they’re eating. 

As for those without special dietary restrictions, Hu is fully aware of the negative perceptions surrounding gluten-free foods that can put off customers.

“You know, we’ve had remarks like ‘What, this is gluten-free? Okay, no thanks.’ And they just run away — like literally they will dash out the store because they associate gluten-free with ‘disgusting,’” said Hu.

Hu attributes that stigma to people being accustomed to the taste of wheat as well as many gluten-free recipes being created out of medical necessity. However, she hopes customers can look past that and be open-minded about giving her desserts a try.

After all, that willingness to try new things is central to Sweet Diplomacy’s mission.

“We bring people together; even if you have all these different dietary restrictions, even if you come from different cultures, you can still come to the table and eat with us,” Johansson said. 

Sweet Diplomacy is open in downtown Los Altos Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Antoine’s Cookie Shop serves up nostalgia by the dozen

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND ARI STROBER, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

In Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” a single bite of the eponymous dish transports the sour-faced food critic, Anton Ego, to a memory of himself as a child, enjoying his mother’s cooking. Seeing a customer experience that involuntary sense of nostalgia is Antoine Tang’s favorite part of his job as owner of Antoine’s Cookie Shop.

“When I hear a customer have that kind of response to the cookies, I’m extremely proud,” Tang said. “Especially when I get an older person — I’m talking about someone in their 80s — that comes into my shop and buys the cookies, and they tell me, ‘These cookies are like what I had when I was a kid.’”

Antoine’s Cookie Shop, which just opened a second location at Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village, is a cozy nook with a 10-cookie menu of classic flavors (although, the crowd favorite is hands down the unique Cookies N’ Cream).

Thanks to community support, business hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic at the shop’s original San Mateo location, and the store’s January Palo Alto opening was met with a warm welcome from customers, selling two thousand cookies on opening day. Tang credits his success to the quality of his ingredients, consistency, and excellent employees.

“The first weekend in Palo Alto was extremely busy for us,” Tang said. “I think a lot of people came from different nearby towns. Our job right now is to win over the local community, and to let them know that we’re here.”

But Antoine’s wasn’t always this big — it began as a solo operation out of Tang’s house eight years ago. Tang started baking cookies “just for fun,” setting out to find the perfect chocolate chip cookies to satisfy his sweet tooth. But the 30-cookie batches were too much for him to eat alone, so he began sharing his cookies with his friends, who pushed him to take the next step to make his hobby into a full-fledged business.

“They told me, ‘Hey, you should sell these,’ and I said, ‘Eh, who’s gonna buy them?’” Tang said. “Then one of them said, ‘I’ll buy them.’ And then she bought some.”

That initial support from his friends pushed Tang to launch an online business delivering cookies all around the Bay Area. Over the next three years, Tang grew the business gradually, building a website and streamlining his ordering process. Demand started picking up, and Tang, who had never imagined starting a shop, began to sell up to 300 cookies a day.

“There was one Christmas where we got in so many orders that I knew I couldn’t keep up,” Tang said. “So I shut down the ordering page on the website around the 12th of December in 2015. And then I was like, ‘Okay, we really got to find a store.’”

Tang opened his first brick and mortar location in downtown San Mateo in 2016, where he could interact with customers face to face for the first time and began to build a staff.

“One of the things that really surprised me about opening the shop was how fulfilling it is to provide dignified employment to folks, especially young people,” Tang said, “A big part of the business is offering a safe place for young people to come work. And that’s something that I’m very proud of.” 

What began with Tang Googling “world’s best chocolate chip recipe” has now grown into a full-fledged business with his own recipes that brings freshly baked cookies and joy to customers around the Bay Area.

“I want people to eat the cookies and be very happy,” Tang said. “I want them to share with a friend. It’s a very shareable dessert. I love when people bring it to parties and they look like the hero.”

Antoine’s Cookie Shop is open in Town and Country Shopping Center Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

DeMartini Orchard: Oldest business in Los Altos sticks to its roots

STORY BY DANA HUCH AND GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTOS BY DANA HUCH AND EMILY MCNALLY

June 26 might just seem like a regular summer Sunday, but here in Los Altos, it’s officially known as DeMartini Day, commemorating the oldest business that still operates in the town today: DeMartini Orchard, a farmstand on the side of San Antonio, founded in 1932.

Over the almost nine decades that the store has operated, it’s passed through three families; first the DeMartinis, then the Zeitmanns before the current owners, the Kozys. Its deep roots have made DeMartini a pillar of Los Altos’ history and community.

The Kozy brothers — Craig and Tony — gained ownership of the stand in 1985 and have kept the family-run tradition alive. Craig’s son, James, began working the stand at 12 years old, and he’s grown up witnessing the complications of running a family business. 


Aerial photos of Demartini Orchard, 1930’s and 2021 (courtesy Kobi Myszne and Los Altos History Museum, respectively)

“Community is a big part of our store,” James said. “A lot of our customers come here not with a dinner plan, but wanting to see what looks good that day. We’ve been here for so long that we are entrenched in the community.”

The stand has stood the test of time partially due to the DeMartini family’s continued ownership of the land on which the store sits, relieving a significant amount of financial pressure from the business. 

Because of this support, the stand has been able to stick to its charming, anachronistic purpose of serving fresh produce to the community, despite time’s changes. Heritage and attention to detail makes DeMartini Orchard stand out among the grocery delivery services of the tech age.


Photos of Demartini Orchard from across San Antonio, 1930’s and 2021 (courtesy Los Altos History Museum)

But given that same tech age, the stand has needed to branch out in the types of produce it sources to accommodate for a wider demographic. Since the tech industry has boomed, DeMartini’s has seen its patronage diversify and has tried to reflect this change in their inventory.

“Historically the demographics of Los Altos were a little bit older and white; in the past decade or so, there’s been a shift to a younger demographic,” James said. “There has been an explosion in diversity, so I’ve focused a little bit more on getting more ethnic foods and different vegetables.”

Every day, DeMartini receives a new shipment of produce from farms as far as Watsonville and Calistoga, as well as other farms along the coast and in the valley.

“If they’re willing to drive the product to me, I’ll take it,” James said. “If it’s in season and if it’s local, it’ll always taste better than if it has to sit in a warehouse or truck. It’s also great to keep money in local communities.”

But DeMartini, like many small businesses, still has not been immune to the effects of COVID-19. While it does now offer curbside pickup, extra costs and manpower associated with selecting items have added to employees’ workloads, making it a less than ideal system.

And the pandemic has also brought in a new crowd of shoppers — tech workers.

“Before the pandemic, a lot of these tech workers would get fed all their meals at the campus,” James said. “Now, since they closed the campuses, a lot of tech workers are coming out and looking at produce for the first time. I’ve had a lot of people ask, ‘What is this vegetable? How do I cook it?’ I’ve had people come in who didn’t know that there were more than 10 varieties of apples. It’s really cool to see someone who tries something for the first time; it’s really fun.”

But going to the locally sourced produce stand is often not the most convenient or cheapest option, especially in comparison to supermarkets and grocery delivery services. Even before the pandemic, DeMartini found itself being forced to fight the larger companies for customers, but has prided itself on having fresher produce than the big box chains.

“Your Safeways, your Walmarts, your Costcos, they take everything that the farm produces regardless of quality,” James said. “I have people that go to the markets every day and they pick out the best looking boxes off the pallets. It’s not the easy way to do it, but it is the best way to do it.”