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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Mama Rossotti to Roadhouse in the Sky

Uploaded: Jun 30, 2017
I guess you’d call me a Rossotti regular. I greet the bartenders by name, and other Zott’s say hi when I arrive. For years I’ve backyarded birthdays, business and boyfriends, and wrote a hell of a lot of Food Party’s! moving from one uneven picnic table to another, in search of the perfect balance of sunny warmth and respite shade.

It always feels like home.

What a wonderful mix of folks today – the working guys with pitchers, the cute Stanford swimmers, that cool couple in the back shade on laptops, the 55+ regulars including B and his Bentley (often parked right in front,) all the little chick-a-dee’s running around giggling while being chased by their parents, and the high-healed ladies dip-walking ‘cross the woodchips. There’s also a trio of big hound dogs roooooauling melodic moans, in salute, this writer imagines, to the owner of this 165-year historical landmark who just passed onto the roadhouse in the sky.

Molly Alexander married John Alexander in 1951, writes Almanac reporter, Dave Boyce, and in partnership with Don Horther, bought Portola Valley’s Rossotti's in 1956. They renamed it "Alpine Inn Beer Garden," but the former name just wouldn’t go away. When I arrived in the early 90’s – I was introduced to it as Rossotti’s / Zotts, and never knew that actually wasn’t the name until many years later.

After John died in 1994, Molly assumed the reigns, often on sight spending time with customers and staff. I never met her; a gracious presence before my emergence as regular.

We Food Partied! I Still Call it Rossotti’s in 2014. A number of readers shared heart-felt experiences growing up and living round this special place (one even got censored for a rather explicit explanation of wild young times.) As I recall part of the comment, “I had some of the best XXX of my life in the parking lot of Rossotti’s.” Please check out the long history of this spirited establishment, and all the community memories. If anyone else cares to share – we’d love to hear your story.

Many thanks to the Alexander family; long live Molly Alexander, and long live Rossotti’s! If the family sells, I suggested to the regulars we all chip in, buy the place, and turn it into a county park with a café (like Tavern of the Green or The Boathouse in New York’s Central Park.)

I certainly hope this unique & magical place lives on for generations to come.

Alpine Inn Beer Garden
- aka Rossotti's or Zotts

3915 Alpine Road
Portola Valley, CA

- Don "Smiley" Nelson hanging on the wall at Zott's (see his comment below)

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jul 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Thanks Laura,

And yes, do I ever have stories to tell. When Kaiser Electronics (company I worked for for 27 years) was located on the corner of Page Mill Rd and Porter Drive, many of us employees would head up to Zots at lunch or after work for those greasy burgers, big basket of greasy fries, and beer, to wash all the grease down. Our company moved to San Jose in '77 or '78. A few years ago I got the bright idea to have a reunion out at Zots to remember the good old days with the old, and original, Page Mill gang. Another couple, John and Julie James, and my wife, Garnet, and I went out to Zots to check it out and make the arrangements. Bonnie and Jim Goebel spread the word to all the old timers and our reunion was a huge success.

Molly was there then, still taking orders, flipping burgers, and she had her own personal memories from the old days. She worked at a company just down the street from KE on Porter Drive.

And yes, that is claimed to be, with a plaque to prove it, the place where the first Internet hookup connection was made and a message sent, by some SRI engineers with someone else on the other side of the country.

Other stories abound. The Prohibition Days and Stanford's strict rules against alcohol. Zots was the place to go. And legend has it that there were also some rooms off to the side (now part of the parking lot) that offered services from ladies specializing in relaxation assistance techniques.

I had good conversations with Molly. She was a strong and strong willed lady. God rest her soul. One of a kind and one I'm glad I met.

Posted by Sylvia, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 3, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Gale, that's an interesting story about your reunion at Zotts.

From 1967 to 1972 I worked at Ampex. Some co-workers and I often made the pilgrimage to Zotts. The first time I went there was because of a prank by some of those same co-workers. They told me a day before that they were taking me for lunch, on my birthday, to an elegant place called The Alpine Inn. They sort of hinted I might want to wear something nice that day. Imagine my surprise arriving at a place that abounded with tattooed bikers where you sat outside at picnic tables!

Sharing a pitcher of beer and then returning to work with a bit of a buzz was not that unusual back then.

Posted by Beau Peters, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Jul 3, 2017 at 8:09 pm

>those greasy burgers, big basket of greasy fries, and beer, to wash all the grease down.

Greasy is putting it lightly. The burgers were absolutely horrid but the sunshine, picnic tables, cold beer and peanuts were always worth an occasional trip.

First set foot in that place during the mid-70s and it changed little over the ensuing decades. Hopefully Rossotti's will still be around and Rolaids still readily available.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jul 4, 2017 at 12:39 am

The burgers scared me, so I always stuck with a hot dog back when I was a regular for many years. They'd see me coming in and throw one on the griddle, sparing me many a long wait in line. Mollie was often behind the bar serving the pitchers of beer. I've cut back lately but was in there last Friday afternoon to touch base with friends.

Posted by Mark Wade, a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde,
on Jul 4, 2017 at 8:59 am

Dad helped John clean up dead oaks out by the old dance platform in the 1950s, I was 7years old, we loved that place all through the 60s-70s-8os-90s-2009. The Los Trancos Band we all knew each other, Great times the valley

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Jul 4, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Today, the burgers and fries at Zotts are far less greasy than they were ten years ago.

In fact, the least greasy rendition I've had of their cheeseburger and fries ever was just about a week ago.

Hope this place survives the transition. It would be a shame to lose it.

Posted by Cheech , a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jul 5, 2017 at 4:29 am

And, several from NUTS TO ZOT'S!


Posted by A little nervous, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jul 5, 2017 at 9:37 am

I imagine the original owners have been able to keep it going for so long because (I assume) they own the bldg. The new owners will have a VERY hefty rent expense that I doubt can be reached with burgers and fries. I'm hoping I'm wrong, but I think an upscale "Zotts on the Creek" type place is more likely to emerge than a continuation of the current place.
Actually, I'm praying I'm wrong.

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jul 5, 2017 at 11:59 am


That's good news about the new burgers, less grease. I might have to go up and try them out.

Sadly, there was never room left on those indoor tables to carve my name, initials, or something clever into them.

The day of the big KE reunion party, Molly's daughter was working the bar. She had been an airline stewardess years before. She told me she recognized several of our party people who she had served on their long flights across the country on business trips.

Posted by Retired Guy, a resident of another community,
on Jul 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Zots played an important role in the success of Silicon Valley as an epicenter of innovation in modern technology. It was the venue of choice where informal meetings could be held by groups of experts who needed to collaborate on defining “industry standards" which allowed the various products from different manufacturers or interest groups to work together.

The legal departments for the big tech companies in the Bay Area advised that it was illegal for companies to “collude" on designs because of Federal Laws on “Restraint of Trade"- so the official way that industry standards could be created was only by each of the companies involved sponsoring one or more employees as an “independent expert" to attend meetings organized by the official standards organizations such as ANSI, ISO, IEEE and so forth.

But this process was slow and cumbersome and it could take many years for a “standard" to be published and ratified by all the parties involved.

This did not sit well with various “independent experts" who were passionate about their fields and were determined to make their inventions work in the wider context of other products. Think of the internet and all the standards it involves (of which email and the web are just a few of many dozens of examples) or programming languages that had to be “understood" the same way across different makes of computers, or the format of data recordings on magnetic disk, or the shape of radio waves used in different scenarios.

And this is where Rosottis came in. The “independent industry experts" might just happen to gather for a friendly beer at a table out back, and the conversation might perchance lead to discussions about the intricacies of a certain communications protocol, or whether the value zero might correctly be construed as either positive or negative within the realm of some programming language. Or just what frequencies of musical notes burbling down a telephone wire would be understood by a modem.

Employees from some of the big organizations involved in these matters (including names like SRI, IBM, CDC, Univac, HP and more) as well as some “gifted amateurs" spent many happy hours at the tables outside scribbling metaphorically on the backs of envelopes. Here were born the rudiments of design decisions which shaped just about every aspect of Information Technology as we know it today.

I hope that one day somebody puts up a plaque that memorializes the vital role that “Zots" contributed to the success of Silicon Valley.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Jul 5, 2017 at 10:02 pm


Yes, please give the Zotts burger another chance. Today's burger is light years away from the abomination that was served just ten years ago, something that I thought might have been the greasiest burger on the SF Peninsula.

I still get no cellular reception at Zotts (thank you T-Mobile US), but recently there is a WiFi network at the venue, a suitable tribute to the inn's role in Internet history.

Zotts now uses those disc-like wireless vibrating pagers to inform you that your order is ready to be picked up, rather than that taxi radio-like incomprehensible P.A. system (as charming as some might imagine).

That said, this is a good place to get away from the craziness for a few hours. The heart of this place is still in the right place.

Posted by Don "Smiley" Nelson, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 6, 2017 at 9:49 am

I first went there in October 1954. I was wearing my brand new Stanford jacket -- no beer stains. The owner at that time, Ed, said "Here's a damn freshman". How did he know? He asked me what I wanted (I was 18 at the time - nobody cared in those days) and I said "An Oly (for Olympia)". He handed me a quart (still the standard unit of measure) and said "this is on the house, and the last one you'll get on the house". I was hooked. I did get more on the house -- Molly would give me a quart on my birthday every year. Then she would say that she was my age. She was only about 14 years off. I host a gathering of my old work mates from CDC every year on my birthday. In 1980 a group of us decided to declare the environs as the Independent Kingdom of Vulgaria and I was made King. We had a vulgar flag and everything. Every year or so I host Vulgarian Day with a duck toss game (not real ducks). We used to do hopscotch but too many people were killed. I'm still obviously a regular. Our band, the Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band, appears from time to time (we started playing there in 1960). Usually on the last Sunday of the month (Tuba Sunday we call it) about six or so of us appear. I am the guy on the bass drum. It is a wonderful joint. Full of memories for me. Check out the photo of me in my Santa suit. If you are in the food line, look at the far wall.

Posted by really really old timmer, a resident of another community,
on Jul 6, 2017 at 6:12 pm

Long before there was a Rossetis, Silicon valley or Portola Valley there was Schenkles same building same location- address Redwood City no zip codes then. IN 1930s This was as far as the mail was delivered. I lived above Los trabcos woods and picked up our mail there, which was simply addressed to Alpine Ranch Rrt 2. Don't know how greasy the fries were or even if they had been invented yet!!
Among all the activities the years have seen (in and out of back seats of cars) there have been many wonderful memorials but i hope there will never be one for Zots ( Amazing how that name stuck although it was only that were a few years)A toast to Molly and foaming beer.

Posted by ChrisC, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 6, 2017 at 10:59 pm


Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Jul 7, 2017 at 6:42 am

Don, I was in there last night and searched out that Santa photo. I posted it up above = you crazy, smiling guy!

Posted by Lauralies, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Jul 7, 2017 at 6:46 am

Love all these memories - thank you for sharing!

Posted by old community resident, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on Jul 7, 2017 at 2:26 pm

I've been around a long time and remember that Enrico and Teresa Rossotti bought the place from Schenkle in 1940. At that time, business was sparse. The couple started serving salami and cheese sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, and, of course, beer. This was in the days before burgers and fries were popular! They ran a clean operation and soon members of the Stanford community and nearby areas started patronizing it. Before long students, professors, and locals would congregate together. Enrico and Teresa were a hard-working, charismatic couple (both natives of Italy) lovingly referred to as Pop and Mom Rossotti because they didn't allow for any rowdiness. They sold the business to the Mandoli brothers in either 1948 or 195l. I saddens me to see the place in need of structural support and some freshening up. I hope it gets some over-due maintenance attention so that it thrive for many more years.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 7:31 am

Thank you old community resident. I didn't know Rossotti was a person. What wonderful background.

And this from Molly Alexander's daughter (via email)
"Plans for the future of the Alpine Beer Garden are still unknown as we are taking care of our mother's funeral arrangements. However, whatever becomes of the Beer Garden, I hope it will remain unchanged with its charm and history. I know it was very important to my mother, that the Beer Garden remain unchanged after my father John passed."

Posted by Norm Alexander, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 11:21 am

Re "over-due maintenance attention" mentioned above, I always used to kid my father (John Alexander) that if the termites ever stopped holding hands, Zotts would fall apart.

Posted by Joel, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 2:41 pm

The "Nuts to Zotts" race was a regular event each year for about 10 years. An 8 miler that was started by the one and only Jim Plunkett. The Woodside police shut the race down due to traffic concerns. My record time according to my own evaluation was 57 minutes 45 seconds. Many bike trips as well thru Portola Valley to Sandhill Road always had a stop at Rissoti's. How you blog, Laura. Thanks for the memories!!

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