Best of Extras
The complete winners list, extended interviews, and even more picks for the best ways to eat, pamper, shop, and work out.
The East Bay has so many people, places, and businesses to recognize that our Best of the East Bay feature couldn’t contain everything. Here are the winners—including runners-up—two full interviews, and more editor and reader picks. Click on the links below jump to a category of your choice.
- Click HERE for the complete list of this year's winners and runners-up
- More Editor and Reader Picks: Food and Drink; Style and Beauty; Shops and Services; Health and Fitness
- Extended interviews: the personality behind Best Blog, the Mayor of Claycord, and Best Yoga Teacher Greg Riley
Editor Pick: Community Fundraising Effort
Heather Sittig and Kristen Policy just wanted a classy wine bar in their own neighborhood. When they realized their neighbors did too, they turned that interest into financing. They started raising money on kickstarter, a crowd-funding website, and eventually got enough $20 donations, more than $15,000 total, to help open Toast Wine Lounge on College Avenue in Rockridge. Donors received vouchers for free glasses of wine—redeemable for any of the small production, hand-selected vinos. The two describe the communal effort as a modern-day barn raising—and with Toast’s delicious small plates, summer barbecues on the sidewalk, and its dog- and children-friendly atmosphere, this is a barn this neighborhood should enjoy for years to come.
5900 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 658-5900, toastwinelounge.com. —April Dembosky
Editor Pick: Way to Step up for a Good Cause
Walnut Creek's Prima Ristorante is known for its delicious food and sophisticated atmosphere. It should also get kudos for its good works raising nearly $52,000 for survivors of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The cause was especially meaningful to the staff, as co-owner and wine director John Rittmaster lived in Japan for 15 years. In an 11-day silent wine auction this spring, the restaurant auctioned off high-end wines donated by Prima’s vendors, friends, and private collectors, with proceeds going to the American Red Cross for Japan relief efforts.
1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, primaristorante.com. —Jonathan Roisman
Editor Pick: Summer Hair Tamer
Travel can be stressful enough without worrying about your hair. But the new Clark Russell luxury travel kit ($40) will keep your strands hydrated and smooth for all those inevitable photo ops. The “revive” shampoo and conditioner combo are infused with argan oils to fight whatever Mother Nature throws your way, while the “boost” mousse spray adds texture when applied at the roots and combats flyaways when added to the ends. The “vain” humidity-resistant hair spray holds it all in place—perfect for that late summer wedding on the East Coast.
Sold at Clark Russell Salon, 3400 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Ste 3, Lafayette, (925) 299-8814, beclarked.com. —Morgan Brinlee
Editor Pick: D.I.Y. Home Spa Kit
In need of a little stress relief and relaxation, I checked out the new Chill Spa Bucket by Danville’s EVLooks. The gift set—packaged in a reusable, clear paint can—comes with everything you need for a personal pampering session at home. I poured the gel-filled cucumber eye coolers, small washcloth, and eucalyptus and mint bubble bath out of the bucket and got to work—popping the eye pads in the refrigerator before I drew my minty fresh bath. As soon as I slid into the bubble-filled tub and slapped those cucumbers over my eyes, I was indeed able to chill. For $24, the Chill Spa Bucket works some low-cost spa magic. This is the first of four gift sets EVLooks plans to debut this year, and I'll be on the lookout for the next can of relaxation.
EVLooks products are available at many East Bay salons, or online at eyecandycoolers.com. —Robyn Schroder
Editor Pick: Piano Store and More
Sherman Clay Piano is about more than just selling Steinways. The shop offers free introductory piano lessons and lends its elegant instruments for special school and nonprofit performances. Why? Because store manager Justin Levitt is a musician and composer with a passion for pianos. Levitt, who will be playing a dream gig at Carnegie hall next June, wants to make pianos accessible and spread his love of notes, chords, and treble clefs. He says. “You don’t have to be a concert pianist to get an instrument you’re going to love.”
1605 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (877) 614-1086, shermanclay.com. —Kristen Haney
Editor Pick: Bad Decision Reverser
Like diamonds, tattoos are one of the few gifts that last forever. But that testament to an ex or regretted college decision no longer has to serve as a permanent reminder of an idea that’s since lost its sparkle. Newly opened LaserAway (conveniently located just three blocks from Zebra Tattoo and Body Piercing) can remove most traces of ink in just six sessions, depending on the age, color, and composition of the tattoo. While far from painless, the short pulses of light have been compared to the feeling of being snapped with a thin rubber band, and break up the tattoo ink without damaging the surrounding area. The procedure leaves both your skin and your conscience clear, ready to showcase a fresh piece of ink or a diamond necklace, depending on your new idea of permanence.
1628 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-2929, laseraway.net. —Kristen Haney
Reader Pick: Yoga Studio
With its luxurious locker rooms, towel service, organic tea lounge, and boutique, YogaWorks resembles a day spa more than a yoga studio. But, rest assured, you’ll still walk out with sore muscles and that yoga glow. With more than 20 classes from traditional Vinyasa to fitness fusions (try BarWorks, Cardio Flow, or the new DanceWorks), the studio offers something for everyone. I love the calming effects of yoga but crave the intensity of cardio, so the staff suggested Sculptworks, which combines yoga with squats, lunges, and bicep curls. I was leery when the instructor started the class by exclaiming, “This is going to be fun,” since that usually means, “It’s going to be fun for me to watch you suffer.” But when I found myself grinning ear to ear, while sweating doing bicep curls in warrior pose, I had to admit it was fun.
1131 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 478-7272, yogaworks.com. —Morgan Brinlee
This is the complete interview with the Mayor of Claycord, winner of Best Blog in our Best of the East Bay issue. For the online version of the print story, click here.
When East Bay residents want to know why Ygnacio Valley Road is at a standstill or what’s the source of some smoke billowing on the horizon, they turn to hyperlocal news blog Claycord. Its anonymous full-time editor, “the mayor,” a thirtysomething lifelong Concord resident, combines reader tips, original reporting, and lighthearted local trivia to offer informative and interesting coverage of Clayton, Concord, and beyond.
Is your identity the best-kept or worst-kept secret?
Honestly, it's not a huge secret; a lot of people know who I am. I really don't think it's that big of a deal. I'm just a normal guy with an interest in where I live and what happens around me. I just like reporting the news, and I'm not in it for fame or recognition. Claycord is more of a community effort, and although I'm somewhat the leader of the community, without all of my readers and contributors, there would be no Claycord.
Why mayor? Why not president or czar or king?
I view Claycord as more of a community, and I'm the leader of the community. Presidents, czars, and kings don't lead communities, mayors do!
What made you decide to start this blog?
I love news, and I love talking. I wanted a place where the community could communicate, and I also wanted to provide an outlet to talk about things happening around us.
What is the biggest story Claycord has broke?
The Jaycee Dugard Kidnapping case. Locally, we were the first to tell you about her discovery in Concord, and we were also the first in the world to show you the suspect, Phillip Garrido, and report on the fact that he was a sex-offender and fathered children with Dugard.
How did you get the scoop?
Well, I got a few tips. I heard Dugard was found in Concord and living in Antioch. The next morning, I received a tip saying the authorities were searching a home in Antioch, so I looked up the address, found the owner’s name and called the Contra Costa County Jail to see if the owner of the home (Garrido) was in jail, and he was. I believe he was being held on kidnapping and rape charges. Once I had that information, I looked him up on Megan’s Law, and he was there. At that point I had enough information to confirm that he was the main suspect in the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard, so I put it up on the site. One of Garrido’s former neighbors is also a big fan of Claycord, so they provided me with a lot of information.
What is your all-time favorite Claycord story?
Any story that makes a difference in a person's life. Whether it be helping them find a missing pet or helping them raise money for a certain cause, those are my favorites. I also enjoy the stories with historical photos from around Contra Costa County. People really love those, and it’s fun bringing back all those memories.
Claycord has had remarkable success in reuniting pet owners with their missing pets. What’s the secret?
Yes, I love doing this. I think it’s mainly because the blog is so local, and we have eyes everywhere. Lots of animal lovers, too, who care if a pet gets back home safe and sound.
What story received the most comments?
I think it was a story about gay marriage.
What story received the biggest reaction in the larger community?
Besides the Dugard story, it would have to be the story about the pilot who was stalking his ex-girlfriend from an airplane, and the story about Concord's Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Both were covered locally and nationally.
How many citizen sources do you have? How do you check out tips when they come in from an anonymous source?
I have a lot of sources. They're a great group of dedicated readers who I appreciate more than they’ll ever know. I have a lot of ways to check out tips, but I usually just contact the person who would be able to give "on the record" information.
What is your opinion of traditional media, and how does Claycord fit into the mix?
I've always liked TV, radio, and the newspaper. I think each one provides a needed contribution to society. I believe Claycord fills a void in the community: We cover the smaller stories that you normally wouldn't see in the traditional media. But we also cover the larger ones.
There are millions of blogs out there, and yours seems to be one of the most successful. How do you stay on top?
I've always thought a huge reason why Claycord has been so successful is because I'm just like everybody else. I could be your neighbor or your child’s soccer coach. I'm just a regular guy. I'm embedded in the community, and I really care about what happens now and in the future. I think people can relate with me, and I can relate with them.
How do you handle competition, such as AOL’s Patch? Does it affect how you approach the blog at all?
Competition is good, but it doesn't really affect the way I approach the blog. I just keep doing what I do. I really love blogging and reporting the news, and I think my love for what I do comes through in my work. I also think it helps that I'm the only 100-percent locally owned daily news source in Concord.
Comment policies can be tricky. Claycord allows anonymous posts. How did you come to that decision? Has the policy evolved over time?
The one thing I love and hate about the blog is the comments. Some of my readers make me laugh so hard I almost cry, and others just make me cry. At first, I didn't moderate the comments on Claycord, and once the blog got big, the comments got horrible. I try to moderate now, but sometimes bad comments still get though, and I apologize for that. I do believe people have the right to speak their mind, but sometimes they go overboard.
Are you surprised at all by the large following Claycord has received?
What have you learned through running Claycord?
I've learned that people aren't afraid to say what's on their mind, no matter who it hurts, but I've also learned that there are a lot of great people out there who really work hard to make a positive impact in the community.
Have you had any regrets?
None at all.
What is your professional background? Do you have journalism experience? Yes, I do have journalism experience, but most recently I was laid-off from my 9-to-5 job working as a data analyst.
Is Claycord profitable?
The first three years it wasn't, because I was just doing it for fun and didn't have any ads, but now it's profitable.
So, is it at the point where you can live off the blog alone?
Yes, this is my only job.
What are your blog readership stats?
I get a little over 1 million page views a month, with anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 unique hits a month.
What’s next for Claycord?
I have a lot in mind. Many surprises, one coming up this summer.
Do you blog from home, or out in the community? What’s your favorite spot?
Mostly from home. My backyard is my favorite spot.
How many hours a day do you work on blog upkeep? Favorite blogging snack or beverage?
It depends. I try to take it easy on the weekends, but if something happens, I'm usually on it. I'd say a normal day is between 10 and 13 hours, but the hours are broken up. I work a lot from about 8 a.m.–6 p.m., and then from about 10 p.m.–1 a.m. Favorite beverage is water and Coke (ice cold in a can, and no Pepsi) and my favorite snack is probably popcorn.
How about some Mayor Best Ofs... Favorite restaurant? Favorite park? Favorite East Bay event, performance troupe, or activity?
I like this question: My favorite restaurant is El Tapatio on Treat Boulevard in Concord. Favorite Park is The Grove in Clayton & Dinosaur Hill Park in Pleasant Hill. Favorite East Bay event is a tough one: I like anything that's family friendly, like KidFest or the Walnut Festival. My favorite activity is just spending time with my family and enjoying life. My favorite local performer is definitely Carlos Reyes.
What are some of your favorite blogs—local and otherwise?
I've always had a soft spot for my fellow local bloggers, who I think do a fabulous job. Mister Writer, The Frugal Find, The Lemon Lady, Halfway to Concord, Cowellian, and Crazy in Suburbia are all good friends, and I think we've all really supported each other throughout the years in one way or another.
For more information, visit claycord.com. —LeeAnne Jones
This is the complete interview with Greg Riley, winner of Best Yoga Teacher in the July 2011 Best of the East Bay feature. For the online version of the print story, click here.
Since the 1970s, Greg Riley has been harnessing the power of yoga for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Now, the 54-year-old finds no greater joy than translating the poses and philosophy to others in a way that’s accessible and fun.
Why do yoga over all other types of exercise in the world?
There’s a deep emphasis upon the practice of “mindfulness,” meaning paying attention to the quality of what is felt on the inside through attention to structural alignment, breathing, intensity of sensation, and the mental and emotional states that arise during the practice. This deep quality of internal attention coupled with highly efficient physical movement produces enormously positive changes in consciousness that affect all aspects of living, far beyond what exercise alone could ever produce.
Why were you drawn to yoga in the first place?
As a child of the 60s and 70s, I grew up in an environment where there was much
experimentation with higher states of consciousness as well as great interest in the limits of human potential. Yoga, I learned early on, was a brilliant system of exploring the upper reaches of my own potential that was fun, free, and wouldn’t get me into any trouble. I was also a world-champion competitive athlete and yoga was a perfect system for developing my strength, flexibility, and mental focus.
Oh yeah? What did you compete in?
I’ve been playing competitive frisbee for over 30 years (thank God for yoga!) and I still compete, and also play two to three times a week just for fun with good friends.
I think some people find yoga intimidating. What advice would you give to those who may be hesitant about giving it a shot?
The good news is that you don’t have to put your feet behind your head—unless of course you want to! Yoga comes in as many different styles and systems as there are people who practice and teach it. So it’s possible to find a style that suits one’s own personal disposition, ability level, and body type. My advice would be to conduct the experiment of your first yoga class and see for yourself if all the benefits that yoga promises might be for you too.
With all the different yoga styles available, how do you pick one that’s right for you?
Shop around. Keep trying different classes and teachers until you find one that resonates with you. Find a teacher who demonstrates physical, emotional, mental, and possibly even spiritual qualities that you’d like to develop within yourself. There’s an old saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
How many times per week do you recommend practicing?
If you’re not practicing at all, once a week is a radical improvement. However, to really experience the life-changing qualities of yoga, a consistent practice of at least two to three times a week is required. Once you do that, it’s no longer a burden; it’s a joy that you won’t want to miss.
Do you have a strict diet?
Diet is important in yoga, however, a little common sense goes a long way. A great teacher of mine once taught me one simple yet profound word that encompasses all I ever needed to know about diet: mitahara, which means a controlled and intelligent intake of appropriate food. Eating a moderate quantity of average food is far better than gorging on a massive Whole Foods organic salad any day.
Can you describe your teaching style?
I like to be very inclusive and fun-loving. I well know how intimidating yoga can be—I didn’t do my first yoga teacher training until I was 40 years old, and I was the sole male with 15 other women so I was terrified. But I was shown much care and compassion by some wonderful teachers and it’s my lifelong intention to pass forward that same care and compassion. I also love to laugh with my students; the ability to not take oneself too seriously and see the underlying humor in all things may be the most healing quality of all.
When do you feel like you’ve really done your job as a yoga teacher?
When I see students begin to reap the rewards of their consistent practice. Over the last decade, I have been privileged to witness hundreds of amazing individuals undergo nothing less than astonishing personal transformation in all areas of their lives, not just physically. Watching friends I work closely with realize their heart’s desire is the most gratifying experience in the world.
How has your practice influenced your life off the mat?
The word yoga means “union,” and that means achieving a connection with your highest self. The consistent practice of yoga has removed layer after layer of the mental, emotional, and physical limitations that have prevented me from living up to the potential that I, and all of us, are blessed with.
Do you have any tips for meditation?
Begin with small increments, as little as two or three minutes, using a timer. Simply sit comfortably—a chair is fine, if you can’t sit crossed-legged. Many stiff saints who couldn’t cross their legs have still made it to heaven. Arrange your spine as upright as is reasonable and begin to count your breath, four counts in, four counts out. Move the focus of the breath to the belly button, rather than chest breathing. This style of breathing is scientifically proven to stimulate the rest and relaxation response in the body, which is the opposite of the flight or fight mode that causes so much stress and wear and tear on the body and mind. Even a couple of minutes like this every day can result in a huge change in your attitude and outlook upon life.
What’s your favorite yoga pose?
The pose I’m in at any given moment: The ability to be mindful of my body moving through space.
For more information and a schedule of classes, visit upwardspiralyoga.com. —Serena Renner