Jeni Wren’s: Tasteful eatery comes to roost at Route 66

Among the businesses dotted along Foothill Boulevard in Claremont is an oasis of culinary charm called Jeni Wren’s Café & Catering. It’s an eatery specializing in breakfast and lunch, marked by simple fare drizzled with gourmet touches.

Want French toast? Try the Apple Blossom French Toast, featuring a grilled cinnamon brioche smothered in sautéed granny Smith apple and garnished with whipped cream.

Do you like egg-in-a hole? Try the Wren’s Nest, which starts when the chef pours an egg into grilled sourdough bread and fries it. The hole is flower-shaped and the toppings—grilled spinach, bell peppers, artichokes and feta cheese—make the dish a delight for vegetarians and omnivores alike.

“We do everything we can to make everything fresh. We cut up our apples every day and we cut our potatoes every day,” owner Jen Smith said. “Nothing is frozen and it never comes out of a can.”

Ms. Smith prides herself on supporting local businesses. Jeni Wren’s serves wine from the family-owned Leaping Horse vineyard in Indio, and beer from Dale Bros in Upland is on tap. The champagne, which is imported from Spain, comes from further afield. But again, the vineyard is family-owned.

And the baked goods, supplied by Upper Crust Bakery in Anaheim, are pure crusty goodness. There are fresh muffins, scones, brioches and artisanal breads in varieties like spinach parmesan, Italian tomato focaccia and marbled rye. 

Ms. Smith has spent years working in the restaurant industry, most notably The Spaghetti Factory. But Jeni Wren’s marks the first time she has launched her own enterprise.

“I felt like I had grown and learned as much as I could where I was at,” she said.

Ms. Smith, who has three children, was also ready to make her life more family-friendly. Though she occasionally has catering gigs that extend into the evening, the restaurant’s doors close at 3 o’clock. On the weekends, her sons Drexel, 19, and Baylee, 17, and her 16-year-old daughter Emma work for her.

Getting up at 6:30 a.m. to roll silverware may not be the kids’ idea of the perfect Saturday, but it’s a good way to teach them about the business of making a living.

“And even though I’m at work, I’m getting to spend time with them,” Ms. Smith said.

Family is hugely important to Ms. Smith. In fact, the restaurant’s name was inspired by a sweet family memory.  “My Grammy called me Jeni Wren when I was a little girl, because I talked a lot and the wren is a very chatty bird,” she explained.

The name is just the start of the restaurant’s homey feel. You can pick out your own cup from a motley assortment of coffee mugs, including souvenir cups from destinations ranging from San Francisco to Sweden, before it’s filled with steaming coffee. Ms. Smith’s aim is to make people feel like they’re on vacation, perhaps ensconced in a cozy bed-and-breakfast.

The ambience is nostalgic without being fussy. Tables are topped with pretty fabrics and shelves are decorated with vintage items like lunch boxes, thermoses and tins for sundries like coffee, salt, sugar and flour.

Ms. Smith is quite handy, and creative repurposing is everywhere in evidence. She made her own coffee hutch, decorated with fence pickets and an old shutter. A lamp-hung iron gate is suspended over one table, which just happens to be made from an up-cycled door.

For Michelle Singer, Jeni Wren’s has become a home away from home. She and her wife, Robyn Katchem, walked into the place two weeks after it opened. The Piedmont Mesa couple was so won over they’ve come back every weekend, and they take every opportunity to encourage friends to give Jeni Wren’s a try.

Ms. Singer likes to order the Wren’s Nest and treat herself to a white chocolate scone. Ms. Katchem opts for banana nut French toast. Whatever they order, Jeni Wren’s always hits the spot.   

“It’s just a warm environment. It’s very cozy and homey, with its shabby chic decorations,” Ms. Singer said. “It’s a shining example of what Claremont has to offer.”

Ms. Smith has the kind of detail-oriented nature that you need when running a restaurant. For example, she pays a touch more to get the kind of Bigelow tea that comes in a gauzy fabric tea bag instead of a paper one because it reminds her of the tea they serve at a spa.

She’s not a chef, but she does come up with great ideas for menu items. When it comes to execution, she gives plenty of credit to her chef Javier Vargas, who she found through a culinary school in Baldwin Park.

“It’s good to work with people with different knowledge and different experience,” she said. “They can teach you.”

And when it comes to savory goodness, visitors can learn a thing or two from Jeni Wren’s. If you’re not sure what to order, you might want to start with the café’s Restaurant Week special, which will continue to run through this Sunday, July 19. For $10, you can get a sandwich and a drink, accompanied with homemade pasta salad, crisp potato chips or fresh fruit.

These aren’t just any sandwiches. For instance, there’s a pulled-pork panini, with the tender meat flavored by Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce and cooled by cole slaw. There’s also a killer chicken pesto sandwich served on basil Focaccia bread.

There is also  a growing number of regulars who urge you to give this little café, the latest to perch on Foothill Boulevard, a try.

“We are Jeni Wren’s biggest cheerleaders,” Ms. Singer said.

Jeni Wren’s is nestled between the Shell station on the corner of Foothill and Towne and the Stater Bros’ shopping center, at the site of the former Inka Trails.  The address is 1077 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont. For information, call (909) 625-7444 or visit www.jeniwrens.com.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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