Opening as the Schoolhouse Restaurant and Tavern in 2012, this culinary destination prides itself on being a "teaching kitchen" for up-and-coming chefs. Photos by Ben Hensley.
Written by Ben Hensley
Tucked between Sanger and Reedley just off Highway 180 sits an old brick building with a towering bell tower reaching toward the Central Valley sky.
Located at 1018 S. Frankwood Ave., The Schoolhouse Restaurant and Tavern has a reputation that extends beyond Sanger and Reedley, and as the restaurant celebrates 10 years of fine dining in 2022, Operational Managing Partner Michelle Jackson, along with her husband and fellow managing partner Ryan Jackson, have preserved not only the history of the building but also the culinary experience.
“Most people remember it as Sherwood Inn, which was a very successful western steakhouse [and] saloon,” Jackson said. “It operated under the Sherwood Inn name for close to 30 years.”
The building’s owner, Kelly Brooks, is a Reedley local, who, along with Ryan, often went to the Sherwood Inn for dinner dates and special occasions.
“There were a ton of good memories and nostalgia,” Jackson said. “He [Brooks] couldn’t stand the idea of somebody buying it and then demolishing it, so he bought it back in October 2010.”
A year and a half later, The Schoolhouse opened its doors in January 2012.
The site of the building was originally home to Frankwood School, which was built in 1890. In 1921, it was rebuilt and the school operated there until 1958.
The building is a favorite among Valley historians and diners curious about its history, decorated with desks, chairs and photographs from the original classes that once called the building what it is called now — the schoolhouse.
“The oldest [photograph] on the wall dates back to 1890,” Jackson said. She added that they honor not only the history of the building, but also the history of the location, with the photograph dating back prior to the current building’s existence.
The main dining room now sits in what used to be the school’s auditorium with a kitchen visible from the dining area, as well as a custom-built wine rack that sits atop the stage.
Other rooms along the building’s north wing were once classrooms, and now house the restaurant’s tavern, as well as a private dining area able to seat up to 56 guests.
The patio space — formerly the school’s playground — also provides room for special events such as weddings and birthdays.
“We have the fire lounge patio which has the two fire pits and the market string lighting,” Jackson said. “Then we have the larger garden patio just south of that — that’s the footprint that can seat 250 guests.”
The previous bar area had about 12 feet of counter space. Today, the bar can accommodate far more patrons, with around 40 feet of total space.
“What’s so cool is that the actual bar top is a redwood tree that has the live edging,” Jackson said. “It’s a redwood tree that was donated to us by the ag department at Reedley College.”
The restaurant, open by reservation Wednesday through Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m., offers a rotating menu with seasonal options as well as house favorites such as their classic meatloaf — with a sauce that takes four days to complete.
“The menu that we have engineered can only go to the limitations of the team we have executing,” she said, adding that the staff at The Schoolhouse, led by her husband, is a “teaching kitchen,” bringing an old practice — teaching — back under its original roof.
“People come to learn and build their craft because they want to become better at honing their skills and techniques and learning more,” she said, adding that the detail-oriented style of the kitchen helps the staff grow as culinary specialists.
The staff does their best to locally source as many ingredients as possible, acquiring everything from strawberries to mushrooms from California growers. Everything is created solely from scratch, from crushing their own pepper to creating their own garlic seasoning for french fries.
“Every day we have menu additions,” she said, adding that the staff is always looking to train new employees in the kitchen, on the serving floor, and anywhere in between. “We truly are a teaching kitchen.”
After having survived generations of students, diners, tavern patrons, two world wars and a global pandemic, the building, now 101 years old, hopes to remain a staple in the Sanger community for years to come.
Related story: Valley’s top fine dining restaurant relaxing dress code