End of an era: Willie Bird Turkey Store & Deli in Santa Rosa closing after 47 years

It’s the end of an era for Willie Bird Turkey in Santa Rosa, as the retail store and deli on Highway 12 will close at the end of May after nearly five decades feeding customers poultry so premium it was a cover model on Williams Sonoma culinary catalogs.

The move comes after Diestel Family Ranch of Sonora in Tuolumne County bought the Willie Bird company two years ago.

The iconic brand itself is not going away, and its fresh and packaged products likely will become available in even more stores around Sonoma County.

“Willie Bird is alive and well,” said Diestel Family Ranch marketing manager Heidi Orrock-Diestel. “It was a really difficult decision, as we know the storefront means a lot to the community.”

Yet the ancient, rural structure needs significant, expensive upgrades. The pandemic’s effects on in-person traffic led to crushing financial challenges for the store, and the world is increasingly turning to online sales for gourmet food.

“So many local stores and restaurants also carry Willie Bird products that it makes more sense for us to support them, instead of compete,” Orrock-Diestel said.

However faded the paint may be these days, the small, shack-style shop just west of Llano Road has kept customers well-fed through its history, starting when then-high school freshman Willie Benedetti and his younger brother Riley Benedetti found success in 1963 with their Future Farmers of America project that resulted in some 400 hatchlings. They started selling birds by word-of-mouth, through small newspaper ads and out of their mother Aloha Benedetti’s beauty salon. In 1975, they opened the store.

The deli closing follows the closing of the Benedettis’ full-service restaurant, Willie Bird’s on Santa Rosa Avenue, which shuttered at the end of March last year after keeping diners and bar guests loyal regulars since its 1980 debut. That followed the closing of the company’s 7.5-acre poultry processing plant in Schellville, which made turkey sausages, turkey hams and turkey pastrami for restaurants, airlines and other corporate customers.

The family also nearly lost its flocks on its 400-acre Calistoga ranch during two wildfires. Then Willie Benedetti died on Sept. 28, 2018, at age 69.

For the past two years, the Diestel name has shared space on plenty of packaged products in the deli, and the Diestel family has long partnered with the Benedetti family to share resources and birds as needed through busy Thanksgiving seasons.

“(The products) will still be Willie Birds, with Willie’s farming practices in place,” Orrock-Diestel said. “We’re going to maintain his honor and his heritage.”

Details: Willie Bird Turkey Store & Deli, 5350 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, 707-545-2832, williebird.com

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