by Craig Smith
One thing that immediately stands out about Allison Hallum is that she is a boundless force of positive energy. She has to be – she runs three of her family’s businesses: Eiko’s, Eiko’s Oxbow and Napa Noodles. She is also the president of the Downtown Napa Association. Oh, and she’s a wife to Spencer and mother to Gunner, aged four. And she does it all with a smile, even during the pandemic.
Eiko’s was the first business her family opened. Allison’s father, Rick Zaslove, is the president of Golden State Lumber. He’s had more lunch and dinner meetings than he can count, and being the entrepreneur that he is, couldn’t help but evaluate the restaurants he visited. “The more he looked, the more he thought, ‘I could do this and it would be fun,’” said Allison. Rick likes Roy’s in Hawaii and Nobu in Los Angeles. He wanted that quality of food in a family oriented restaurant. One of his favorite local restaurants was Fujiya, owned and operated by Eiko Nakamura, and he couldn’t imagine opening without her.
The two talked, and Eiko’s was born. The restaurant is best described as modern Japanese, and a family owned and oriented business. “It’s casual, with innovative dishes, the freshest of fish and high quality ingredients all around,” said Allison. Asked which menu items are most popular, she had a ready answer. “The Ricky Ricardo sushi rolls for a main course, the Eiko’s Cosmo for a drink, and probably either the Healthy Fries or Bon Bons as a side. We also have a great Happy Hour following.”
Allison began working at Golden State Lumber in high school, and left there in 2013 to become the GM of Eiko’s. Husband Spencer had completed his military service a few months earlier, and the young couple was thinking about what would be best for their family and future. “I had no food experience, unless you count working at Cold Stone Creamery in college,” said Allison with a laugh, “but it seemed like a good move for all of us for me to take over the restaurant.” Eiko’s will celebrate ten years in business in June.
Eiko’s Oxbow opened in October of 2014, just a couple of months after the earthquake and shortly after the death of Eiko Nakamura. It was an emotionally tough time for Allison and her family, but they moved ahead. “The Oxbow restaurant is sort of the little sister of Eiko’s,” said Allison. “It’s a great grab and go spot, whether for sushi or fresh fish, like salmon, halibut, ahi or prawns. “We’re a little bit of everything in a smaller space.” Because of the pandemic, the Oxbow Market has created a lot of outdoor seating, which is the way most people choose to eat if they are dining in.
After that, Allison took what she calls a break, “I had my son, and took a little time off.” During the “break,’ she opened Napa Noodles in July of 2017. “Gunner took his very first steps inside the restaurant on opening day.” Allison describes Napa Noodle as “Fun, casual and funky. We wanted to show off roasted meats, ramen and poke, and focus on Pacific Rim foods and not just Japanese.” While the other two restaurants were instant successes, Napa Noodle was more challenging. “Our initial concept was that you would order and pay at the counter, then sit and we’d bring your food to you. Napans did not like that.” Allison quickly changed so that they would be a full service restaurant with a full bar. Still, the first couple of years were tough. Then came COVID. “Ironically, the pandemic helped us. We have the kind of comfort food people were looking for when you couldn’t eat either indoors or out, and we got busy. People were discovering us for the first time, and they keep coming back. We’re extremely fortunate in that regard.”
Allison loves downtown Napa, and joined the board of directors of the Downtown Association in 2016. In 2020, she began her term as board president. “Downtown is so amazing. Just in the eight years I’ve been working there it’s changed a lot. There are so many young entrepreneurs, and it’s become a really vibrant place. When I was younger, we never came downtown. Now there is always something to do.”
Allison loves how downtown Napa has responded to the pandemic. “People were so quick to react. With the fires and earthquakes, we’ve had so many challenges that people just fell into their recovery roles.” Business has been good, for which she credits and thanks locals. “Visitors are coming back, which is great, but it’s all about locals.”
“I’m so proud to be among all the young women opening businesses downtown. It’s truly inspiring.” She is quick to thank her family for their support. “I wouldn’t be successful without the support of my husband. He’s the calm to my crazy.” She also recognizes and is thankful for the faith her father has had in her. And she credits her aunt, Mayor Jill Techel, for her leadership skills. “The year I opened Oxbow, I was a part of her Leadership Napa Valley class. She held my hand through it all.”
Eiko’s, 1300 First Street, Suite 385 | Napa Noodles, 1124 First Street
Eiko’s Oxbow: Oxbow Public Market, 610 First Street