After 23 years, Thyme in the Ranch owners Shane and Dawn Pursell have decided it is time to retire. As they step away, they are beginning the process of carefully placing Thyme into a new owner’s hands so it can continue to thrive.
“I’m anxious to find somebody who’s going to love what we have here and ensure that it forever will be a community café,” Shane said. “I have a lot of confidence in that with the approach we’re taking.”
Since 1995, Thyme has been a village destination for lingering over cappuccinos inside the cozy café or savoring brunch on the porch of the country cottage, surrounded by greenery and flowers.
Thyme has been the reliable spot for a sweet tooth with its pies and cakes, cookies and brownies, sweet breads and Monte Carlos—vanilla buttercream and raspberry jam sandwiched in between two coconut butter cookies.
There is almost always a line, the tables are regularly full.
“People leave here happy,” said Dawn. “It’s a moment of peace and time to relax and enjoy the ambiance.”
Dawn and Shane have known each other since they were 17 and they have always worked together, a perfect team. Dawn handles the front of the house and is the architect of the ambiance—she tends to the blooms in the garden, picks the music that plays and is a familiar face that greets customers. Shane’s specialty is in the kitchen, developing the menu and putting his heart into everything that comes out of the kitchen.
The Pursells said everyone always has a Thyme story to tell and frequently say how much they love coming there. More than once, faithful customers have beseeched them: “You can never retire.”
“We wish we could be here forever,” Dawn said. “This is a really hard step for us because it’s been such an incredible experience.”
“It really has had an impact on the lives of so many people, which I feel totally delighted about,” said Shane. “It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
The couple has had very little time off in the last 23 years and they are ready for a rest—they started their careers in their 20s, running a catering business in Malibu and then becoming the creators, owners and managers of Cafe and Eats in Fred Segal stores in Santa Monica and West Hollywood.
In 1992, after just starting their family, they moved to San Diego. They started a small pie company delivering pies for wholesale and happened across a café in the village of Rancho Santa Fe—called the Cedar Kitchen, located in the Country Squire Courtyard behind Mille Fleurs. During a pie delivery, the owners asked the Pursells if they would be interested in purchasing the café.
Dawn said it seemed perfect, the village was beautiful and the small size was ideal after coming from running two larger LA restaurants and with small children ages 2 and 5.
For several years, Thyme had its space in the courtyard with just the kitchen and small customer service area before the Pursells had the opportunity to expand when they purchased the whole building in 2000.
In 2003, the former dental office on the Avenida de Acacias frontage transformed into the Thyme of today—they built the deck and the trellis and completely remodeled the interior by adding the fireplace, rustic wood floors and beams in the ceiling, “It changed the whole feel,” Dawn said.
“All of the sudden we were so very, very busy, more than we ever thought we were going to be,” Dawn said. “From the moment we opened our doors, our business has grown and grown.”
Thyme serves about 250 to 300 people a day and Shane said they are so fortunate that they have an appeal all over the county as a “quaint little destination” in Rancho Santa Fe.
“It just seems that we are busier now than we have ever been,” Dawn said. “The busiest year of 23 years was last year, every year it keeps growing.”
“Embarrassingly enough, the menu has not changed much,” Shane said. “The crazy part of it is that 85 percent of our regulars order the same thing every time they come.”
Thyme has become “a peaceful part-time home in the Ranch” for loyal customers and staff and they have returning customers from everywhere from Newport Beach to New York. It has become a place to order specialty butter cream cakes to celebrate any special occasion and to pick up pies for the holidays.
“Rancho Santa Fe is a gorgeous community and everybody who works for us feels like family so it feels really warm when people come in here and they really enjoy themselves,” Shane said.
As the whole community feels so much like family, the Pursells really want to find a new owner who truly values what they have established— they do not want to list the space with a broker and just disappear, they believe the space is just too important.
Owning the building allows them to be very selective in picking the right person who is experienced and will succeed with the restaurant. They are looking for someone to seize the opportunity and perhaps enhance Thyme—as the Pursells so valued their family time that for 23 years they closed up shop in the afternoon and never offered evening dining.
As they ready to retire, the Pursells have made time to notify their loyal staff and most faithful customers. For now they are not in a rush—they want to find a replacement that will continue on their legacy in the village.
“This has been so successful and we’ve enjoyed the whole progression of the business,” Dawn said. “It’s hard to step away but the time is right. We will always be in the community… but we hope to do some traveling.”
A heartfelt note from the Pursells to Rancho Santa Fe
To the community,
Dawn and I, Shane Pursell, wish to extend a heartfelt thank you to all. For 23 years Thyme in the Ranch has received the generous patronage and support of local residents, tourist and destination travelers from near and far. Our time in the village has been a great accomplishment for the both of us. We have enjoyed a very successful business, abundant friendships and a sincere appreciation for all we have created at the café.
We have been restaurateurs going on 45 years. Being at Thyme in the Ranch has been the absolute best period of our careers. Dawn and I have always strived to provide a consistent quality of foods and personable service, along with a welcoming ambiance for all to enjoy. Thyme has been well received by so many, for which we are very grateful.
Thyme in the Ranch had the potential to provide more, such as “Dinner Thyme,” a family-style dinner, Sunday Brunch and also extensive on or off premise catering affairs. All of this and more would have been well received yet, the simple truth is, our commitment to maintain a true balance between the quality of life, family and a prosperous business was our priority. Now with our sons, Kyle and Skylar, as young adults and engaged in their own success, it is our time to travel, play and enjoy a more casual pace.
In the past we have received numerous inquiries from people interested in the purchase of Thyme in the Ranch. At this time, we are now looking for a buyer and have chosen not to retain a business broker, instead we are reaching out to the community. We feel a strong connection to the community and are proud to acknowledge the contribution the café has made to life in the village. We are seeking a buyer who understands and respects the special character of the village and is familiar with Thyme in the Ranch and its many years of success. It is essential that this person or persons have many years of experience in the food industry.
We are confident our success in transferring ownership of Thyme in the Ranch will come through the community. Our hope is to find a perfect fit, someone who will embrace our success, recognize the potential of the café as well as the exceptional experience of being an entrepreneur in the village.
Rancho Santa Fe is a unique and wonderful community. We are very proud to have contributed Thyme in the Ranch as an experience for all to enjoy over the many years.
With our sincere gratitude and appreciation to all,
Shane and Dawn Pursell
For any and all inquiries, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.