New Thyme owner hopes to preserve village cafe’s charm

Keely Barrera, the new owner of Thyme in the Ranch.
(Karen Billing)

After 23 years, Thyme in the Ranch’s owners Shane and Dawn Pursell are retiring. It’s an emotional departure but they believe they are leaving the tradition of the Rancho Santa Fe village cafe in the capable hands of new owner Keely Barrera.

The restaurant will officially change over on Oct. 11—“It’s not going to miss a beat,” promised Shane of the new owner Barrera, a former Rancho Santa Fe resident, pastry chef and owner of the catering company Something Homemade.

As the whole community feels so much like family, the Pursells really wanted to find a new owner who truly valued what they have established at Thyme. Owning the building allowed them to be selective and rather than just list the space with a broker they opted to spread the word first through the Rancho Santa Fe Review with an article and heartfelt letter to the community.

“The response was overwhelming,” Dawn said of the huge number of inquiries they received as well as letters from faithful Thyme patrons.

Barrera was one of the very first to respond, reaching out to the Pursells before the newspaper even made it to print, “I was a little eager,” she admits. A Rancho Santa Fe resident for 22 years and a Thyme customer back to when it was located in its small space in the Country Square Courtyard, Barrera had dropped hints to the Pursells for years that if they were ever interested in selling, she was up for it.

To the Pursells, Barrera stood out as someone who understood the charm of Thyme, who created beautiful displays of wonderful food similar to their styles and someone who they knew would help the restaurant continue to thrive and explore its potential.

Keely Barerra, new owner of Thyme in the cottage-like cafe.
(Karen Billing)

Barrera, now a resident of La Costa Valley, found her passion for baking, cooking and party planning when she volunteered her talents at her children’s school to help fundraise or celebrate special occasions. After years of her friends suggesting that she open her own business, she started Something Homemade 16 years ago, evolving from offering just desserts as a pastry chef to becoming a full-service catering firm.

“We wanted someone who understands the chemistry of Rancho Santa Fe and the community that is so welcoming, instead of someone from out of town coming in. That was very important to us,” Dawn said. “Most importantly, Keely is a professional in the restaurant and food industry. She had the experience we felt is really necessary to take on Thyme in the Ranch.”

“Some people can be overwhelmed by the romance of Thyme without realizing the amount of work it takes,” Shane said. “There were a lot of lovely people that we talked with but Keely was definitely the best fit.”

Making it an even more comfortable fit—Shane said many of Something Homemade customers come from Rancho Santa Fe.

Barrera acknowledged the responsibility of taking on the lifetime of work that the Pursells have put in and the culture they have created at Thyme.

“This is such a special part of Rancho Santa Fe, it’s an institution and I don’t see any need to change it,” Barrera said.

She will keep the same hours, employees and menu—Dawn joked that the recipes will be passed over in a locked box.

On Oct. 10, Barrera plans to come in and make just a few changes, maybe add a new tablecloth in the cozy cottage cafe and adding a bit of her style to the retail offerings. She also hopes to offer some pantry provisions, filling a niche left vacant by the departure of Stump’s Market.

“I’m looking forward to carrying on a family-run business that’s at the heart of our community,” Barrera said. “In time, I’m excited to add some of my own touches and recipes that I’ve developed over the years to great feedback.”

The Pursells plan to be available to Barrera for any help she needs in the transition, especially as she heads into the “fast and furious” holiday season. While they are stepping down, Dawn promises that they will not be far away and intend to remain a part of the Rancho Santa Fe community.

“Rancho Santa Fe is a unique and wonderful community,” the Pursells wrote in their message to the community. “We are very proud to have contributed Thyme in the Ranch as an experience for all to enjoy over the many years.”

Learn more about Thyme at