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Sunny side up 

After seven years of ownership, CJ’s proprietors Kathy and Glenn Essen decided it was time for a facelift. The building, while charmingly old school, needed to be brought into the 21st century.

“We had a lot of work to do in terms of updating the building,” Glenn explained.

But what sets this remodel apart is the Essens’ decision to take CJ’s of Arroyo Grande solar. A little more than a month ago, Solarponics installed half the roof panels, and the Essens almost immediately saw a difference.

“When they turned on the first side of the panels, the difference in energy costs was significant,” Glenn said. “We were very surprised how fast things changed.”

The second panel was fired up more than a week ago, and soon the effects of that panel will be evident in the electrical bill. But for the Essens, cost savings is last on a long list of reasons to go solar.

“We wanted to show our kids how we should be treating the environment,” Glenn said. “Being energy efficient is more important to us and the environment than saving some money.”

The panels were one of several changes made to CJ’s to make it more efficient. The Essens also remodeled the kitchen to include all new, energy-efficient appliances. Motion detectors in the bathroom reduce the amount of time CJ’s leaves a light on unattended. PG&E also came in and installed energy-saving lights.

While the decision to move to solar was an easy one for the Essens, the building itself posed a problem when installing the panels. Without a flat roof, the panels would be at the mercy of the seasons.

“Solar wasn’t optimal with the way the roof sits, because the light will vary throughout the year, depending on the season,” Glenn explained, “but by installing the panels on both sides, we actually optimized how much light we get.”

Another great reward for the Essens has been the response from both regulars and newcomers.

“It’s great—I’ll be out at a basketball game with my kids, and someone will come up and say, ‘It’s wonderful what you guys are doing with the solar panels,’ so it’s been nice to hear,” Glenn said. “I’d recommend this to anyone, especially businesses.”

Intern Maeva Considine compiled this week’s column. We want a Bite! Send us your food, wine, and related news at

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