I spoke with the owner of Shadowbrook Restaurant, Ted Burke, on a fine summer day. We sat and discussed fine dining in Santa Cruz and throughout the world. As we drank coffee and looked out upon the river our talk went as follows.
SCW: Congratulations on receiving restaurant of the month. What’s the most exciting thing about owning such a nice restaurant here in Santa Cruz?
Ted: Difficult to say what is the most exciting thing. The most rewarding is that we are operating a restaurant where people are coming to have a great time they are celebrating generally—whether it’s a birthday or anniversary, friends visiting from out of town, or personal accomplishments like graduations and things of that nature. They come already in a great frame of mind, and our job is just to fulfill their expectations. We see a lot of smiling faces, and that is the most rewarding part about this business. It certainly compensates for the long hours and challenges that we have. We do please a lot of guests every night and it makes us want to come back to work the next morning and do it again.
SCW: You mentioned earlier that Shadowbrook has been around since 1947 and your involvement goes since the 70’s, have you seen some great changes since then and have you enjoyed your time?
Ted: There has been a lot of changes. The restaurant has been a restaurant of evolution physically. It was a log cabin, then a home, abandoned; it opened as a restaurant in 1947. There have been proches added to it and then enclosed and patios added, etc. Even including parts the public doesn’t see- the kitchen, a bakery, storage area for wine, workshop,nthose sorts of things. It’s truly been a restaurant of evolution over time. It’s also been, not only physically but also operationally. The times have changed and so have the people with their expectations and desires. An example, alcohol changes have included that people have changed from quantity to quality. The hire priced liquors outsell the lower priced. The middle priced wines sell better than lower priced wines. People have moved up, they have become more sophisticated, more experienced in dining and that’s led to their appreciation of the finer reference of both food and wine, and liquor.
Ted: It is just experience. The more people have experienced fine foods, fine wine, and fine dining, the more they want to keep on experiencing and enjoy it keep on expanding. For example, you look like a young fellow, if you are anything like me, the quality of wines I drank when I was barely twenty-one have changed over time. And that’s all because you learn to appreciate fine wines and recognizing that there is a taste and an enjoyment difference between a well made, rather expensive wine compared to one that is made by the bulk process. So that experience I think has led to many of the changes.
SCW: Do you carry any local wines here?
Ted: We carry quite a lot of local wines here. We even have a promotion that runs from October through May that promotes local wines. On Wednesday of each week during that time frame, we promote a featured winery. The wine maker or owner of the winery is on premises in the bar from five o’clock until about ten o’clock. We pour their wines, they usually bring in wines that are not on our list, three or four different wines, we sell those for fifty percent off on Wednesdays. So there is an incentive to come and enjoy them. Moreover, we offer a flight of wines, which is a small half-portion of each of the wines along with a complimentary hoursdevere made from our wood burning oven in the rock room lounge that is prepared by the chef to match the wine. Not only do you get to taste great wine, you get to taste great food matched perfectly to compliment the wine. All that for fifty percent off.
Ted: We don’t just recruit or look for help when we need it, we do that year round. For a couple of reasons: we don’t want to lower our standards because we are in a great need. We found that interviewing people each week allows us more time to get to know people and encourage those we think have the experience, the temperament, the personality, the work ethic, and the values that we share; we invite them to come back and check with us if nothing is available. Often times we find that we’ll discover just a great candidate that we will actually try to find and make room for.
Ted: Well, I love oysters. We have a baked oyster dish up in the rockroom lounge that I particularly like. It is baked with a flavored cream spincach and bacon we cure in house from pork belly. It’s quick and it’s easy and it tastes like the sea, and yet there isn’t anything in the world that doesn’t taste better with bacon in it. That’s a home run for me. Our most popular dish at the restaurant is prime rib. Items that people don’t regularly do at home are often popular in restaurants.
SCW: Do you have any shout outs you would like to give?
Ted: There certainly is a long list of people over the years that have been a part of shadowbrooks success that deserve recognition. None less than my landlord, Mike Clark, who hired me on my way to graduate school and allowed me to work as an assistant manager. He sold the restaurant to me in 1978. He’s been a great friend of the restaurant and great mentor. My management through the years have done wonderful work in moving the restaurant forward. This is a restaurant that is never satisfied, we always think we can do something better. If we can’t think of something we will really look carefully and try and find something to do. I’ve enjoyed that. I think our employees enjoy the fact that we don’t rest in our laurels here. We work every day to make it a better experience than the day before. We are very fortunate to have a location that is so unique and world famous in some circles. It is really the people that work here that have put this restaurant on the map, it’s their friendliness, their respect for an institution such as this, their respect for providing a great experience to people who are celebrating something special in their lives. They above all deserve credit for all of this.
SCW: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.
Ted: Thank you.
You can visit the Shadowbrook Restaurant at: Shadowbrook
and their facebook page at: Shadowbrook
Photos provided by Shadowbrook Restaurant
Article by Jack Neenan