by Donia Moore
When you feel like you’re slip-slidin’ away and you want to get back to the garden, take a turn into Café Rae. Terry Shapiro and his wife Jenny Spivak have created a charming restaurant with a container garden full of herbs and flowers in a sunny nook of their parking lot. They are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their Café Rae restaurant, and the 23rd anniversary of being the official caterers to the performers, band, and crewmembers of that little music festival reunion in New York known as Woodstock II.
On the Road
When Terry met Jenny through a promoter partner, the El Toro High School California transplant was living for a short spell in Lenox, Massachusetts, summer home of the Boston Symphony. He grew up in Anaheim and Lake Forest, originally destined for the second generation of the family pharmacy business. But he took a sudden turn down a different hallway and ended up in the music industry.
He and Jenny hit it off and hit the road together with their 30-foot mobile kitchen. They led the gypsy life of caterers and managers for the upper crust of rock and alternative rock musicians on their concert tours and mega venues. Courtesy of a family friend, whose brother had just gotten on board as a concert tour promoter, Terry decided that taking care of the Rolling Stones and their band was more his style than pharmacy school. For years, he and Jenny worked together on concert tours for the biggest icons in the music industry. Golden Voice promoters, Universal Amphitheater and Lollapalooza were his regular customers. Terry often fed up to 3,000 people three-times-a-day, and looked after every creature comfort that the performers could possibly request.
Terry turned out to be a rock star in the area of planning and prepping. His fans were the icons themselves. Neil Diamond loved his beef brisket. Mick Jaeger was a very healthy eater and preferred simple but salubrious vegetarian meals with lots of steamed veggies. Keith Richards liked his libations. “Boss” Springsteen always wanted to know what Terry was cooking up. Whether he prepped three times a day for 3,000 crew and performers at the 1994 Woodstock Revival or 30 artists and roadies on a concert tour, Terry knows first hand that what’s cookin’ is what keeps them going.
A Rockwell Moment
Life on the road was its own challenge.“Neil was always first through the food line every day - we called it ‘Neil’s Inspection,’” notes Terry. He and by- then wife Jenny worked the concert venues together and traveled with the bands. When Sofia, their daughter, made her appearance, they decided it was time to look at living with a little more routine in their lives. Being on the road for eight weeks at a stretch was playing havoc with family time.
His contact with The Woodstock Reunion called for him to be at the site for two months before the event and a month afterwards Terry had owned several restaurants prior to going into the music concert industry so the transition was not as difficult as if he were the new kid on the block. Remembering how hard it was to find breakfast on the road on a concert tour schedule, Terry looked for a place where he could get breakfast or lunch without putting in 18-20 hours a day.
In Lee, Massachusetts, he took over and ran “Joe’s Diner” when “Joe” decided to retire after 40 years. The famous diner is represented in the Norman Rockwell painting with the young boy sitting on a stool eating favorite fresh California cuisine.
It wasn’t too long, though, before sunnier skies and warmer weather lured Terry and his family back to Southern California. They wanted a good place to raise their only child Sofia away from the hustle of the music industry. They found it on El Camino Real in San Clemente 10-years-ago when they opened Café Rae. It’s the charming, cozy place with the vibrant container garden in the parking lot. It’s also packed on the weekends with loyal and hungry patrons who know this is the place for great breakfasts and lunches with a little twist. Whether it’s the incredible potatoes – cooked three times, boiled, baked and then sautéed - French Toast swathed in corn flakes, fluffy Chocolate chip pancakes, or one of a ton of creative omelets and daily specials, no one’s going away hungry. Lunches lean towards Mediterranean salads and fresh vegetables, and Terry’s right- hand man Ismael helps make sure that it’s the freshest food in town.
Terry’s daughter Sofia, now 15, is a vegan and Terry is introducing some of her favorite vegetarian and vegan dishes to his San Clemente clientele. The menu includes a delicious selection of creatively combined beans, rice, salads, and more.
At home, both Sofia and Jenny enjoy cooking, but the restaurant is Terry’s territory. Terry’s quality creations come out looking good, tasting perfect and filling that empty hollow feeling like nothing else. What’s Terry’s favorite meal? “I like it all. I spend all day eating, tasting this, trying that. What other business could I do that in?”
Jenny has the green thumb in the family and her creations decorate the inside of the restaurant, too. Her colorful batik hangings, T-shirts and artwork are as warm and welcoming as her tiny container garden’s flowers and herbs outside the restaurant’s sunny windows. Sofia has taken up photography and her emphasis is on her own fashion creations. Many of them are currently available on Etsy, an online portal for creative types.
Sometimes Size Counts
Terry and Jenny are no strangers to restaurant realities. Terry says one of his biggest challenges is that he never knows how many people he will be serving on a given day.
“When I was catering for the big concert tours like Lollapalooza, Woodstock and the rock reunions, I knew the contract called for me to feed several thousand people three times a day. You can plan for that. In the day-to-day restaurant world, there’s almost no way you can know exactly. You have to be prepared for whatever your fire marshal approved limits are at any given time.”
And speaking of the fire marshal, Terry couldn’t be happier or more grateful to San Clemente’s own big red engines when thy came howling up to his little slice of heaven last year to put out a fire that started in a nearby business. It threatened to engulf everything Terry has accomplished in the last 10 years.
“If they hadn’t been so quick in getting here I don’t know what would have happened to our restaurant.”
He was up in Anaheim watching his favorite hockey team blow away their rivals when the alarm rang out in San Clemente. Fortunately everything was saved, including the garden. It’s a nice place to get back to, including the garden.
For information contact Café Rae at (949)492.8480