by Rebecca Parsons
The Sugar Shack has been a staple in San Clemente for as long as many can remember. Located on historic El Camino Real, the restaurant was named The Sugar Shack by the previous owners, but Rose’s was tacked onto the front when the Evingham family took over ownership in 1987.
“My mom comes from a lot of restaurants,” says Christina Evingham of her mother, Rose. “My mom and my father opened many restaurants in northern Orange County. She had retired and then a couple years later she got an itch to buy the Sugar Shack.”
Sugar Shack owner Rose with daughter Christina. (1990)
Rose, Christina, and Christina’s stepfather, Dale Evingham bought the restaurant and opened it the very next day. It opened under its new ownership on July 16 and they were immediately busy. Rose served as a waitress and cook, Christina not yet a teenager helped with dishes, they hired a chef, and brought on additional family members to work in the restaurant. A few years later, Christina’s father, George Konstantis, joined the crew.
Rose worked relentlessly, rarely taking a day off, to make the restaurant a success. Slowly, but surely, the family molded the restaurant into their dream. As money came in, they made renovations to the building, adding windows and a deck, slowly improving the aesthetic of their homey eatery.
“If you’re in the restaurant business and you want to stay connected to the customers, you have to be there,” Christina says of the family’s endlessly long hours. “You could make tons of money and have lots of employees, but to really stay connected to the people, their stories, and the connections that you make you have to be there. You have to have that special friendship that you’re exchanging over breakfast.”
Sugar Shack owner Rose with daughter Christina. (2017)
Everything on the menu is made fresh and with intentionality. The first item to make its way to the menu was a potato dish loaded with grilled veggies, meats and cheese once called the “Vegetarian Rage,” but now lovingly referred to as “Rose’s Rage.” Rose began experimenting and adding more items to her menu. She made a special cinnamon sugar and banana dish that was unique and very popular at the time. After that came Rose’s famous cinnamon rolls. The rolls are huge, gooey, and so delicious they remain a popular staple at the Sugar Shack today. They make comfort food, with the intention of making their customers feel right at home.
“We want you to feel like you’re in your mom’s kitchen. You can get pretty much anything you want, within reason of course,” Christina jokes. “You can’t get one scrambled and one over-easy in the same egg order!”
The Sugar Shack is a small, two-building restaurant with a deck off the back. The staff is small and is comprised of Rose, Christina, and George, as well as a few other employees, many of whom have been with them for twenty years. The family takes pride in their customers and makes sure that each is greeted personally by a member of the family.
Due to their kindness, intentionality, and delicious food, the Sugar Shack has had a long history of repeat customers. Some come in every weekend, some visit yearly on vacations, and others have been coming since they were children, now returning with kids of their own. Customers who have long since moved away return years later with stories of Rose and ways she’s impacted their lives.
“The thing with my mom is she is so infectious and has such a beautiful heart. She reads people really well,” Christina says of Rose. “She’ll pray with them right then and there. Or even if they don’t pray, she just has this specialty to know what do to at that moment.”
Like any business, the Sugar Shack has faced its own share of challenges. Dale passed a few years back and the family took the loss hard, especially Rose. Recently, they’ve faced legal issues that have prevented further remodels on the building. And the long hours have been endless and exhausting, rarely allowing for a day off. But through it all, their core values and mission has remained the same, allowing their business to remain successful.
As far as the future is concerned, much remains unknown. They’ve recently acquired a beer and wine license, allowing them to add mimosas to the menu. The idea of extended hours is being toyed with, but for now it remains simply an idea. For the time being, the Sugar Shack will remain in the Evingham family. Someday, they may take a backseat in the company if they find the right person to take over, or they may just let the business run its course.
“The heart of our business is my mom’s kindness,” Christina says. “She taught me everything I know. In my mind, I feel like I am an extension of her.”
If the walls could only talk, imagine the stories they would tell.