New Sunday hours and lots of parking –
Crab Cakes Restaurant is moving to a new location at 49271 Golden Oak Loop, Oakhurst (across the street and north, just a little bit). I recently had an opportunity to sit down in the garden with owner Roman Zabicki and ask him a few questions:
Roman, what do you want people to know about Crab Cakes?
That after 14 years, we are finally able to answer the request and satisfy the number one complaint from the community: we are moving and we will now have plenty of great parking! Oh, and we’ll now be open 7 days per week.When I told people I was going to interview you, the No. 1 question they wanted me to ask is, when you move to your new location will you be opening the bar upstairs?
Yes. The bar is going to open sometime toward the end of December, beginning of January. We are applying for a liquor license and then we have got some cosmetic work to do upstairs as well, but it’s really contingent on the liquor license. We haven’t made any specific decisions as to exactly what will be happening with the bar. Right now we are just focused on getting the restaurant open.
What date will the restaurant be opening?
October 1st, I hope. We will shut down here on Sept. 22, which will give my staff a week to get everything moved over.
How many employees do you have?
Between Crab Cakes, Yosemite Catering and Sweet Dreams Cakery and Wedding Flowers we have about 27 employees.
Will you be increasing your staff?
Oh definitely, we are already in the works on that. Since we have much more space, we need additional help. We will also start opening on Sundays, which is something we haven’t done in the 14 years we have been in business.
A fish restaurant in the mountains. Why?
“Because there were already enough Mexican restaurants in town!” The real reason is that there wasn’t a place for seafood here in the mountains. In Michigan I worked for a major seafood restaurant chain and once we were here it was like, “Hey, let’s do it!”
Why do you think you have had success with Crab Cakes?
When I was looking to put the restaurant together, I went to one of the other restaurateurs in town. I wanted to kind of pick his brain and find out how he did, what he did … just make sure I didn’t overlook anything. One of his responses was that he caters to the tourist market and the locals were just kind of eh, nothing. I thought to myself wow, this guy has got it all wrong.
I believe that our success is due to the local clientele. They are the ones that are here year-round. They are my bread and butter. The business we get in the summertime from tourists is just an added bonus.
I also think it is important to provide quality food and professional service, and do it consistently. Even though we are casual by nature, it doesn’t exclude us from providing quality food and service.
Were you ever a chef?
No, I am not a trained chef, but I have been a kitchen manager. I spent time in the kitchen when we started out here. I was able to do what needed to be done without any reservations. Contrary to what some other restaurateurs do when they have a strong culinary background, they prefer the kitchen. I feel it is more important that my presence be in the front of the house as opposed to being locked into the back.
What was the first restaurant you worked at?
The first restaurant I worked at was a place called “Top of the Pontch” which was located in the Pontchartrain Hotel, a five-star hotel in downtown Detroit. At the time I was in college, and had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise. I kept changing my major every semester. I finally had the brainstorm of an idea to start working and make lots of money.
After working as a busboy for about two weeks, I thought to myself “this is b.s. — I’m going to stay in school and find a career that I can really sink my teeth into.” The moment my parents found out I was working they said, “Now you can pay for your own education,” so I had to continue to work. One promotion led to another, which is what got me to where I am today.
What is the best advice you ever receieved?
[Chuckles] Well, it’s advice that I didn’t listen to. I was considering taking a promotion at the “Top of the Pontch” to Room Service Captain. Two gentlemen that I worked with advised me against it. They said that if I took the promotion, I would never get out of the business, and well, I never have.
Has the economy affected your business this year?
I can’t say that it has. It’s been a good year, not a great year. Our revenue is up maybe 5%. Even if it were only up 1%, of course I would rather be up than down. The staff has been working hard, I don’t know why we’re up, but I’m thankful and happy for it.
I was thinking back to a conversation I had with a couple from England who own a pub. Their attitude was, “We have been saving for a vacation and saving for a vacation, and it’s like we can’t afford to go!” And they finally just figured, to hell with it, we’re never going to be able to afford it, let’s just do it. So I’m wondering if people have gotten to the point where they are just accepting of the way things are.
What thoughts do you have on the Mountain House re-opening?
Well, it’s going to be interesting. I know the gentleman who bought it, and I’m anxious to see how his vision comes to fruition.
Can you tell me a little about your staff?
We are very grateful and thankful for the team we have and the ownership that they take in their jobs here. As the matter of fact, when our son Danny was diagnosed with cancer, we didn’t exactly put it to the staff in these terms, but they definitely understood when we said, “Either you guys take over and do what you have to do to make the restaurant work, or we are shutting the place down.” Taking care of our son was more important than our business. And you know they did. They took care of everything. We are thankful for our entire team and the ownership they take in their jobs.
One of the young ladies who worked here at the time had occasionally filled in and acted as restaurant manager if my wife Laura and I wanted to take a few days off. When we found out about Danny, I called her to my office and said, “I need you to take charge here,” and she had this deer-in-the-headlights look on her face. She left the office and then returned a few minutes later to tell me that she and her husband had put a deposit in on a restaurant and were currently in escrow. She said they would forfeit their deposit to take care of things here as long as we needed.
Ena Zohos and her husband Pete currently own Pop’s Sportmans Café in Bootjack, we are forever grateful for their dedication.
Any current plans for “Dannypalooza,?”
No, we took a hiatus this year because of everything we have going on right now. We made the decision several months ago. Danny would have understood.
Family is very important to you. What’s new with your son Andrezji?
He graduated from NYU with a teaching credential and is now looking for gainful employment!
If you were to open a completely unrelated type of business what would you want to do?
Unrelated to the food industry?
Anything you wanted.
I never even thought of that, I’ve thought of different restaurants that I would open, but nothing out of the food business. There was a dream once — my best friend, who is also in the food business, and I thought of being disc jockeys. Talking about music and having a good time, kind of like a “Bob and Tom” thing.
OK, then, how about a restaurant?
I think I’m giving away my secrets here. Who knows, I might pursue this yet. This maybe in the five-year plan. I would like to see fine dining in Oakhurst, not on the scale of Erna’s, but something small, quaint and comfortable — a place with tablecloths. A place to go when you are looking for a nice meal here in town, and don’t want to drive to the Narrow Gauge or Tenaya.
What are your expectations for the near future?
I would like to satisfy my reservations that this is the right move. It’s a big challenge, a big undertaking. I believe my wife and I are doing everything correctly. We’ve done our homework and looked at the numbers. At the end of the year, I want to be able to say, “Yes, this was the right move.”
What will you do when you retire?
I don’t know if I’m going to retire. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.