OAKHURST – All-American food, home made soups and a friendly family atmosphere will be the order of the day at Pop’s Family Restaurant, which is moving from Bootjack to the old Crab Cakes location in Oakhurst.
Owners Pete and Ena Zohos have operated Pop’s Sportsman Cafe in the Woodland area near Bootjack on Highway 49, for the past five years, and are making the move to Oakhurst, with plans to open Monday, Feb. 11.The menu at Pop’s will include such down-home favorites as chicken-fried steak, biscuits and gravy, omelets, rib-eye and porter house steaks, prime rib, clam chowder, salmon and trout. They also have secured a beer and wine license.
“A little bit of everything, and it’s home-made,” says Ena. “We wash and cut our salads ourselves, we don’t buy the pre-packaged stuff. And we’re going to have baked potatoes every day.”
Ena is a native of South Africa, where she met and married Pete Zohos when his family moved from Greece. They will be bringing a bit of that Greek flavor to the restaurant in the summertime, when they plan to offer their patrons a variety of Greek dishes, such as Moussaka and Pastitsio.
Ena worked at Crab Cakes for owner Roman Zabicki for eight years. Her husband Pete is the nephew of Pete Kanas, owner of Pete’s Place in Oakhurst, where he worked for 14 years.
Ena says she told Roman when she first started working for him that it was her dream for she and her husband to own their own restaurant one day.
“So he started teaching me,” says Ena, “helping me when I made mistakes, teaching me about working the front, what goes on behind the scenes, scheduling and hiring – he taught me a lot. That’s why we’ve succeeded over these part five years. Roman was my mentor.”
Ena says she still calls Roman when she needs advice, and he’s always there to help.
After seven years of working at Crab Cakes, Pete and Ena decided it was time to look for their own restaurant. They would take time off and travel around, from L.A. to Idaho, looking for just the perfect fit.
“It had to be right for both of us,” says Ena. “There was always something not quite right about this place or that, and we had to agree. Had to have a common feeling about it.”
One day a friend told them about “a cute little place up near Mariposa.” They told him that wasn’t what they wanted, but he encouraged them to stop in for breakfast and see what they thought. “You’ve traveled everywhere else, just have a look,” he told them.
So they stopped in for breakfast, and when they walked out after a very enjoyable repast, they looked at each other and said, “You know, this is probably the one.”
So after months of searching, they found what they were looking for right in their own back yard.
Then, everything changed. Roman and Laura Zabicki’s son Danny was diagnosed with cancer. Pete and Ena set their plans aside for an entire year to help keep things running smoothly at Crab Cakes, making it possible for the Zabicki family to focus on the challenges of Danny’s illness.
“Taking care of Danny was more important than the business,” said Roman. “Ena 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.”
Roman says Ena left the office and returned a few minutes later to tell him that she and her husband had put down a deposit 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.” said Roman. “We will be forever grateful.”
In fact, when the decision was made this past summer to move Crab Cakes across Highway 41 to their new location, Ena says Roman called her right away to let her know the building was available.
With just two months left on their lease in Woodland, she and Pete began making plans to relocate. They closed the restaurant in Woodland on Dec. 2, 2012, and began the arduous and sometimes hectic process of moving both home and business to Oakhurst.
Throughout December, while others were celebrating the holidays and enjoying some down time, Pete and Ena, with help from friends and family, were schlepping the contents of their home and business down Highway 49.
Then they got to work on the building. The kitchen has been totally gutted and remodeled, and new booths have been installed in the dining area. It’s important to them that each has a working space perfectly suited to their individual needs.
Ena explains the rules of the game, and what makes their business work.
“As husband and wife, we have an invisible line that I don’t cross and he doesn’t cross,” she says. “I have the front of the house; the waitresses, hostesses and bussers, that’s my responsibility. The back of the house is his; cooking, scheduling, hiring and firing. I don’t cross that line. Pete is very good at what he does and I trust him.”
Their two oldest sons, Perry, 18, and Jonathan, 16, also work in the business. Perry enjoys the hosting duties and serving drinks, and Jonathan is turning into quite the accomplished chef. Their youngest, Dimitrius, is just 16 months old, and in Woodland, was dubbed by locals “The Executive Chef.”
As to the locals in Woodland, Ena is very sad to leave them. “People in Woodland are pretty upset and I understand. Pops has been there forever, like a monument, and when we closed, we disappointed quite a lot of people.”
Though the locals were the bread and butter of Pop’s in Woodland, there was little to no tourist traffic, and the business reality for the Zohos family is that extra boost is needed to keep things solvent in the summer, when the regulars are off on vacation. Summers at Pop’s in the Woodland area were very quiet, and tough financially.
But Ena says they intend to create that same magic in their new location to capture the hearts and palates of mountain area residents.
“I still believe the locals are the fundamental you need to survive. When they like what you’re doing, it tells you you’re doing something right. That means more than anything else. When you get the tourists, it’s more like a bonus, like a cherry on top.”
Anyone interested in working at Pop’s is invited to stop in, but a bit of advice – don’t call.
“If someone calls me to ask me over the phone for a job, for me personally, that disqualification,” says Ena. “Come in person, and see me face to face. That says more about a person than calling on the phone.
As for the phone number, they were too late to get it into the new Sierra Telephone book, but Ena is thrilled to have been able to get a number that spells “Pops.” Their number is 559-692-7677.
Pop’s will be open seven days a week. Hours – 7 a.m. til 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday in the winter, and they’ll stay open until 9 p.m. in the summer, May through August. Sundays they close at 3 p.m. year round. Pop’s is located at 40278 Road 425A, next to Subway on Highway 41 in Oakhurst.