|The walk is good for you.|
|What, no trolley?|
Welcome to the Shadowbrook Restaurant. Opened in October of 1947 with a theme of Romance in Dining this is not only the most romantic place to dine in the entire Santa Cruz area but was recently designated one of the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in all of America by the 5 million voters of Open Table.
The Shadowbrook building has been here for almost 100 years. It was originally a log cabin built in the 1920's as a summer home that was accessible only from Soquel Creek. At some point it was enlarged with the addition of the Fireplace Room, which is still in use today as a dining room. It has a massive fireplace and hanging balcony which leads the way to all six dining rooms located on four different levels.
In the 1930's it was a Tea Room. The owners would take a shallow bottom boat down the creek and entice tourists to float up the river to take tea. Afterward, they would float them back down to the beach. It changed hands again after the Tea Room but by the 1940's the place was abandoned.
In 1943 a guy named Brad McDonald was just out of the Navy and living in San Francisco and he was visiting his mother who lived up on Wharf Road. Her cat was missing so Brad offered to help search. He came down this hill cutting his way through the underbrush when he came upon the abandoned Tea Room. The windows were broken and it was in sad shape, but he fell in love with the place and with the setting. He found that the property was owned by the bank and they would let him have it for $800 down and $80 per month. So he bought it and he came down on weekends to work on it. Finally, he and his wife Bea showed the place to their friends Ed and Virginia Phillippet and before the visit was over the two couples decided to move in here.
After six months of work here they decided to open up the main room as a dinner house called the Shadowbrook. They built living quarters for themselves in a water tower that was at the top of the property. One family in the top floor and one family below. Ed was the chef and Brad was the Maitre d' & waiter. Ed's first menu included something called orange sugared biscuits that had orange peel shredded into the dough. A newer version of those original biscuits called "orange rolls" were a popular part of Shadowbrook's brunch service until 2008 when brunch was discontinued in order to accommodate more Sunday weddings.
That first season as a restaurant in 1947 was slow because they had missed the summer rush, but things quickly changed. A couple of their first customers were salesmen from Foster & Kleiser. If those names sound familiar it's because that's the company that owns most of the billboards along the highways in California. These guys really liked Brad and Ed and to show their support they put up billboards for the Shadowbrook on the Bayshore freeway in Sunnyvale. Incredibly, they did it for free.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of running a restaurant down a steep, wooded creekside slope is getting supplies in and out. Delivery trucks can't drive up and deliver directly to the kitchen. After years of lugging things up and down the hill Brad hired a local carpenter to build a wooden slide with a cart on it, but he couldn't afford the powerful motor they would need to run it. So he hooked a cable to the bumper of his mother's 1927 Buick and ran the cable around a large pine tree at the top of the hill. He then painted lines in the road that told him where the Buick should stop so the cart would be at the top or bottom of the hill.
One of the things that had to be hauled each day in their first year of business was a 300 pound block of ice because Ed and Brad had no refrigeration. In 1948 they bought a used walk-in refrigerator and they thought it would come down the hill but no moving company wanted to move it. No problem. Ed and Brad strung a cable across the creek between two trees. They would give it a push and it would 'zip line' across to the restaurant. They let it go and it was so heavy it pulled both trees out by their roots and the refrigerator went into the creek. Fortunately it was lined with cork insulation and it floated. Brad got inside and paddled it to the other side. It took them a week to drag it up the bank and get it into place.
Two years after founding the Shadowbrook the City of Capitola was incorporated and Brad won the majority of votes for city council which mean he would be Capitola's first mayor. But it wasn't to be. Not only was Brad young, in his twenties, but he kept a slot machine in a closet here are Shadowbrook that he and friends would play with after hours. People thought if he were mayor he would bring gambling to Capitola so they gave the mayor job to someone else. McDonald's supporters were so angry they mounted protests which lead a newspaper reporter to dub the new city "Scrapitola." One year later, McDonald was installed as mayor, and still today every so often you will hear the word "Scrapitola".
In 1955 Brad needed money for his new restaurant and nightclub called the Saba. It was located down next to the beach where the old Capitola Hotel was. He sold his share of the Shadowbrook to Frank Podesta. A funny story about the Saba, it only lasted two years before it burnt to the ground, with Brad, the ultimate entrepreneur, selling lemonade and drinks outside to those watching the burning building.
A few years later, in 1958, the red 'cable car' was added. It was the first of its kind in California and guests could now arrive in style from the top of the hill or, for some, avoid the arduous task of walking back up after dinner. A favorite thing to do here is walk down the meandering garden path alongside the ferns and waterfalls, and then ride the cable car back up.
In 1972 Mike Clark and Mike McClellan bought the Shadowbrook. The two 'Mikes' already owned the Crows Nest at the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and they immediately went to work updating the building, expanding the kitchen under a large turf roof and replanting the grounds. They also built a second cable car just for freight on the far side of the property. It was the two Mikes who decided to keep Shadowbrook open year round. Up till 1972 it was closed every winter. One of the first waiters that they hired was Ted Burke who was set to start graduate school in the fall. As the fall approached Ted decided if he could put graduate school off for one semester he could make enough money so that he wouldn't have to work while in school. But, in fact, Ted never left. In 1978 the two Mikes were ready to retire and although they had many offers for the restaurant they preferred to sell it to someone on staff. Ted, then a manager, stepped forward as did Bob Munsey, who had managed the Crows Nest. Together they bought both restaurants. Bob has since retired but Ted is still the active owner here today. Since taking over 34-years ago Ted and Bob added the Redwood Room and the Greenhouse Room, expanded the Garden Room, remodeled the bar, expanded the kitchen twice, built a wine cellar, upgraded the walking path and made hundreds of other restaurant and structural improvements, many of which the public never sees.
The day after the restaurant's 50th anniversary in 1997 they began an extensive remodel of the Rock Room, the original bar area and one of the oldest parts of the building. Still known as the Rock Room, this area opens earlier than the dining room and offers lighter foods from a wood oven along with specialty cocktails. This was a big project and required the restaurant to face one of the biggest challenges here on this steep hillside. How do you get these giant beams down the hill to the construction site? They solved it with a giant lift helicopter that picked up the beams in the parking lot and gently set them here in place.
The Executive Chef here is not only very talented but also a local gal. Her name is Ashley Hosmer and she attended Harbor High School in Santa Cruz and then graduated from the California Culinary Academy. She was the Shadowbrook sous chef for several years and in 2010 was promoted to Executive Chef. The dinner menu here is known for thick prime rib and steaks, scampi, salmon and innovative nightly specials. Though it's well known for its romantic setting it is a warm, comfortable and very popular environment for any type of gathering.
Shadowbrook has won many awards for both food and service, including an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine for its wine list, which noted its moderate pricing. October through May the restaurant promotes 'Winemaker Wednesdays' that focuses on a different Santa Cruz Mountain winery each week and offers special priced tastings of the featured wines.
As many people have noted, the Shadowbrook has managed to do something that is very rare. It honors its past while continually reinventing itself to stay current. It's one of the oldest restaurants in the area and yet at the same time one of the most interesting, beautiful and respected. It gets better all the time without forgetting its unpretentious log cabin roots.