Duarte's Tavern: A Family Tradition For 115 Years
Every morning, 78-year-old Ron Duarte walks down the steps from his home and directly into the restaurant he owns.
He is the third generation of the family to run Duarte's (pronounced DOO-arts) Tavern in Pescadero, Calif., 45 miles south of San Francisco. Ron and his wife, Lynn, live above the tavern, where they also raised their two children, Tim and Kathy, who now operate the restaurant with them.
Ron's grandfather, Frank Duarte, a Portuguese immigrant, bought the tavern and the land around it for $12 in gold in 1894. In those days, Pescadero, near the Pacific, was a popular settlement for whalers, fishermen and farmers from Portugal.
To start off his business, Frank Duarte Sr. bought a barrel of whiskey from Santa Cruz. "Used to be 10 cents a shot or three shots for two bits," says Ron Duarte. "They'd set the barrel of whiskey here in the bar and people would bring their bottle in and fill it up."
Ron Duarte says his grandfather and father were barbers, as well as barkeeps. "Thank God I missed the barber part," he says. Besides, Ron adds, laughing, "None of us have much hair. You know, you can't have hair and brains both."
And that goes for son Tim, too. Asked if he's the owner of Duarte's, Tim replies, "I'm the owner until my dad comes around. Then I'm the owner's son."
Fish Stew, Artichokes And Pie
Tim, 49, comes in early like his father and writes down what the daily specials and desserts will be. Meanwhile, Ron is on the phone with local fish suppliers. He'll find out what they have, make an order and usually drive to get it. Today, he's going to pick up Dungeness crab fresh off the boats.
Duarte's is known for specialties like Crab Cioppino, a fish stew, and all sorts of fresh artichoke dishes, especially soup made with lots and lots of artichoke hearts.
"That's the only thing that's totally special about it," says Tim. "Most restaurants won't go through the effort to get all the hearts."
Duarte's is also known for its pies — apple, blueberry, lemon meringue, apricot, peach and even ollalieberry, a cross between a loganberry and a youngberry. The pie tradition started with Ron's mother, Emma Cardoza Duarte, in the 1930s when the bar started serving food. Emma baked pies in the morning, waited tables all day and closed the restaurant at night. She took one day off a week to get her hair done in Santa Cruz.
There's a tribute to Emma Duarte in the restaurant — a framed black-and-white photograph taken in the 1970s. Kathy Duarte, 46, says the photo captures her grandmother perfectly.
"As you can see," Kathy Duarte says, "she's holding a pie and a pen. That tells me they pulled her off the floor for the photo."
Kathy says that's probably why her grandmother looks a little irritated, forcing a smile. She's wearing a classic polyester uniform with an apron over the top. "And I just always remember, every step she took, there were coins jingling in the pockets," Kathy says. "On a busy weekend, they got really full." Kathy often wondered why her grandmother didn't empty her change, so it wouldn't load down her apron so much.
Emma Duarte never wrote down any recipes. She taught her daughter-in-law, Lynn, to make the pies, since Emma was gone one day a week. But most everything else, she kept to herself.
Kathy recalls her grandmother's delicious bleu cheese salad dressing. Once, her grandmother told her there was a secret ingredient. Emma told Kathy, "I made a mistake one day and it tasted so good that I just kept it in there." But Emma wouldn't even tell her granddaughter the secret.
"She knew she had a good thing going," Kathy says. "[She] probably thought she was going to live forever, so didn't pass it on."
A Loyal Following
If Emma was known for her pies and dressings, her son Ron is the one who expanded the menu to include the artichoke dishes and Crab Cioppino. The fish stew is Italian, but Ron adds a Portuguese flair with cumin. And he insists on everything fresh. He has a sizable garden behind the restaurant and grows everything from Swiss chard to cabbage to peas and pumpkins.
But most people come to Duarte's for the ambience as well as the food. With its paneled walls and no-nonsense wooden tables, Duarte's has a homey buzz. It's looked like this for years. When the front door was moved 10 feet to widen the entryway, some loyal customers were furious. They'd been coming here from all over for ages and wanted nothing to change.
"We're 45 minutes away from Silicon Valley, where things just change so quickly," says Kathy Duarte, "and I think they do like that comfort."
Each month, about 13,000 people come to Duarte's for comfort. Some farmers show up every morning for coffee and conversation. It's a kind of "third place" where locals like to gather.
"This is home," says longtime customer Patty Sarabia. "This is where I've been coming for a long time — my family, my grandfather. My brothers and I and my three sons have all spent our 21st birthdays here having our first legal drink." Hers was a screwdriver, Sarabia remembers.
A Fifth-Generation Business?
For 115 years, in the hands of four generations, Duarte's Tavern has been a tradition. Business is good: The restaurant serves some 700 meals a day on weekends. In 2003, it received the James Beard American Classic Award, which honors family-owned restaurants.
But what about the future? Will a fifth generation of Duartes take over? Kathy's son is a real foodie, but "it's a very difficult business to be in," she says. "There's got to be an easier way to make a living."
The Duarte kids — generation five — stop by occasionally after school. They've never worked at the restaurant and their grandparents tease them about that.
"Grandpa will ask us when we're going to start working here," says Nina Jacobsen, Kathy's oldest, who is in college.
Miles, her teenage brother, says, "He's always on my case about that."
And what's the answer? "Not for a long time," Miles and his uncle both say. They all laugh, including Tim's teenage son, Ben, and Grandpa Ron.
Whether the youngest Duartes will take over the restaurant one day is topic of discussion among customers, says Kathy Duarte.
"People want this place to continue on probably forever," she says, "and that involves family members."
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