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Family-owned Crest Cafe takes comfort food to the next level

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Cecelia Moreno is the owner of Crest Cafe in Hillcrest.

Q: Crest Cafe has been in your family for 30 years. How does running a family business differ from others in the restaurant industry? How do you turn "family-owned" into an asset rather than a perception of being small or limited?

A: Working with family members (father, daughter, cousin) is an asset and quite prevalent in our industry. What better way to continued success than learning from observing a strong work ethic since childhood? Being a family-owned and operated business personalizes the dining experience, which allows us to do more for our guests by catering to each customer's needs without the red tape of a corporate business. Being small and nimble should never be equated with limited; it is actually empowering. We provide our guests with one of the most extensive, creative menus found in the greater San Diego area, a menu that we serve at all times of the day along with daily specials. The fact that my 80-year-old father taught me and continues to teach me makes me feel incredibly lucky and blessed.

Q: "Comfort food" hit its stride a few years ago as many restaurants touted this as a new genre of simple, homemade dishes. What is your take on this trend, and where will it be going, if it is a trend?

A: We strive to use local producers and distributors every chance we get. What makes our restaurant and the concept of comfort food thrive is the promise to not only support local businesses, but to cook the items to order using only the freshest ingredients. We make almost everything on the menu from scratch, which really just adds to that home-cooked comfort that our guests seek. We really view it as an honest way to serve food, when what's listed on the menu is the only thing you will find in the dish. We also steer clear of processed foods, which adds to the overall health of our menu.

Q: You stay open until midnight daily. How do you manage operations to keep the restaurant fresh and motivated?

A: You hire carefully. Our employees make all the difference, and we credit them with our continued success. We are also located in the finest neighborhood in San Diego. That in itself makes every day at the Crest Cafe a new and exciting experience. What keeps us continually motivated is our guests, many of whom have been making regular appearances since the day we opened. As far as keeping it fresh, that's what we do. Our Crest Cafe mantra is "We Serve Your Mood" from 7 a.m. to midnight, and we are committed to providing our guests with comfort and consistency.

Q: Hillcrest has changed remarkably in the last three decades. What is your opinion about the restaurant community and the community at large in its current state? Where is it going?

A: We are located in the dining mecca of San Diego. Hillcrest has not only survived but also thrived through one of the toughest times that we have seen in the last three decades. This is due in large part because Hillcrest is a community of caring citizen involvement. The Hillcrest Business Association has given me the distinct pleasure to be a part of a team who pushes this community to continually strive to better itself. Although it is unfortunate that some businesses are not making it in this economy, the HBA works incredibly hard to promote and secure new and exciting business concepts for this community.

Q: What are the plans in 2013 for the Crest Cafe?

A: We have so much planned for this special year here at the Crest Cafe, which first began with our new mural commemorating our anniversary. Beyond a special community celebration that we will look forward to hosting this spring, we look forward to continue being a part of future community events and celebrations and doing what we have done best for 30 years now ó serving the community in which we were raised and have loved all our lives.

In response to customer requests after changing its menu last summer, Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill recently announced plans to bring back its original menu.

"We knew how passionate our diners were about Sammy's, but after the overwhelming response we realized this and the importance of returning to our core business even more. This is especially true as we continue our growth into 2013," said Nicole Abraham, vice president of marketing.

Cups, an organic "cupcakery" and teaching kitchen in La Jolla, is offering cooking classes taught by local restaurateurs and artisans. The first class, "Everyday Peruvian," takes place on Jan. 17 and will be taught by Monica Szepesy of Q'ero in Encinitas. The $85 per person fee includes a full meal.

For a full class schedule, visit cupslj.com


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