Los Gatos Cafe Update

Los Gatos Cafe upgrades its image, keeps its good food.

Emily Hall, a Los Gatos Cafe waitress for the past 11/2 years, serves breakfast to Mary Eros (left), Liliana Wolpern (second from left) and Elizabeth Wolpern (far right). Photo by Paul Myers

Emily Hall, a Los Gatos Cafe waitress for the past 11/2 years, serves breakfast to Mary Eros (left), Liliana Wolpern (second from left) and Elizabeth Wolpern (far right). Photo by Paul Myers

It’s not finished yet, but the Los Gatos Cafe is already looking refreshed. New beige paint, oatmeal tiles, raspberry upholstery, window shades, chairs and a counter give the N. Santa Cruz Avenue breakfast and lunch bistro a warmer look. Gone are the art deco “buttons” on the wall in the decor style popular in the 1980s, when partners Robert Morcate and Dean Reno took over the cafe.

With some design advice from Cheryl Ward of nearby Cheryl’s Little Kitchen, Morcate and Reno closed the place for three days while they painted and hammered in the hands-on style typical of their management. “Our dads taught us,” Morcate observes, reflecting on his friendship with Reno. Their relationship started in kindergarten when the two lived three houses apart in San Jose.

From the look of the waiting crowd, which numbers up to 50 at a time on weekends, the break in routine had little effect on business. Morcate says they don’t keep patrons waiting much more than 30 minutes. A complimentary cup of coffee to go with the morning paper seems to aid their patience.

“We’d love to expand, but it’s impossible,” he says, referring to the lack of space in town. Morcate has even considered a small area out back for expansion, “but then there’s no place for our garbage cans,” he says. Instead, they’ve added six tables for two in front, sheltered by an umbrella and warmed by a heater. “It’s been the greatest thing,” he says. “People passing see our strawberry shortcake or one of our specials, and the presentation is so nice, they come in.”

The staff of 15, including Reno and five others who do the cooking, serve up to 500 breakfasts per weekend. Morcate “floats,” doing what has to be done, including cooking and taking employment applications. He’s noticed a big jump in job-seekers since the local economy took a tumble.

Similar to a trend he noticed in the early ’80s when “all waiters were engineers,” applicants now are Silicon Valley refugees. The change in the economy has no effect on him, however. “My staff stays,” he notes. “We are a value business with good prices and won’t feel [an economic down-turn] until just before McDonald’s does.”

A list of four or five breakfast and lunch specials from among “hundreds of items” changes every day, with a price of around $6.50. The extensive menu changes. But the signature soufflé omelettes remain consistent, with Reno and Morcate training cooks to their standards in the Los Gatos Cafe style–whipped eggs cooked in a sauté pan and allowed to rise with the edges folded into the center and melted cheese over the top as a “finish.”

French toast is thick-cut and sugar-powdered. Home fries are sliced large and seasoned with generous helpings of onions and green peppers. Grits are an alternative.

Each day begins for Morcate after a 10-minute commute from his San Jose home. The first order of his routine is to get the potatoes boiling in the 50-pound pots. Then the 6 a.m. early-risers begin to stream in.

The routine has not been too different since both Morcate and Reno started as busboys when they were 14. They worked separately and together in various restaurants in San Jose until Morcate, in 1988, was asked to open the Cafe, formerly known for 15 years as the Broken Egg, for then-owners Dino and Mary Masouris.

He managed the place until he bought the restaurant with Reno a few months later. Their families remain close, with Reno’s 4-year-old, Sam, and Morcate’s 4-year-old, Robert, good buddies like their dads.

340 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, 408.354.4647

This article was originally published in the November 28, 2001 issue of the Los Gatos Weekly-Times. Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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