Local Restaurant Owners do Their Part for Families
By Suki Wessling
When your family is welcomed into a restaurant by the staff, that doesn’t happen by accident. According to the managers of local restaurant mentioned by parents as particularly great with kids, there are simple things that let families know that kids are welcome.
“I’m a relatively new parent, I have a 17-month-old, and I know the challenges firsthand of dining out with a kid,” says Yogi Shapiro, manager of Dharma’s in Capitola. “I can see now why having something as simple as a toy, a plastic dinosaur, actually helps. It keeps them focused.”
Parents mention that Dharma’s is a great place to bring kids, with a solid kids’ menu featuring mostly house-made items. Pretty much everyone also mentioned the bin of dinosaurs that their kids love, and the family atmosphere.
“I think it’s just a vibe—people expect there to be kids,” Shapiro explains. “You might go dining someplace and if a kid yells people frown, but it’s different here.
“We always welcome families to our restaurant,” says Bob Denning, chef and manager of Surfrider in Santa Cruz. “As owners and managers we know that sometimes going out with kids can be fine, and sometimes they just want to eat.”
Parents mention the simple kindness of offering Goldfish to the kids while they wait for their food. The restaurant also provides a kids’ menu with crayons to keep the kids busy.
“We have a unique kids’ menu that has a lot of options,” Denning explains. “One of the options that we have on our menu that I’ve never seen anywhere else is organic juice boxes instead of sodas.”
Another brainstorm was to repurpose an adult item as something special to kids.
“We bake our own sourdough buns here for our hamburgers, so one of the options on the kids’ menu is clam chowder in a bread bowl. When we put it on the menu, we were like, we’ll see. It’s crazy, we sell a lot of them.”
Sometimes restaurant owners score big on location when it comes to families, and in that regard, Ella’s at the Airport in Watsonville can’t be beat.
“We’re right there on the tarmac so we have planes flying in and kids just loving it,” says Ella King, the owner and mom of four. “There’s a great grassy area right off of our patio dining room. There’s a great atmosphere for kids, because there aren’t cars rushing by.”
But King says that Ella’s doesn’t just depend on serendipity—they pay close attention to what their adult customers want, and figure they want it for their kids, too.
“Our full concept—we make everything from scratch—also flows into our kids’ menu,” she explains. “We make all our kids’ food from scratch as well. We make chicken fingers and roast them in the moment. Nothing is processed. Our spaghetti and meatballs—we’re taking grass-fed beef and putting it in there.”
King points out something that some restaurateurs seem to forget when designing their kids’ menus. “We believe you need to take that concept of what you believe in and not stop at kids.”
At Santa Cruz’s favorite restaurants for families, from humble to fancy, what appeals to parents is a welcoming atmosphere, a focus on serving kids’ needs, and—let’s not forget— great food. Bon appetit!
Suki Wessling is a local writer and the mother of teens who usually behave themselves in restaurants. Read more at www.SukiWessling.com