How Crazy is it to Open Restaurants During Covid?
By Suki Wessling
What do you do if you just bought a cafe and Covid hits? If you’re a member of the Santa Cruz multi-generational Whiting family, you roll with the punches.
“We took a wild guess that [outdoor eating] was going to be the near future with all the Covid stuff,” explains Dave Whiting, 61, of Santa Cruz. He’s the co-owner of The Farm Bakery and Cafe and owner of the Pixie Deli, both in Aptos.
Starting when takeout was the only option restaurants had, the Farm–situated near Cabrillo College– was transformed from a bustling indoor cafe and bakery with a few tables outdoors to an inviting open-air environment—all in the hopes that they would eventually be able to serve customers.
The customers are coming back, just as they have for generations of Whiting establishments.
Grandfathered in on the Boardwalk
Dave is one of eight children whose grandfather owned the venerable Whiting’s Foods on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Starting in 1953 with ice cream stands, Dave’s grandfather built Whiting’s foods from the ground up—and expected everyone in the family to chip in. Dave’s dad brought the same ethos to his own family, with the large family’s children working in the business anytime they were needed—and they were often needed.
“Working at a family business, there is a different level of expectation of you,” Dave says. “When you’re sick or you’ve got other things to do but you’re scheduled to be at work, you’re at work. It really gives you a real sense of what work ethic means. You don’t work to five o’clock—you work till you get the job done.”
Going his own way
Unlike two of his siblings, Dave didn’t continue in the family business. He went off and worked in food service distribution while raising a family in Santa Cruz. His children grown and pursuing their own careers, he started looking for a new challenge.
The Pixie Deli, a 50-year-old storefront on Rio del Mar Beach, came up for sale in need of some TLC. Before the pandemic was even imagined by most of us, Dave spruced up the space which had become less deli and more beachside convenience store. He upgraded the interior, patio seating, and menu.
Soon after, he saw that the Farm Bakery and Cafe had come up for sale. Comfortable with family enterprises, he approached his daughter Megan, 35, who was working as an EMT, and her husband Rolo with the idea of joining as co-owners.
Family means knowing when to step in…and step out
“Working at a family business has so many upsides, the sense of community and purpose in what you’re doing,” Dave explains. “Also you live with each other, work with each other, so you can rub on each other. You can learn to work through that stuff.”
Well aware of how not to set up tension with his daughter, Dave says that his vision from the start was to offer them the freedom to put their own stamp on the venture.
“It’s mentoring, it’s teaching, it’s letting them do their own thing and hit home runs or make mistakes,” Dave explains. “You’re just keeping an eye on everything to make sure things don’t blow up. I’m the day-to-day operator of the Pixie, but at the Farm there’s a lot of their character and their touch and their culture.”
Thriving on the beach
Dave points out that running a newly purchased business during a pandemic—and a new career for his daughter—though she, too, worked at Whiting’s as a teen—is hit and miss.
“I wish I could tell you it was very thought up, but it was like, let’s cover this up and put some heaters in. It was a matter of survival!”
The two businesses, though, are thriving in this difficult environment. Patrons love the airy, enclosed outdoor seating at the Farm and often choose it over the interior now that they have a choice. Dave can usually be found at the Pixie, running food out to customers on the patio, working hard to keep that Beach Boys vibe alive.
Learn more about the Pixie Deli at PixieGoodEats.com, the Farm at TheFarmBakery.com, and Whiting’s Foods at WhitingsFoods.com.
Send your nominations for businesses that have turned the corner after Covid, or managed to thrive through it, to [email protected]
Suki Wessling is a local writer, teacher, KSQD radio host, and musician. Read more and connect at www.SukiWessling.com.