Paradise Beach Grille’s 10-year Love Affair With Tropical Island Flair Pays Off
Written by Karen Petersen
Santa Cruz Good Times
Wednesday, 30 April 2008
It’s been a decade since Paradise Beach Grille first opened its French doors onto the Capitola Esplanade. Each morning, Executive Chef Stephen Hanecak leaves the home he shares with his wife Jenna, 6-year old son Maverick and 3-year old daughter Makenna. He enjoys a leisurely five-minute walk along the beach to the restaurant he helped launch.
In these 10 years, thanks to food television, diners’ expectations have escalated.
“They become more intelligent,” Stephen says, “and more in touch with food and styles. It really raises the bar for what chefs have to do to stay in the limelight.”
Stephen describes his style as “Ingredient-driven California Fusion.”
“I call around and I’m looking for the freshest ingredients,” he explains. “Get ’em all together and kind of like, what can I make out of this? I never, ever have to be confined by boundaries of recipes or anyone else’s ideas.”
Stephen won bake-off contests as a child, and by 16, was making four soups a day at a large Walnut Creek restaurant. He visited Argentina to learn about meat, and European cities to investigate the backbone of cuisine. But what really excited him was the freshness of island food, which he showcases in creations such as Hawaiian Crispy Ahi Medallions.
To support the 74-item menu, Honolulu Fish Company calls to describe the day’s sustainable catch, and ships it overnight. The Creekstone Farms Angus beef is raised without drugs or hormones. Stephen’s favorite food is whatever he’s creating next.
“Cause that’s when I get, you know, the chills,” he says. “I love to talk to people and get them excited about what I’m doing.”
His typical Friday lasts 16 hours, when he trains the kitchen staff for the week’s lunch and dinner specials. He also leads all 75 employees as general manager, which streamlines decision-making and implementation, and enhances communication between kitchen and restaurant staff. His philosophy echoes that of many great leaders.
“People are the most important asset,” he says. “I put it above food and drinks. Every single person is part of a very important team. Everyone works together as an equal.”
Only 10 percent of restaurants survive five years, so this anniversary warrants a year-long celebration. Look for luaus and beach party menus, with live music weekends beginning Memorial Day.
Stephen feels lucky to have owners (Gary and Leslie Wetsel, and Bob and Carol Coe) who encourage time off to recharge. Between the demands of work and a special-needs child, (Maverick has autism), the family is taking its first vacation in six years.
“I had to reassess my life,” he admits. “Make sure that I really take care of home as well as work. And part of taking care of home also means taking care of myself.”
Now Stephen meditates each morning to remove any creativity-blocking negativity. At night, he plays with the kids and winds down with his guitar or stained glass projects.
In spite of his long workweek, Stephen encourages people to follow their heart.
“If you love it, it never feels like work,” he says. “For me, I don’t go home feeling sad, mad or bad about what I was doin’. What can I do to win the day tomorrow? And with that attitude, I’ve never really had a bad day.”
Yes, another day in paradise.