Bored with retirement, Flavia Ordonez decided it was time to fulfill a dream she and a couple of girlfriends have had for years: run their own restaurant.
Ordonez has enough wits about her to know the restaurant business is hard work but that hasn't stopped the former Pajaro Valley Unified School District educational assistant from throwing herself into renovating the Beach Street Diner, a beloved cafe in Watsonville's food packing district.
She plans to reopen this fall with a trimmed-down menu, cleaner interior and, perhaps, an early supper option for the truckers who load up berries at the Dole facility across the street.
"It's going to be nice once we're done," says Ordonez, who took a break from cleaning on a recent afternoon to sit down in a dark wood chair and talk about her vision for the restaurant.
The building was built in the 1940s. The late Paul Begley and wife Kathy opened the diner in Beach Street Diner in 1979 and operated it until 2006, when they sold it to Breese and Jen White. The restaurant closed in December when the Whites fell on hard times.
Ordonez, 59, grew up working in her family's restaurants, including La Bufa in Santa Rosa. She spent 18 years working for PVUSD, mostly at Pajaro Middle School where she taught cooking classes in the after school program. It was there that Ordonez and some coworkers started dreaming of having their own restaurant.
The friends called themselves "The Golden Girls," a spoof on the TV show long before any of them hit their golden years. Now they have all retired and two—Maria Quintero and Tobi O'Brien—plan to join Ordonez behind the counter at the new Beach Street Diner.
The restaurant had been untouched since it's abrupt closure in December, so Ordonez has been cleaning the old, low-slung building for four weeks with help from The Golden Girls, her husband, sister and nephew.
"I was like 'oh my God, what did I get myself into?'" Ordonez says.
Wearing latex gloves and old work clothes, Ordonez describes gutting the old diner: removing grease, replacing outdated kitchen equipment and deciding what to do with all of the hats.
When the Beach Street Diner was shuttered, the walls are covered with more than 500 sports caps. Ordonez's husband urged her to keep the hats, but some were so dusty and grimy, she worried about rehanging them. Instead of plastering the walls, some hats will be displayed above the door to the kitchen. But the bulk of the ball caps will have their emblems cut off and sewn into collages that will be preserved under glass tabletops in the restaurant.
Ordonez has painted the walls apricot and a butter cream yellow, creating rich, warm feeling in the narrow restaurant. The original white eyelet curtains are still on the windows.
"I want to open it because I want people to come back," says Ordonez. She waves her arms in a circle and says "this is my community."
Truckers still stop in hoping for a cup of coffee and a hot meal. Ordonez hates turning them away. She's excited to serve them her grandmother's chorizo and favorite family recipes like an avocado omelet and huevos rancheros.
"We want to make everything from scratch," she says.
Ordonez says she wants people to feel welcome. The aim is to open sometime in October. Until they open, the landlord is not charging rent so Ordonez and crew can dedicate themselves completely to the rennovations.
"I want to see what this is like when it's all done," she says. "I hope it's happy."
The Beach Street Diner is at 435 Beach St. The hours and the phone number will be the same once the diner reopens: Monday through Saturday 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; (831) 761-0544.