Monday, October 16, 2006

My Old stomping grounds, The Chez Moustache Restaurant

Chez Moustache Restaurant, An eclectic little European dining experience in a historic little town south of Portland, Oregon.

This was My favorite job of all times, I think, I met so many nice people and had such rich experiences working there,and learned to cook many foods that I enjoy cooking today. This is how small this world really is, there are people from that era that I still know today and we hug and reminise about the Gene era like it was yesterday.
It was hectic most of the time, but time flew and rarely did I leave work with a bad attitude. Usually I left with something to share about my lunch and Dinner shift that was funny or entertaining. I wish that I had a blog back then.

This is an entry in memory and in honor of my past employer and the way things are today, sort of a past and present.

The day before yesterday I drove into this small Antique town of Aurora, Oregon and decided to visit my place of former employment just for old time sake. It was an old quaint house with a barn peaked roof and a sun porch facing the road and a big sign on the roof saying Chez Moustache plenty of character, 3 main dining rooms, a bar for reservations and the occasional visit with the Chef, slightly crooked floors from age and The most delicious smells imaginable coming from the kitchen which you looked into upon walking in the door. Along with our smiling faces waiting to serve you lunch or dinner.

First, I parked across the street to snap a few photos, Then I thought of so many days of pulling up and frantically trying to be early enough to get all my work done before people started arriving. For me that was positioning tables for parties and making sure all the side work was done, turning on the music if it was not already on, to make it a smooth sailing afternoon and Evening. The more I got done then the less we all had to do when we were packed with people. The idea was to appear less frantic and well prepared.

I would arrive and Chef Gene Kretz my employer and friend would be standing in his white shirt and white half apron and dark pants at the kitchen door and he'd usually have his arms crossed or be toweling his hands and say something like "What took you so long to get here?" (Even though I was early} Or he'd try to shake me with you'd better hurry up and get ready you got a party of 35 when the door opens, Of course I'd run to my reservations book and look and breath a sigh of relief that it wasn't true (but you really never knew what he'd scheduled while you were not there)and he'd just get a little laugh out of it and some satisfaction of getting you and turn around and go back to work. That's the way he was. We knew and loved him for it though.

I knew he was fond of me and it was going to be a good night by the way it started each day. We got along well, Me being Norwegian and him being Swiss, he loved to tease and joke and I was a good sport but he never knew if I'd get even and I always made him question that.

He was known for having a few nips and sometimes over scheduling us, BUT he knew what we were capable of and sometimes pushed us all a little but it always worked out somehow and people went away never knowing any different. The quality of the food was always superior and the service was always our first priority. We worked as a team, and yes, tips mattered but the customers needs mattered more always.

See, Gene was a Swiss Chef like no other in my book and his restaurant was like no other either. He had such dedication to his craft and his business and people from miles around and even many from other continents that loved his cooking. We sometimes would serve up to 130-140 people on a dinner shift, but most nights it was around 90-120. At lunches sometimes we'd pack in even more. Business lunches and call in orders were common.

I juggled the reservations Therefore I knew many people by name and recognized many people by voice which a few called me on it from time to time saying over the phone you know who this is right? Most of the time I did but, sometimes I'd have to say give me a hint or listen to then talk a little longer and then I'd recall their name I even sometimes recalled their phone number before they could tell me it and I Impressed them totally. People liked to be remembered like this and my reward was we had customers who would bring roses or candy or just a big smile or hug almost everytime they came in.
Goodtimes...We never forget people who treat us good, do we?

We used to entertain other Chefs like Horst Mager owner of Gustov's and The Rheinlander and many special friends from all walks of life and their families and friends too, in a closed door dinner, He provided for place for them to have a day off and have good food too and for them to enjoy and not have to cook it.

These parties sometimes were got wild and really fun, dinners usually but, not always served in a family style but with soup, salad and maybe two different entrees and one or two fabulous desserts.

Gene also made homemade Ice cream from fresh strawberries or fresh peach Ice cream and a special drizzled sauce or grand mariner liquor over the top. Yummmm.

So I go inside, after many years of my absence and I see the same old bar that greeted everyone upon entering I see antique clutter and barely a space for the new owner to peek thru, It was surreal like walking back into a past Cheers episode but different, the same stools but much more cluttered than I ever remember it. Just lots of stuff but still room for my memories.

See after Gene and his wife Barbara's Divorce it was ran for a while by Barbara and her new husband also a Chef and then after a period of time, sold. It was never the same.

Mean while Gene re-grouped and had a business in Donald, Oregon for a while before eventually passing away far too soon sadly. His Birthday was August 16th and it still never passes without a wonderful memory of him and his parties.

It had been awhile since I'd been by the place and the Chez Moustache sign from the roof was gone and along with it probably many peoples recollections of the place. That's so sad.

Now all that remains of this special place is one booth and the house itself and the bar. New owners of 6 years I guess now have an Antique shop and little restaurant with breakfast and lunch items on the menu and it's positioned on the sun porch as we used to call it.

They have all booths and no quaint little tables with red Pleather table cloths and fan folded napkins and nice wine glasses on the tables, No candles for atmosphere and No special booth known as the Chefs table in the main dining area for customers to reserve as a special place for a special day or night.

I found myself feeling like it was sweet sorrow and yet realizing that time stands still for nobody. I kept thinking as walked through this establishment that Gene was finally getting a rest and felt him walking with me remembering too, I almost could hear the Swiss polka music and smell the wonderful aromas making their ways into the dining rooms.

I know this was not what he would have envisioned for this place. It was so different and yet I can see how it was working for the new proprietor. Those walls have so many stories to tell.

The owner of the place knew of Gene and his fine restaurant but I could tell was very busy trying to be different and run a very different ship.

"If I were Queen it would all be different."
Although nobody could fill the shoes of the famed Swiss Chef and nobody could make his prized salad dressing with it's secret ingredients or his many great dishes, It still could be a quaint little restaurant with good service that the town once knew and I'm sure misses so much and me too!

But for now, its an Antique shop called ironically enough "Remember when Antiques" with Breakfast and Lunch, Expresso Coffee, and Ice Cream.

...and with that I salute my past employer and friend Gene Kretz. Thanks for the life lessons and the memories.

14 Left A Love Note :):

Jeannie said...

You have better memories of restaurant days than I do! I have yet to set foot in either place I worked at so many years ago. I suppose they have also been taken over by new owners.
They say you can't go home and in this case I guess they're right.

JKM said...

Hi. I was talking to my friend today and reminiscing this very thing. Glad I found this post. I don't know if the original poster of this blog is one I know personally, but it's possible.

I was the Chef that followed Gene in ownership with Barb. Gene taught me a lot about many things, as I had worked under him as his Sous Chef a few years prior. It was hard to fill those shoes, as I was in a full time job elsewhere when the call came from Barb saying Gene was not going to continue the Chez. I took the challenge, and tried to recreate from memory a few things from the regular menu to get things back on track. I worked both jobs for several months, did a lot of research and we got it going again pretty well. The 8 years we (Barb and I) had it were pretty good, with many regulars from the past still keeping us busy. Wonderful staff members kept the clients happy, I got to be a bit creative yet keep the classics Gene was known for, and it was hard work, but surely a life point that is hard to forget.

When we decided it was time to move on, it was hard. The economy had started to be a burden, and running a restaurant is not a big money maker on this level anyway.

Another couple bought the place from us and ran it for a while, still as the Chez, but it just eventually became a bigger burden. The building is very old, and the infrastructure is not conducive to a dining establishment, still being on septic.

Memories of this whole time are aplenty, and it was a great experience for me too. I also have passed by it several times, a couple times peeking in to see and reflect.

The old red reservation book....the wonderful coffee grinder, and the random recipe books with one that had the simple PBJ listed among them. The clank of the ice scoop hitting the side of the bin....and the ding of the bell.
I still have framed reviews, and one funky poster we found tucked under the shingles of the roof when we had it redone (it was a poster from an Air Show in Salem back in 1939). A few left over gift certificates, and things like that.

We lived upstairs during our time, and thus it was truly our home.
Yes, bittersweet.

Suffice to say, it was an experience, and now a memory. Thanks for posting this.


Anonymous said...

So we're very interested...did the dressing recipe go with Gene? Does anyone have a guess at it?

Sweeti said...

I personally don't know it...He would make it before anyone came in to work. It was his "secret" recipe.
I'd love to be privy to it also, it was soooooo good!

Renee Bellinger said...

What fun to find this blog online -- over the years I've fondly thought about Gene, Barb, JKM, and all the other wonderful staff at the Chez. I worked there while I was in high school, starting as a dishwasher and then working as a hostess. I can still taste the salad, cold cucumber soup, and the fettucine with ham, emmental cheese and stewed tomatoes. Today, as I was preparing a large dinner, I wondered just how those wonderful caramelized green beans were prepared. This led me to googling the Chez and finding this blog. Thanks for the trip down memory lane... and, I do wonder, as I'm sure many others do, are there any recipes out there? Gene had his cooking school and I wish I had attended when the chance was available.

TERI said...

Hi Sweeti, not sure if we worked together or not. I had the honor of working with Gene and barb from 1981-83. during that time our hosue burned down and we had no insurance but did have 3 small children. Gene and Barb changed our lives in more ways than one. Gene did a benefit dinner for us that lasted 3 days. He and Barb donated all the food and sent out messages to his connections (he had many) He raised the $ that paid for the foundation on our new home. Our home burnt in March and Barb made Easter happen for our children the year. I have pictures of the dinner
and that was in 1983. My husband bussed, Liane Wheeler and and others waited tables for us. I was looking for Gene's salad dressing recipe and fortunately found your post. Early next year My husband and I will have a benefit dinner in our home for our niece who is taking a college missions trip to Uganda's children. She is attending ORU. I will be dedicating the dinner to Gene Kretz as everything that is done in our home is owed in part to home. i will have 'Crew Chow' and do the cooking on my professional home stove that I would only have known about through Gene.
I too think of that job as the favorite one of my life. I met Mr Z who lived in Charbenesu, he was the nicest man and the concentration camp tattoo was still darkly inked on his wrist. The Blackledge's who got the front booth reserved for them. Joe and Lily Fleischman who made the fresh bread rolls back then and only left that to do full time their winery business. The Abbots were regulars too. Once, Gene had a food club reserve his special talents-it cost about $300 a person back then. He had special things flown in from Europe and 100 year old Port (nasty stuff) one of the couples didn't make it and since Gary and I had reserved a tables for our anniversary,Gene served us the 8 course meal sans the wines for the price of his signature fettuccine. I remember crab stuffed puff pastry and hazel nut chocolate dessert-melt in your mouth is not high enough praise. He taught me many things without trying, one was that he didn't need to advertise. He said if the food was good, customers would share, and if it wasn't, no amount of advertising would help. He was spot on. Thank you for sharing, it was delightful to read.-Teri Halverson

Sweeti said...

Hi Teri, I do remember meeting you, although my time there was the later part of the 80's. What a great memory you also have of your time there too. We're really lucky to have been blessed with these people crossing our paths.
...and Liane too...Love her! Kathleen was fun too.
Gene was so incredible in his madly driven ways, and his generosity was so admirable. You couldn't help but love him. He taught me lots too, I miss them days.

I see we live about 2 miles from eachother. We'll have to meet for lunch or something sometime after the holidays.


this is great to find this blog, I was thinking of Chef Kretz after the family of Neil Armstrong found some old memorabilia. Kretz said he helped make the food for the apollo flights and I have always wondered if that was true? I took his soups and stocks class IDK like 1991? He was such a character, it was hard to understand it when he'd call my name, but after yelling at me a lot I new love me! LOL I am not sure if this was the same restaurant that visited after he left WCI, his partner was a fellow student named Jay-?


I went to WCI in about 1992? just did the first 6 months but Chef Kretz was my favorite! He'd try so hard to scare ya but, he loved me, though he couldn't say my name very well! lol He said that he had helped design the menu for the apollo flight/s? after the news just reported that they found some old items of Armstrongs made me think of old Kretz. I went to a restaurant years ago he owned with a Jay? that I was in school with-can't remember his last name

Sweeti said...

I'm positive that he was the one that did help design the menus. He did so many things in his life. It was so fun to listen to him tell his Chef experiences...You just can't make all that stuff up. He was amazing. Did you learn his salad dressing recipe? if so please share!

Renee Bellinger said...

Ha Sweeti, I too am still looking for the salad dressing recipe -- that was the best!

Anonymous said...

I have a craving for the Hazelnut chicken breast and wonderful homemade pasta. My regular item when I dined there when ever I got a chance.

Sweeti said...

My favorite was his halibut grilled and laid on on a browned butter sauce with homemade pasta with sauteed asparagus.

Sweeti said...

My favorite was his halibut grilled and laid on on a browned butter sauce with homemade pasta with sauteed asparagus.