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.