Seafood lovers take note: Crab Cakes, one of the Mountain Area's most well-known restaurants for the past 14 years, will close its doors Sept. 22 -- But unlike some restaurants that have shut down permanently in recent years, Crab Cakes' closure is only temporary as Roman and Laura Zabicki will open their new restaurant on or about Oct. 1.
Located across Highway 41, 300 yards from the current location behind Subway Sandwiches, the restaurant will relocate to the building previously occupied by Casa Velasco Mexican Restaurant in the Victorian Village behind Century 21 - Ditton Realty.
The move will double the size of their space and dining room seating will increase 60% to 150. The new location will offer a full service bar upstairs, which will open in January, and considerably more parking.
The Zabicki's opened Crab Cakes and "Sweet Dreams" on Dec. 14, 1998. The cakery will also make the move, although that transition may not be complete for several more months.
"We want the new restaurant to have the feel of Crab Cakes," Roman said. "We will attempt to duplicate the current ambience with our New England nautical decor, including many artifacts and boats that our guests have donated throughout the years. We're also moving our 240-gallon fish tank with the expertise of Steve's Tropical Fish."
Roman and Laura say they have always loved dealing with people and feel running the restaurant is like welcoming people into their home.
"I've always enjoyed being in the dining room, touching tables and talking with our guests."
Roman remembers when the restaurant first opened, he made a reservation for a couple celebrating their first anniversary.
"I had a small bus group coming in and I had to make the decision to seat them near the bus group or by a family of five with a screaming child," Roman said. "The bus group was very loud and I could tell the couple was not happy. After their dinner, we brought out a small cake and sang happy anniversary to them and the bus tour guide comes over to the table with twin brothers from the tour group. The brothers sing a beautiful love ballad in perfect harmony. You could hear a pin drop in the restaurant. That's when I knew for sure why I am in this business. I have since seen the couple and they still talk about that night 14 years ago when the twin brothers sang to them."
Roman said that he and Laura have come to realize they don't have as many customers as they do friends.
"We have been witness to so many special occasions such as engagements, weddings, anniversaries, births of a child, and yes, sharing the loss of a loved one with us," Roman said.
Roman says the menu will remain the same featuring 15 appetizers, nearly 40 entrees, eight salads and Laura's "to die for" desserts.
The restaurant's signature dish is, what else, crab cakes, as an appetizer or an entree.
Other menu favorites include Mountain Style Cioppino with snow crab, clams, mussels and salmon simmered in Marinara sauce and the Nantucket dinner for two that is a bucket full of clams, mussels, snow crab and a quarter pound Maine lobster, served with red potatoes and green beans.
And you can't have a seafood restaurant without New England Clam Chowder, and Roman's secret recipe combines plenty of heavy cream, an abundance of chopped clams and potatoes.
For the first time in 14 years, the restaurant will be open seven days a week after the move.
Laura and her bakery staff have made thousands of mouth-watering wedding, anniversary and birthday cakes over the past 20 years including favorites vanilla or chocolate toffee cream, strawberry or raspberry cream, or the most popular wedding cake of all, the Supreme Cake with two layers of vanilla cake, two layers of chocolate mousse, two layers of seedless raspberry filling with a center layer of cheesecake.
"We are very thankful for the support we have received over the years, especially considering the parking challenges we had," Roman said. "We are looking forward to providing the same quality food and service to our friends and neighbors that we have been providing the past 14 years."
A little history
Roman's first introduction to the food industry was at the age of 16 when he got a job with a small catering company in Detroit, Mich., followed by busing tables at the Moose Lodge in Dearborn a year later.
He attended college and after changing his major "a few times," he dropped out and went back to the busing job, this time for a five star restaurant at the Pontchatrain Hotel in downtown Detroit. One promotion lead to another, and he eventually became the restaurant manager at 21 -- He has been in the business ever since.
In 1981, Roman was hired to open and manage Galligan's, a new downtown Detroit eatery. In walked Laura Walbridge applying for a job. She was hired -- they worked together -- fell in love and were married in 1984
Roman and Laura and their two small boys, Andrzej and Danny, moved to Bass Lake from San Diego in January 1992 when Roman accepted the position of food & beverage director at The Pines Resort. Roman said he was sold on the rural "quality of life" atmosphere of the Mountain Area by then Pines Vice President Steve Welch.
"In addition to my salary, we were offered a house to live in at the Pines," Roman said. "I remember standing in the house looking out the living room window at my wife and children who were waiting in the car, when a big buck came out of the bushes and ran across the front of the car to my families delight. It was then I turned to Steve and said 'OK, who cued the deer ... and where do I sign.'"
After five years at the Pines, he took the director of food and beverage position at Tenaya Lodge, a job he had for two years years.
Prior to the family move, Roman was a regional food & beverage director for a hotel investment company and Laura was a food quality control specialist for the San Diego School District.
Although Laura did some baking while in San Diego, she got serious about it after the move from San Diego and opened her business, "Sweet Dreams Cakery" in 1994. After testing recipes at home she leased space at Ducey's Restaurant for a year and then leased space from the Elks Lodge for two years.
When Roman left Tenaya, he and Laura decided they did not want to leave the Mountain Area and started investigating the idea of opening their own restaurant. Their 'sweet' dream was to open a family style seafood restaurant and cakery. The name of the new restaurant was "Crab Cakes," combining the seafood favorite and Laura's cakes.
Roman remembers going to the bank to set up his accounts when the teller, Judy Waller, asked him if he was the guy that was going to open a seafood restaurant in town.
"She told me she had her mother's recipe for crab cakes and I told her I would be happy to try it out," Roman said. "We tried it and liked it. Right after opening, Grandma Marie, who at he time was 92, visited the restaurant, ordered the crab cakes and gave me the 'thumbs up.' We have been using the same recipe ever since."
Since the opening of Crab Cakes Restaurant and Sweet Dreams Cakery, the couple have introduced Yosemite Catering and Sweet Dreams Wedding Flowers to their business portfolio.
The Zabicki's are also known in the community for their generosity for assisting and organizations with their fundraising efforts and their continued support of Relay for Life.
After their 15-year-old son Danny was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2007, family friends started the Danny Zabicki Medical Fund to help with expenses.
After loosing Danny in October 2008, Roman and Laura decided to continue the fund, changing the name to the Danny Zabicki Memorial Fund, to help raise money for other families in the Mountain Area dealing with childhood illnesses.
Four "Dannypaloozas" were held at the Oakhurst Community Center featuring bands, food, carnival games, raffle prizes and Dannypalooza t-shirts.
More than $20,000 was raised for the memorial fund and about 15 to 20 families with sick children have benefitted from the fund.
In addition, the family has awarded more than 50 scholarships totaling more than $10,000 to Yosemite and Evergreen High Schools' graduating seniors the past four years.