Thursday (Sept. 29) will be an emotional day for Roman and Laura Zabicki - the last day of ownership of Crab Cakes Family Restaurant - ending their successful 18-year reign over one of the Mountain Area’s most popular dining establishments.
The new owners of the restaurant, bar and catering service, as of Oct. 1, are Ray and Jennifer Newman, of Mariposa. Crab Cakes will be closed for about a week during the transition.
The couple will continue to own and operate the Charles Street Dinner House in Mariposa, where they have served hand cut steaks, fresh seafood, fresh pasta dishes and their signature honey barbecue baby back ribs. The restaurant has won the “Best Sunday Brunch” in Mariposa County award the past two years.
Both Ray and Jennifer, high school sweethearts who were married at Cathedral Beach in Yosemite in 2012, were raised in Mariposa where Ray was first introduced to Charles Street when he was in kindergarten. His mother was a prep cook there and between kindergarten and third grade, he would walk to the restaurant after school to scrub potatoes.
“I also worked there for two years when I was in high school and it was there that my passion for cooking was born,” Ray said.
Jennifer received her degree in anthropology from UC Davis and Ray graduated from culinary school in 2007, becoming the sous chef at Bistro 33 in Davis at the age of 19. He also worked as the sous chef at a country club for two years before moving back to Mariposa in 2011.
The ‘new’ Crab Cakes will continue to offer many current favorites, but some new menu choices will include filet mignon, a nine-ounce lobster tail dinner for two, and a variety of certified Angus beef steaks.
“A menu to me is not a permanent document, but a fluid representation of the culinary desires of our customers,” Ray explained. “If you want me to cook you something special or make sure I have it on hand for the next time you come, I’d love to do that. My passion for food is more of a passion for wowing my guests, and the taste buds are the best way to do that. Whether you are looking for a filling meal after a long day hiking in Yosemite, a nice dinner to celebrate an anniversary, or just a casual meal with good friends and great food, Crab Cakes will be the place to go. The Mountain Area can expect to be wowed with every bite. Our commitment to fresh ingredients, talented cooks, caring servers, and a passion for quality all add up to a great dining experience. We will also be working with Beverage Director & Bar Manager Shane Marrone, to implement his great ideas on expanding offerings in the bar.”
In addition to his love of the food and beverage business, Ray is an Eagle Scout and currently serves as the assistant Scout Master for Troop 94. He also coaches a youth soccer youth team. Ray and Jennifer are members of the Boot Jack Stompers Square Dancing Club.
The couple has been looking to open a second restaurant for a couple years and when they heard Crab Cakes was for sale, they knew it was the right place for them.
“The friendly staff and quality reputation aligned very well with our own values,” Ray said. “The success that has led us to this point comes down to how we train and treat our employees. We take care of our own, and we help our staff to grow in their careers. We trust our employees, we pay them well, and we make sure that they have the time they need for their own families. We have always loved Oakhurst, and we are very grateful to all the local agencies, businesses, and organizations that we have met and who have helped us through this transition. We look forward to becoming part of the Oakhurst community.”
The Newmans officially take over the restaurant Saturday, although the restaurant will be closed for about a week during the transition.
The couple have two children, Naomi, 3, and Brooke, 6 months.
18 years of quality food and service
Crab Cakes opened in 1998 with its nautical decor and 240-gallon fish tank. It doubled in size in 2012, when the restaurant was relocated across Highway 41 from its original location behind Subway, to the building that formerly housed Casa Velasco Mexican Restaurant.
The Zabickis and staff at Crab Cakes Family Restaurant, Roman’s Bar and Yosemite Catering have served Mountain Area residents and world travelers with a commitment and dedication to quality food and excellent service .
“Eighteen years ago I had a dream and a concept, and Laura, somewhat reluctantly, let me pursue that dream to create Crab Cakes Restaurant, a fun, family seafood restaurant,” Roman said. “This restaurant was always based on family. Danny, our youngest and 7 years old at the time, cooked different samples of fish and chips when the fryer was first hooked up, and after some experimentation, Danny proudly announced one day ‘This is the one we’re going to use,’ and we have, for 18 years.”
Roman began his food and beverage career as a busser at the Pontchartrain Hotel in downtown Detroit at the age of 18, where he was quickly promoted to server, room service captain and assistant dining room manager. Later he became kitchen manager for C.A. Muer Corp. where he learned about seafood. His resume also includes serving as a restaurant general manager and country club manager. It was his acceptance as the regional food and beverage director for a hotel investment company in San Diego that brought him to California in 1978.
Prior to opening Crab Cakes, Zabicki served as the Food and Beverage Director at the Pines Resort and Tenaya Lodge.
It was the Zabicki boys, Andrzej and Danny that painted the sand dollars that customers see around the restaurant.
When Roman announced to his staff the restaurant was being sold, he told them as a restaurant family we have laughed, we have cried, and together we have shared in pains and sorrows, accomplishments and successes.
“The people in this town have other lunch and dinner options, but many have chosen to dine here and that is a testament to all your hard work,” Roman told his staff. “It’s also a result of the countless number of people who came before you. For most, it was a job, a stepping stone to their next career goal. For others, this is their career and they have been here for two, six, nine, even 16 years. Over the past 18 years, we’ve shared in your personal achievements, and we have been proud for the countless employees who have graduated from high school, go on to college and pursued dreams of their own.”
When their son Danny passed away in 2008 at 17 years old from a rare form of cancer, Roman and Laura established the Danny Zabicki Memorial Fund to raise money for other Mountain Area families that faced financial hardships due to a life-threatening childhood illness.
With help from the community they held five “Dannypaloozas” events with bands, carnival games and raffle prizes, raising more than $20,000 that benefited about 20 families with sick children. The couple were also big supporters of the annual Relay for Life event and awarded many scholarships totaling more than $10,000 to graduates of Yosemite High.
“This community has been very supportive of us since day one, and we can’t thank everyone enough for making us part of the community,” Roman said. “We don’t have as many customers as we do friends. We have shared in hundreds of celebrations including birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, weddings, and the birth of children.”
Roman told his staff that he and Laura were not just passing over a restaurant to the Newmans, but their restaurant family.
“We would ask you all to make the Newmans as proud of you being a part of their family as you have been to ours,” he said.
The couple will continue with Sweet Dreams Cakes and Flowers in the Enterprise Center, the part of the business started in 1994. Laura estimates she has provided her specialty cakes to more than 200 Mountain Area weddings over the years.