Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Updated January 2018)
In 2016, Sugar Plum Restaurant Celebrated Ray Rosenblatt’s 20th Anniversary.
The restaurant celebrated Ray Rosenblatt. Many people will work at a job over an extended period time and become bored, and even learn to hate it. But not Ray, owner of the Sugar Plum Coffee Shop in Concord. His love and enthusiasm for Sugar Plum are as strong today as it was from day one, February 13, 1996.
Sugar Plum is no ordinary coffee shop. For one, it is always busy. Its friendly, community, social atmosphere may be its preeminent service.
“It’s almost a cliché, but in all sincerity, I love coming here because I like interacting with people. I enjoy it very much.” Ray proclaimed. “We are not cooking in the back, we are cooking in the front with the people. I don’t look at them as customers. They are more like friends that happen to come here. Our conversations are like conversations two friends would have. The only thing missing is the nighttime and there’s no beer in front of us or a glass of wine. It’s breakfast instead.”
“So like a bartender with food?” I asked, with “Cheers” theme song entering my head.
“Exactly! It really is. It sounds corny, but it’s the truth in my heart. I am sincere when I interact with people because I enjoy it that much. I know their life and they know my life, and they know my children and I know their children. I know their health and the different things that go on. That’s what makes it so fun for me. I don’t mind getting up at four in the morning, to be here before five to get everything ready to open at 6AM. I tell people all the time that if I had to have a job, this is the best possible job I could ever have in my life.
“My former partner didn’t always understand this, he always thought people would come for the food, but that’s not it. They also come for the environment. They come for the fun and the enjoyment of knowing people and meeting new people. A lot of people make this their social outlet. They have made so many friends just talking to each other sitting at the counter. Soon they are coming in at the same time and sitting at the same table together. That happens so often because they are comfortable being here. And that’s what I try to present to people and I enjoy being a part of it,” Ray says enthusiastically.
When Ray took over in 1996, he made a few changes.
“We didn’t change a lot. It was successful. But we did change some of it. We kept the same menu but we brought in better quality food. We bought a better bacon. We bought a better sausage. We are known for our smoked applewood bacon. We’re known for our biscuits and gravy. We make our own hash browns. They are not frozen or dehydrated. They are fresh every day. We get potatoes delivered twice every week. It’s a lot of work. But we enjoy doing it.”
Ray is not a native of Concord, although he’s very much a part of it. He bought a house in Concord to be close to his parents and hasn’t moved since 1984. “I grew up in Berkeley, moved to Long Beach for a number of years, and came back to this area to be near my folks who lived in Walnut Creek. I raised two boys here and love it here,” he said.
Ray became interested in the restaurant business as a junior in high school. “They had a program that we would go to a hotel and learn about hotel restaurant operations. We worked six weeks in different stations within the hotel and restaurant area. When I graduated from high school I went back and got a job there.”
He cooked for a number of years in different places. “The money was not very good in cooking back them”. So Ray got into retail management and worked for Thrifty Drug Stores for 11 years in their management program, seven years as a store manager. After that, Ray and a friend both went to restaurant school at San Francisco City College. “We always said we wanted to get a restaurant together.” They bought a sandwich shop in San Francisco and ran that for seven years. “We doubled the business, but the San Francisco business climate was getting whacky and we were tired of commuting there every day.”
Soon, they sold it and found Sugar Plum through a broker.
“It wasn’t advertised for sale, but the broker knew the owner, Jeanie Mocho, and knew that she was in her 70s, tired and wanted to sell it. We bought it on February 13, 1996, and never looked back,” Ray emphasizes.
The City has honored Sugar Plum Coffee Shop for its longevity in Concord. After all, it is Concord’s 2nd oldest running restaurant, having started in the early 50’s. (Barney’s Hickory Pit is the oldest.) The business started on North Main in Walnut Creek and on Concord Blvd. as a bakery-restaurant in the early 50s. The current building was built in 1955 with three sections. Sugar Plum had the middle section. It introduced its coffee shop and expanded into the other sections in November 1959, and became known as Sugar Plum Coffee Shop and Pastry.
Ray tells of the next 35 years in swift detail. “In the early 60s, it sold to a waitress, who sold it to another waitress, who sold it back, who then sold it to Jeanie who was in her 70s. She ran it for a couple of years. I bought it from her.”
One other interesting aspect that speaks volumes about the Sugar Plum Coffee Shop’s environment, waitress Bernie McKay has been working there for 23 years, and her mother, Faye Jaramillo was a waitress before her, since the 70’s. Ray may not be the only person who loves it there.
Sugar Plum Coffee Shop is located downtown Concord at 1815 Colfax Street. If you’ve never been there, stop in, congratulate Ray, and give it a try. It won’t be long before he will know your name too. Happy 20th Anniversary, Ray!