.Back Nine Grill and Bar Does Comfort Food with Flair

Before executive chef Ben Kralj’s culinary career, he was a pilot

Around the time of the 911 attacks and SARS outbreaks, Ben Kralj rethought his career as a commercial airline pilot and went back to school. He discovered a love for cooking. After earning a degree in culinary arts and hospitality management from Cabrillo College, Kralj jumped into high-volume cooking. He prepped over 2,000 lunches per day for 20 different schools and spent summers serving three square meals for 350 campers seven days a week.
Kralj worked as a high-volume cook for years, preparing him for his current role as Back Nine’s GM and executive chef.
Kralj’s artichoke souffle—an original recipe—is the highlight of app choices. Meanwhile, the pork chop with a spicy peach glaze and grilled apples and the mushroom risotto (served vegan, vegetarian or with a protein of choice) are a couple of entrée favorites. The burgers are also popular.
Hours are 11am-9pm every day (until 10pm Friday and Saturday). Kralj spoke to GT about his years as a high-volume cook and flying a plane versus running a restaurant.

Which is more complicated: flying a plane or running a restaurant?

BEN KRALJ: Running a restaurant is much harder. I know that when flying a plane, you deal with weather, a huge machine, but a restaurant has so many moving components and little systems, plus staffing issues, rising food costs, personal and personnel situations. Not to mention maintenance and building issues as well. Even with all these challenges, I still love it, and we have built a really good team here. 

How does your high-volume cooking experience help you now?

My hardest critics have been the children I cooked for at summer camps and the school lunch program. With their critique, I was able to perfect my high-volume cooking. And now, when we do banquet gatherings, I get to be creative and cater to diverse individual customer food menu items and special requests. Even now, I’ll run into young adults I cooked for as kids, and they still remember me and rave about my food. It really means a lot to be recognized for the work I do and the love that I put into my food.

Back Nine Grill and Bar, 555 Highway 17, Santa Cruz, 831-226-2350; backninegrill.com.


  1. Me likey, but drinks tre expensive. Fish and chips just OK, hamburgers also just ok, but lots of room to hang out and party some with friends. Maybe I should have ordered something more expensive, but a good time had the few times I went. Staff friendly.


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