.Shadowbrook Celebrates 75 Years

Owner Ted Burke reflects on 50 years with the iconic Capitola restaurant

Owner and host of Shadowbrook for 50 years, restaurateur Ted Burke recently spoke to me about the rewards of his work, changes and the worst day he ever had at the landmark restaurant—which is now celebrating 75 years of dining success.

How did you get started at Shadowbrook?

TED BURKE: Shadowbrook is the only restaurant that I have ever worked. I began there in the summer of 1972 as a summer job while attending the Institute for Foreign Studies in Monterey in preparation for graduate school starting in the fall in the field of international business. However, I never left. Though I had zero waiter experience and had never worked in a restaurant in any capacity, I was hired as a summer waiter. I worked hard, learned a lot, had a lot of fun and just before I was about to leave in the fall to pursue my Masters in international business I was asked to join the restaurant management team. I accepted the offer because I had fallen in love with the restaurant business. Then one day one of the owners approached me and said that he and his partner would like to move on from the restaurant business and would I be interested in buying the business. When I learned that they were intending to sell the Crow’s Nest operation as well, I suggested we contact Bob Munsey and we formed a partnership. It has been an extraordinarily wonderful business partnership that still exists after nearly 45 years.

Did you toss a coin to see who got the Crow’s Nest and who would take the Shadowbrook?

Bob and I began our working partnership in 1978, agreeing that we would start out for the first year focusing our efforts and time at the restaurant we knew best from our years of personal experience. So, I watched over the Shadowbrook operation, and Bob watched over the Crow’s Nest operation.  Each of us had the intention of completing a lengthy list of “to-do” projects that we wanted to finish before we began daily work at both locations. We had intended that process would take about a year.  However, after a year, our “to-do” lists had not shrunk at all from its full page length but rather had expanded to two full pages. Though we decided to continue to work independently and focus our time and work at the places we knew best, we did collaborate several times a week on common issues of legal and accounting, employee benefits, purchasing, insurance, advertising and promotion, etc.

Do you ever regret that decision?

I have never regretted my decision at all. I am just as fond of the restaurant, the staff and the customers today as I was 50 years ago. However, like many people who come to a Y in the road and decide to go left instead of right, they naturally look back at times and wonder where that other path might have led. But I am confident and very grateful that I found a career that I absolutely love every single day. 

Does it irritate you when people talk of Shadowbrook as a ‘special occasion’ dining spot?

I do not get irritated at all at those who consider Shadowbrook a special occasion restaurant. In fact, I think it’s a very high honor to be a favorite venue; that people choose Shadowbrook for those very special times in their lives. It is a challenge for us at times to fulfill our customers’ high expectations. However, it’s a challenge that I, and our entire staff, thoroughly enjoy. 

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Name a few of the innovations of which you’re most proud.

We take pride in some unique marketing innovations, such as our Winemaker Wednesday program that promoted local wines and winemakers, as well as our Community Tuesday program that allowed local non-profit organizations to receive a full third of revenue that night. These marketing ideas were so innovative and popular at one time that many other local restaurants initiated similar programs of their own.

Is there a guiding theme for Shadowbrook’s culinary style?

We appeal to those who prefer traditional favorites, as well as to those who seek and enjoy our nightly menu specials that showcase our chef’s creativity and operational expertise to be offered in a high volume and busy kitchen. 
Shadowbrook has flourished in a sea of challenges and changes. It respects its vintage beginnings, but is always evolving to meet the menu and service needs brought on by culture changes, technology advancements and patron demands.  

How do you stay engaged after so long? 

Though I work long hours at the restaurant, I have been significantly involved with my trade associations such as the California Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association and the California Travel and Trade Commission. The related meetings and trade shows provided me opportunities to listen to and visit with peers, and enjoy restaurants and dining experiences outside my local environment. Plus, it’s pretty easy to stay fresh when you look at each day as a fresh start and one to improve upon yesterday’s performance. 

What was your worst day, and your best one?

Actually, my worst day and best day were one in the same. That was Oct. 17, 1989, and the Loma Prieta earthquake. Fortunately, the restaurant suffered only very minor physical damage, but interruptions in electrical power and water service prohibited normal operations. Our staff came together and prepared a spaghetti dinner. We set up a temporary kitchen in our parking lot. I believe we had a total of 15 tables and 60 chairs that we set with candles and fresh linens. The chef boiled pasta in a propane-fueled stock pot that he served with his incredibly delicious meat and tomato sauce for our neighbors—whom we’d invited by hand-written flyers—to enjoy. It certainly was a night of some tragedy, but also full of resilience and togetherness. 

What’s your favorite Shadowbrook memory?

Truly, it would be difficult to single out just one favorite moment out of so many favorite moments in Shadowbrook’s long biography. I have one favorite humorous moment, though, when I was a young manager working with a woman who was a cocktail server but served as a hostess one night in an emergency situation for staffing. As I passed by the hostess desk towards the end of the evening, she asked me if I knew what sweetbreads were. I explained to her that though I was fairly new to the restaurant business, I believed that they were part of a cow, usually a young cow or calf, and were an organ or glands that were sautéed. I added that I had enjoyed it once with a rich stock and cream sauce. She said to me, “Oh, they are meat, huh?  I said, “Yes, why do you ask? “She replied, “Someone just called and asked if we had sweetbreads on the menu. “And I told her, “And what did you tell them?” She replied hesitatingly, “I told them no, . . . we just have sourdough.”

If you hadn’t gone down this path, owning and operating a legendary dining house, what career might you have chosen?

At one time I had thought about pursuing a law degree and practicing as a general purpose attorney. I am unaware of any other occupation that has the qualities that I enjoy most: hard-work, fast-paced, many daily challenges and very little time to overcome them, daily contact with wonderful people as customers, as well as co-workers who share my values of hospitality. I cannot imagine that I could work in any other industry as I have in the restaurant industry, where I have enjoyed it for 50 years and still enjoy it today. I do know that the sunset of my career is on the horizon. When that day comes I will feel so fortunate to have no regrets and countless memories.


Shadowbrook Restaurant, 1750 Wharf Road, Capitola; 831-475-1511, shadowbrook-capitola.com.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Ted hired me as a prep cook shortly after I moved back to Capitola after seven months of camping in Waipio Valley on the Big Island in 1976. I really enjoyed the work, the beautiful surroundings, the celebration of “chefness” in the kitchen, but mostly the colorful cast of characters, the “Powerdogs” in the kitchen during the day and later in the dining rooms while bussing tables at night. Four memorable years. I’ve enjoyed my many visits there as a customer since then, and I applaud Ted for his commitment. Go, Ted!

  2. Thanks for this article. I lived in Capitola for 30 years and before we bought our home on Fanmar Way many summers were spent on the Soquel River in the Windmill house. We would paddle up the river to where Shadowbrook now sits and look at an old rundown home that became Shadowbrook.
    Before the cable car we would walk down a path to the restaurant. Great memories and how I wish I could have just one more meal there but age can be a problem. Thank you

  3. I worked at Shadow Brook restaurant in the summer of 1964 as a bus boy. When we stopped serving around 11pm, the chef laid out left over food i.e. meat, baked potatoes, etc. One night, he had extra spare ribs with his special sweet and sour sauce. They were so good, I ate most of them in the pan. So I asked the chef if he would give me the recipe for the sauce. He did and I still use it today when I cook pork ribs in the oven. Thank you for letting me relive a fine memory of my summer job.

  4. Oh Shadowbrook…..I spent many years of my interior design career working on projects for Ted. It was such a privilege to be part of a crew working to improve a space that was nearly perfect to begin with. I wish there was a magic transporter traveling from Montana to Kalispell. I’d be there for dinner tonight.

  5. Congratulations. I love This restaurant. It was where my husband and I fell in love, Eventually got married and now 43 years later are still happily together. Your restaurant was a part of us. We live pretty far away now, but do have great memories from our times eating, enjoying ourselves and celebrating there.

  6. Another Santa Clara U alum in the restaurant business … so many of us during the era and none of us had ever thought about it during school … Ted was the king with his great restaurant and influence in the entire industry through the restaurant association that did a lot for everyone … Keep it going !!

  7. We admire your energy and dedication, Ted. And we love your restaurant and consider it a local treasure. Here’s to many more years of good health and success!

  8. I lived directly across the river from you. It’s also just beautiful to look at; a work of art, if you will.
    I had many “special occasions” there!!

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