By David Nelson / Photos by Sara Norris
t 11 a.m., a few Snickerdoodles still lounged in the nearly empty display case, kept company by one remaining Morning Roll (the flaky cinnamon-raisin pastry didn’t last long), two sugary cream scones, a lonely English muffin and three chocolate-caramel-nut bars, calorific wonders that can be consumed in a slow orgy of enjoyment or just applied directly to the hips, where they’ll settle anyway.
pening day at Terryl Gavre’s new Bake Sale, a bakery-cafe in a historic building in downtown San Diego, was a sweet success. The question of whether the surrounding neighborhood would respond to baked-that-morning, all-American muffins, cookies and pastries had been answered. And Gavre, an entrepreneur who cannot stop moving, kept busy in the kitchen, prepping lunches of classic, comfort-food sandwiches, none of them creamier, richer or more thoroughly self-indulgent than two slices of bread swooning around a filling of ultimate egg salad.
For a thoroughly modern restaurateur who launched her first place, Cafe 222, by appearing on billboards sporting a waffle as a hat, Gavre had an old-fashioned introduction to the business. Her story used to be a common one. Now, in a tech-driven society, it seems charming but improbable, and as thoroughly old-hat as her waffle was chic.
“I grew up in a family of good cooks and bakers,” she says. “I was brought up in an old-fashioned family in which you learned from your grandmother and mother how to can peaches, grow a garden, make sauerkraut. Back then, it was training to be a wife.”
So Gavre did what any Seattle-area teen would have done upon graduating high school: she opened a “cooking service,” as she calls it, named The Surrogate Wife.
“I shopped, cooked and baked for a lot of bachelors, especially professional athletes, their doctors and brokers,” says Gavre. “By the time I was 21, I had eight employees and I attracted so much attention that some Hollywood producers bought the rights to my story and made a movie called This Wife for Hire.
The 1985 movie, in which Gavre was played by actress Pam Dawber (“Mindy” on ABC’s “Mork and Mindy,” Robin Williams ‘ breakout role and a huge hit a couple of generations ago), changed her life by bringing her to Los Angeles for the film shoot and endowing her with $50,000. Gavre dated a San Diego guy during this period, and while the relationship didn’t last, her fondness for the sunshine did.
“I was spoiled, I couldn’t go back to the Northwest,” she says.
So, of course, she opened a restaurant, Cafe 222, at just the moment downtown south of Broadway began attracting hipsters. She was accustomed to 16-hour workdays from spending nights as a waitress and manager while she operated The Surrogate Wife during daylight.
“I used all of the $50,000, which half built-out Cafe 222,” Gavre says. “I did all the cooking in the first years, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I served the tables, and then, late at night, I washed the dishes. That’s how you have to do it, unless something’s given to you.”
In this Cinderella story, Gavre was her own wicked stepmother, granting herself only a few hours of sleep in a small studio/storeroom behind her restaurant. After the first year or two, 222 succeeded so well as a breakfast-and-lunch magnet that lines were a daily fact of life (they still are), and Gavre had become a restaurateur to be reckoned with.
Since then, she helped ace chef Carl Schroeder open his acclaimed Market in Del Mar (she plays no active role there at present) and partnered with him in Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant, which rocks the formerly quiet neighborhood nightly. More recently, she opened ACME Southern Kitchen in another historic building, this one near the downtown Post Office in East Village. Gavre searched dozens of aging church cookbooks to glean recipes for ACME - think shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes and collard greens. The baker that she is, the biscuits melt in the mouth.
With its beautiful pastries, Bake Sale (around the corner from ACME) is the icing on Gavre’s multilayer cake of eateries. The name was a no-brainer: she chaired the bake sale committee at her children’s school. She’s never had a business fail, and while she no longer needs to wear a waffle, she’ll gladly make one for you.
Gavre’s tireless, and her day starts by 5 a.m., when her grade school-aged daughter and son rise to pack backpacks, finish homework and eat a hot breakfast. She says she tries to make her schedule end when they get out of school at 4:30. Except, of course, it doesn’t really end then at all. She cooks dinner, joins her children until bedtime, and then may pop into Bankers Hill for a while.
Gavre’s cooking is, more than anything, the kind of food America once took for granted - simple but endlessly satisfying.
“I wanted to do food I was capable of cooking,” she says. “Comfort food.”
What comforts her?
Gavre smiles without restraint when she answers, “I eat a slab of bread with butter every day.”
222 Island Ave., East Village
ACME SOUTHERN KITCHEN
901 E St., East Village
BAKE SALE BAKERY
815 F St., East Village
BANKERS HILL BAR + RESTAURANT
2202 Fourth Ave., Bankers Hill
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