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September 13, 2005 > Hidden dining jewel of Bay Street

Hidden dining jewel of Bay Street

Pearl's Cafe celebrates 20 years of excellence this Saturday

by Natalia Smothers

At 4 p.m., September 17 the upbeat and versatile world music of Steel Jam band in front of Pearl's Cafe and the smooth sounds of Bill Cefalu Jazz Quartet will shake up the whole neighborhood of small businesses on usually quiet Bay Street. The assembly of music will begin the 20th anniversary celebration of one of Fremont's top restaurants, featuring a buffet with Ahi nachos, mini Kobe burgers, Portobello and Heirloom tomato sandwiches, pecan crushed prawns with maple butter and many other surprise dishes.

20 Years of "Jewel" Quality

It seems as if Pearl's Cafe hides on old-fashioned Bay Street like a fine pearl inside an aged oyster shell, even though it is just yards away from a busy intersection of Fremont and Washington Boulevards. Like the other businesses on the block, it has a deceivingly simplistic look of the 1950s residential house from which it was converted into a small family restaurant.

The cafe's history started exactly as the look suggests. The front portion was used as a smoothie stand and later a Mexican take-out until purchased in 1985 by Ernst Angst, a chef for United Airlines. His "two-man" operation (just him and his daughter) offered homemade French bread, Swiss dumplings and rack of lamb among other continental cuisine. Quickly the reputation of his bistro soared. Gourmet food lovers started patronizing the restaurant. After seven years in business, Ernst had to choose between his long-time career and the growing family company. He decided to stick with the full-time job and sold the cafe in the early 1990s.

The new owners of Pearl's, Annette and David Jankosky, continued building on its reputation of excellence. They kept the restaurant's "jewel" quality and freshness. The cuisine was slightly different - mostly American food with an international influence, such as grilled breast of chicken, roasted eggplant and fig caponata. They also bought the apartment in the back of the house and expanded the dining area, creating rooms appropriate for an intimate dinner for two and big family parties with young children.

In the beginning of 2002, a group of Pearl's lovers and supporters heard the restaurant was for sale again. All wanted to save the treasured jewel and maintain its uniqueness. They achieved this goal by supporting the cafe's excutive chef Christine Fahey who recently took charge of the Pearl's kitchen. Christine together with boutique winery operators, Mike and Melissa Owen, seasonal fresh cut flower growers, Greg and Julie Green, their friends, Doug and Julie Rusch and three silent partners became the newest owners in the second half of 2002. They called themselves FANFare Partners (FAN stands for Fremont and Newark).

Pearl's Faithful Clientele

For most of Pearl's Cafe history, the restaurant relied on word-of-mouth to build its faithful clientele. Once diners tried the cafe's cuisine, they returned with their friends, or to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary party there.

"In the last 12-14 years, I have had my Victory Parties only at Pearl's after being elected a congressman," said Congressman Pete Stark. "Every time I come to Fremont for a visit from Washington, D.C., I always have a meal or two at Pearl's. Now my children like this cafe and have their birthday parties there. I think Fremont has many excellent ethnic restaurants like Indian, Afghan, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese. Pearl's Cafe is the only one here, which offers quality American/Continental type cuisine. My family and I just love it."

Assemblymember Alberto Torrico comes to Pearl's Cafe two-three times a month, mostly for business meetings. "It is a wonderful place," he said. "I had a meeting here with Pete Stark and other politicians. I appreciate the contribution from the cafe of free appetizers to an event at Irvington High School for the "We the People" debate team before they headed off to the National Debate Championships in D.C."

Fremont's Vice Mayor Dominic Dutra also agrees. He says, "Pearls is synonymous with fine dining in Fremont. There is no finer dining establishment in terms of service, food and atmosphere."

Dirk Lorenz, Fremont Planning Commissioner and owner of Fremont Flowers and the Depot Cafe is a longtime fan of Pearl's Cafe. "Pearl's is truly one of those businesses in Fremont that makes Fremont unique - a little funky, great food and a great place to gather."

"Pearl's Cafe is absolutely fabulous," confirms the cafe's long-time admirer Aileen Chanco, director of Music at the Mission program in Fremont. She had no hesitation choosing Pearl's catering for the newly launched music and dining concert series in partnership with San Jose Cathedral Foundation for the 2005- 06 seasons.

FANFare Partners Support Local Community

The 10 FANFare partners have expanded the restaurant's local community outreach. Holding regular monthly meetings since the 2002 inception, many new ideas emerged about Pearl's involvement in community events, such as supporting the California School for the Deaf and developing culture in Fremont.

Greg Green, one of the partners, is also vice president of the Irvington Business Association, co-chair of the Creative Engagement Team for Celebrate Fremont Committee devoted to Fremont's 50th anniversary, and a new member of the Fremont Symphony Guild. Twice playing Santa Claus at the Irvington Christmas Tree Lighting, he is actively organizing a local Irvington Country Fair, which is scheduled for October 9 this year. A dinner for eight was recently listed as a valuable prize at a Fremont Symphony's silent auction. Greg's high visibility in the community has benefited both the cultural development of the local life and the promotion of the Pearl's fine dining experience.

"I am passionate about people and helping those around me succeed in their own right," said Greg. "Our restaurant is a good example. For Pearl's Cafe to be a successful restaurant, everyone working at Pearl's Cafe, from the dishwasher to executive chef, needs to experience that and achieve a level of desired success."

To support all the initiatives, Pearl's Cafe actively promotes its catering services and dessert selection. Behind all this is the restaurant's maestro of cuisine, Christine Fahey, a graduate of Newark Memorial High, trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and veteran of San Francisco's Waterfront, San Mateo's Viogner and Livermore's Wente restaurants.

"I receive so much satisfaction from experimenting with the food," said the recognized Pearl's chef. "Every season, every year, there are so many combinations I can try... Of course they depend on the choice of the seasonal produce at the local organic market because we always use only fresh 'just from the field' herbs, vegetables and fruits."

Christine changes dishes in the menu every six weeks or so to keep up with the new seasonal offerings at the J.E. Perry Farms in Ardenwood. There is no doubt the fall menu this year will have some surprise items. Cooler weather inspires more savory dishes like lightly smoked pork chop with whisky glaze on sweet potato hash or grilled filet mignon on mushroom bread pudding.

These different strategies have helped Pearl's Cafe keep its freshness and quality for two decades. FANFare partners and friends of the restaurant invite everyone to uncover this hidden jewel in the middle of Fremont's Bay Street this Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Pearl's Restaurant 20 Year Celebration
Saturday, September 17
4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
4096 Bay Street, Fremont
(510) 490-2190

Space is limited
Advance Tickets: $30/person

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