Genesis Of Cafe Mundo

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Café Mundo:
Eclectic, Green and Community-Centered
By Linda Lee Walden


If it weren't for the ad in a local Newport, Oregon, coupon savings booklet, a tourist would probably pass by Café Mundo without giving it a thought. But the locals know better.In Nye Beach, Café Mundo occupies a corner lot on Coast Street, just a block from Oregon's rugged coastline. A seaside retreat since the 1800s, today Nye retains its artsy, village atmosphere despite the annual influx of summer tourists.

Million-dollar homes share seaside bluffs with beach cottages from the '50s; trendy clothing stores, a visual arts center and unique restaurants line the hilly streets.

Café Mundo definitely fits the unique restaurant category. Greg and Laurie Card first opened it in 1998 in a mobile kitchen trailer set on the vacant lot; seating was at outdoor tables. Six years later the trailer was replaced with a 12-by-14-foot permanent kitchen and the casual eating area began its transformation into garden dining.

With no indoor seating, however, the restaurant could only provide income for the Cards and their four children during Oregon's brief summer season. So in late 2005 they decided to leap into building a year-round restaurant. How they accomplished it is as unique as the final product.

"We didn't make enough profit to qualify for a bank loan," Greg Card says. "We've always been very connected with the community, so we sought local investors and they came through." The Cards also held fund-raisers and did much of the construction work themselves.

Opened in March 2007, the new Café Mundo reflects not only the owners' community orientation, but their commitment to ecologically sustainable practices. The 2,220-square-foot two-story structure, built right over the old kitchen, is supported by a pre-engineered frame of 70 percent recycled-steel beams. The exterior is composite panels; the interior walls painted plywood and farmed Sitka spruce finish-milled on site.

Redwood driftwood salvaged from the beach was used to create the barn-style doors that open the ground floor to the outdoor garden seating area.

Passive solar heating keeps the interior comfortably warm most days; a natural gas fireplace fills in when needed. A 4-inch-diameter PVC pipe delivers order requests from the upstairs dining room to the kitchen below simply by gravity; a dumbwaiter lifts the filled orders to the second level.

Envisioning the café as a modern equivalent to the old neighborhood soda shop, the atmosphere is warm and casual, and definitely eclectic. Tabletops sport individually painted designs and large-scale works of local artists decorate the walls.
Dining chairs were presents on Laurie's birthday. From Café Mundo's humble beginnings in the trailer, chef Laurie Card has insisted on "green" practices. Menu items are made from scratch with fresh, locally grown or caught ingredients, many organic. Kitchen scraps are composted and recycling is standard procedure. Says Laurie, "We don't buy corporate products. Supporting local growers is part of giving back to the community."

The symbiosis of Café Mundo with the community is a major factor in its success. A relaxed, family atmosphere encourages people to hang around and visit and local musical groups frequently entertain. Greg Card describes his goal as making every visit a social gathering.

Although the restaurant is on solid footing now, several setbacks during the 16-month construction period threatened the project. "We did not adequately research the steel building company beforehand and faced a six-month delivery delay," Greg says. "We should have asked for and checked out references from prior customers before buying."

Laurie Card had not anticipated the volume of extra paperwork and supervisory responsibilities that a larger work force entails. And she says, "More space means more cleaning and maintenance as well."

The most important thing the Cards learned during the project -- aside from patience and maintaining faith in their vision -- was that hidden costs could easily bust a budget. "We thought we had considered everything, but things we couldn't imagine popped up," Laurie says. For instance, the requirements for the fire suppression system changed during construction, raising the cost considerably; in this case, however, decreased insurance rates partly offset the additional cost.

The Cards believe that their best decision was to build as much as they could personally, with the help of many friends. They estimate that it decreased the cost of construction by twothirds. Plus, they retained creative control throughout and are prepared to handle maintenance and repair themselves.

For Greg and Laurie Card, Café Mundo is a lifestyle, not a job. They live next door and spend most of their waking hours on restaurant business. For this couple -- Laurie a pastry and sushi chef and Greg a former landscaper and event promoter -- working together to make a living is a blessing.

But for them the passion is not in the creative menu or the friendly atmosphere, it's in being able to reinvest in the Nye Beach community. For the Cards the bottom line to success is to, "Connect with the local people, for they are your support base."

STARTUP STATS

Café Mundo
Reconstruction Complete: April 2007.
Bar: No.
Smoking allowed: Outside only.
Average check: Breakfast, $9 to $12; lunch, $12; dinner, $12, with specials $16 to $25.
Square feet of restaurant: 2,220 square feet of kitchen: 360 square feet
Number of seats: 50 upstairs, 12 ground floor, 60 outside (seasonal).
Number of staff: 12 including the owners.
Where and how you got your financing: Community investors, fund-raising events.
Are you leasing or do you own the property? Own restaurant property, live next door.
Signature items: Mesquite grilled albacore burger with wasabi mayo; crepes filled with strawberries and housemade vanilla custard, topped with chocolate ganache and whipped cream; Dungeness crab cakes with mango-ginger chutney served with coconut saffron rice.
First or subsequent restaurant under this name: 1st restaurant, second expansion.
Hours of operation: Tuesday to Thursday, 2-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. to midnight; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; closed Monday and also Tuesday in winter.
Advertising/Promotional Methods: Local newspapers, Nye Beach Merchants Association coupon book and word of mouth from their nine-year local following. Listing as a "Community Arts Venue"brings tourists and locals to writers group meetings, musical entertainment and outdoor theater productions in the garden.


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The Chef, the Gardener, and the Art of Dining
on the Oregon Coast
by Laura Eberly

Cafe Mundo Celebrates Its First Decade

A decade of evolution has brought Cafe Mundo - a restaurant and performing arts venue located at the heart of Newport's Nye Beach district - from its beginnings as a seasonal food cart surrounded by picnic tables and hay bales to a new era as a year-round establishment offering a spacious, two-story facility with an indoor stage and dining mezzanine, outdoor garden seating with the occasional open-air theater performance, and a showcase of original artwork indoors and out - illuminated by paper lanterns and twinkling strands of lights.

The cafe's menu of world fusion cuisine entices with entrees of mouth-watering mesquite-grilled steak (free-range beef), pan-seared jumbo scallops in roasted red pepper sauce, and tacos with tempeh, fish, or fingersteaks prepared over the cafe's outdoor fire grill. The sushi menu features smoked salmon and barbecue-teriyaki albacore tuna; soups and breads are made fresh daily; and vegetarian and vegan selections include tempeh fries with peanut dipping sauce, Indian red lentil stew with yogurt and chutney, and scrumptious salads loaded with organic, locally-grown vegetables drizzled with tangy-zesty house dressing. Mango Crisp and Cream, Cafe Mundo Creme Brulee, Kahlua Chocolate Decadence, and Pineapple-Coconut Cheesecake are just a few of the items on the dessert list; and the the full coffee bar also stocks specialty teas, all-natural carbonated drinks, and select wines and microbrew ales.

Cafe Mundo celebrated its tenth anniversary on Independence Day; and with last year's completion of a permanent facility, has spent the past few seasons offering locals and visitors alike a gathering place to enjoy live musical entertainment and spectacular food - whether inside the restaurant or al fresco near the woodstove in the garden.
Laurie Card, the cafe's executive chef, co-owns the operation with her husband Greg, who oversees the dining areas as lead server, campfire tender, and head dishwasher. He also cares for the plants.

The Cards are artists in spirit and practice. Laurie has been honing her culinary skill since age 7, when her dad began sharing his own cooking talents by showing her around the kitchen. Greg is a classically trained dancer, and served as a Newport city landscaper for 16 years before an on-the-job back injury changed the course of his career. "He's why we have the big Mundo garden. If it were up to me, I'd just be peddling food, but Greg has to make it aesthetically beautiful," Laurie says. "When I first met this man, my aunt asked, 'Well, what does he do?' and I said, 'Well, he plants flowers and then he dances around them.' And she said, 'That's so romantic!'"

Their love for each other and for the community as a whole is evident in the cafe's thoughtful details: cloth napkins, the occasional chalkboard wall encouraging passersby to express their inner artist, and the clever exhibition of vibrant, original artwork hung from the walls and ceiling. They've also made a point of having Cafe Mundo embody the "slow food" concept: Each dish is made in the order in which it's received, allowing plenty of time for wine and conversation before the meal arrives and giving the flavor of the atmosphere a chance to cook into the food.

The menu changes seasonally with several popular favorites, including grilled tuna burgers and sushi, available year-round and specials reflecting the bounty of the local area. "It's healthy to eat what's in season, and we like using what's available locally," Laurie says, touching briefly on the importance of clean air and the ecological ramifications of international produce transportation. She has built a menu of international recipes adapted to locally available ingredients. "I create a fusion of things from all around the world and make it my own," she says. "My sushi, for example - I don't use calrose rice, I use Thai jasmine rice because it's fragrant and I figured out a method of cooking it for sushi - so it's a Japanese dish with Thai ingredients" combined with locally-caught wild salmon and tuna and locally-grown organic vegetables. "And everything here is made from scratch."

"Let's not forget the poppyseed dressing," says Greg. "We only serve one dressing" - the house specialty made by Cafe Mundo - "and I haven't had any complaints yet - this is the kind of dressing that will get your kids to eat salad."
"It does, it makes kids eat salad," Laurie adds, "it's magic dressing."

"We've seen a couple of generations come through now," Greg comments. The teenagers who were once regulars around the cafe's mobile kitchen are now young parents with children of their own. "It really is like the neighborhood malt shop, like back in the old days when there were more gathering places for the whole family."

The all-ages venue has hosted performance artists since its inception with acts including local, national, and international musicians and shows encompassing a wide range of genres: bellydancing, puppet theater, acoustic jams, fire dancing, Shakespearean revues. Pacific Northwest rhythm and bluesman Rick Bartow - whose visual artwork is included in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian as well as on the walls of Cafe Mundo - has held down the regular Saturday night slot for the entire decade of the cafe's existence, making it his flagship performance venue.

Each cafe table has been hand-painted by a different coastal artist and, thanks to Laurie's 40th birthday request, each chair is also unique. "I decided I would tell all my friends that if they were thinking of bringing over a gift, I would like for each of them to bring a sturdy wooden chair - and they did," she says, shaking her head with appreciation. As a result, 60 different wooden chairs of all shapes, colors, and sizes add charm to the cafe's upbeat, eclectic atmosphere.

When Laurie and Greg founded Cafe Mundo as a food cart and catering business nearly a decade ago, "I hoped, but I had no idea it would be like this," Laurie says, "but a permanent building has been our goal the whole time, and the idea was always to have a gathering place with a garden and good music."

Cozy on the Outside

The cafe, now a mainstay of Nye Beach, got its start when Greg and Laurie picked out an empty lot at the corner of Coast Street and Northwest Second Court - about three blocks from public parking and paved beach access - and worked out a deal with the landlord to set up shop. Despite Oregon's coastal weather limiting the open season to late spring through early fall, Cafe Mundo caught on. M*A*S*H-like coverings were put in place to provide some protection from the coastal mists; and ever-creative, Greg set up a central seating area underneath an overturned, whimsically-painted satellite dish erected in the yard like a giant mushroom. They hung light strings and cargo netting, received all manner of decor as contributions from the local arts community, and placed woodstoves about the yard to help warm the evening air.

The original kitchen was a 1966 converted trailer camper Greg and Laurie bought in Portland, where it had served as a Rastafarian street cafe. "When we got it, it was painted all green, red, and black. We repainted it and cleaned it out, and I used the oven and stove from the original camper," Laurie recalls. "I could bake three loaves of bread in that oven - you could get all three loaves in just so; it was really tight, but I got to the point where I knew exactly how high to let the bread rise before it touched the top of the oven. I'd bake nine loaves a day, and I've been baking my own bread ever since."

"She also made seven different desserts - that was a seriously productive 12-foot little space," adds Greg.

"It was super efficient," says Laurie. "I'd chop the sushi then turn around and zoop! Into the cooler. We could get four people in there - mostly trained dancers - and we'd move around each other. It was amazing."

For years, the Cards have lived with their children in the house adjacent to the cafe property, and eventually - thanks to unfailing support from the property owner and the strong belief of key members in the local community - they were able to buy the four city-block lot that includes the cafe and their home. In 2007 when they moved the trailer to break ground for the restaurant's permanent structure, Laurie saved the sushi cooler from the one-time Rastafarian kitchen and had it installed in the new facility.

"We've gone from doing this seasonally to this is our life," she notes. "It's almost like a meditative discipline." The Cards continue to evolve with the cafe, and the couple recently completed the first year of the small business management program offered by the Small Business Development Center at Oregon Coast Community College, a course that is helping them combine their talents and life experience with sound business sense. Ron Spisso, the program director, "is helping us implement our life into our business; that's what it is, it's one thing. It's always what you're doing."

All four of the children - Laurie's three girls were joined by a brother about a year before Cafe Mundo began - have taken turns pitching in at the restaurant in various ways through the years. "I think it's been really good for them," Laurie says. "We're a place for everyone. It's good food, it's a great place to come. You may walk in feeling like a stranger, but you leave feeling like family."

Cafe Mundo is located at the corner of Northwest Second Court and Coast Street in the Nye Beach area of Newport. Specialty catering services are available, and the facility may be rented for weddings and other occasions. Wireless Internet access is available to patrons free of charge.

Regular cafe hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; and 4 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call 574-8134 or visit www.myspace.com/cafemundo.

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This article was written as a gift to us by our wonderful friend Laura Eberly


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