When your dreams come true and then you witness the growth, sweat, and tears of your hard work, it is only then that you know your dreams have taken very good care of you. Believing in themself, their family, their customers, and their business has been the backbone of Crest Café’s success for the past forty years. It is tapping into their creativity and staying true to their values and vision, that they have created a concept that gets their guest’s attention, with good old fashion customer service, good food, and creating a loving family of customers that have them coming back. Owner Cecelia Moreno would tell you, “For the past four decades the business has been built on simple tried-and-true concepts: Comfort, consistency, and community.” With these concepts they have proven to do just that.
I have personally known Cecelia for over thirty years. I met her in the early nineteen nineties when she approached me and graciously offered to get involved with our charity by donating food to our main event with Ordinary Miracles, a 501C nonprofit that Nigel Mayer and I founded together to give back to San Diego communities. She continued their support with Ordinary Miracles until Nigel, and I decided to go in a different direction. The Crest Café has never been a stranger when it comes to giving back to the community and neighborhood that has been loyal to their business after all these years.
Patrick and Donna McLoughlin, the original owners, started the Crest Café in 1982. They christened the name Crest Café after the neighborhood of Hillcrest. Luis Moreno took over in 1985 with his daughter Cecelia to create what so many of us have enjoyed for the past forty years. Being that it is a family business, Luis Moreno, Ruben Medina, his daughter Sofia Medina (who worked there at the café during her High School years), and current General Manager and part owner Enrique Medina are all part of the continued growth, keeping up with the change while still serving great food with their attentive service.
The cuisine at the Crest Café is always unique, using delicious recipes made with quality ingredients by knowledgeable cooks in the kitchen. The Moreno family has always had such pride in their staff. They work very well together to make sure the consistency is always there throughout the entire business.
I asked Enrique if they had a signature dish and he said: “With having such an extensive menu it is very hard to choose just one menu item. So, I will give you my top five: Butter Burger, YUM!, Creme Brulé French Toast, Hangover Omelet, Cabo Quesadilla, and this may sound crazy, but we have the best Tuna Melt around. That is my favorite part about our menu. You can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner at any time. The menu boasts creative burgers, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers that will blow your mind like the fried mozzarella, which is a block of cheese that sits on marinara. Or the Onion Loaf as well as the nutter grilled cheese. I can go on and on, but I am getting hungry now!”
Anyone who is in the food and beverage industry knows how difficult it is to run and keep a restaurant open. The National Restaurant Association estimates a twenty percent success rate for all restaurants. About sixty percent of restaurants fail in their first year of operation, and eighty percent fail within five years of opening. Crest Café has always operated to maintain their trust to those who have and continue to support them. The proof is in the pudding, as my mom would always say, reality never lies.
Crest Café undoubtedly, is a true success story indeed. “But how?”, many have asked. Well, it was built by a family with love for each other, for the food they cooked, the service they provide by the staff they support, and the pride and love they give back to their loyal customers. Many of their customers came with their parents when they were kids. Now they have grown up, started families of their own, and now bring their children to eat. Cecelia mentioned “that when they took over the restaurant in 1985 that one of their biggest goals was to make sure everyone who walked through those doors felt like they were at home and part of the family”. The relationship the Crest Café has blessed our community with is composed of such ingredients of faith with themselves and gratitude for San Diego, Hillcrest, and surrounding communities for their ongoing support.
Crest Café also donates to important causes and supports refugees in the LGBTQ+ community beyond the border. I had the pleasure to ride to Tijuana, Mexico with Enrique, and Jack Nooren, who created a safe living space 501C for Casa de Luz in Tijuana. Casa de Luz helps refugees after a long caravan of many that have traveled thousands of miles just to escape death and have a chance for a better life. The home provides housing, food, medical care, and emotional support. In the past twelve months they have helped over two hundred LGBTQ+ refugees legally cross into the United States. They house approximately fifty LGBTQ+ refugees, about one third of them are Transgender or gender diverse. During our ride to the Mexican border, I asked Enrique why they chose Casa de Luz to be the beneficiary of their generous $4000 donation. He explained that “over the past forty years our family has been involved in many different events from being a part of raising the Hillcrest Pride Flag, donating toward a new Hillcrest sign, and many more small organizations; we chose Casa de Luz because we really agree with the message they brought forward. They have gone above and beyond to help people that have been mistreated just because of their sexual orientation or gender identification. I had the privilege to go and meet these hopeful individuals, listening to them talk about where they came from, some as far as Russia or as close as Mexico, and they all seem very happy just to be in a safe space such as Casa de Luz. Helping other human beings is always the right thing to achieve. It is a part of how our family pays it forward with love. The café will continue to support Casa de Luz throughout the year.”
I really enjoyed getting to know Enrique as we travelled to and from the Mexican border while visiting Casa de Luz in Tijuana. He told me he has been involved with Crest Café for close to five years now. He oversees the daily operations. Under his leadership and support of his family, his overall vision is to continue the same success and appreciation for their customers for another 40 years!
Enrique brags about his devoted and loving customers. “They’re wonderful and I am lucky. I get to work in a place where I see a lot of the same faces and really get to know people and talk to people. I can ask how they or family and friends are doing, and I consider many of them friends. I have been fortunate to be a part of some very special moments for individuals and couples who I continue to see to this day. I get to watch their children grow and their puppies’ become dogs. It’s very special and I would take that every time over anything else.”
Although his customers are so amazing, he gives full credit to his entire staff from the back of the house to those who come in direct contact in the front of the house for the Café’s success: “I could go on and on about my incredible staff. They are hard-working, attentive, trustworthy, and most importantly, loyal. I have multiple staff members front and back of the house who have worked with us for over five years, some for ten years, and a couple over twenty years. That is certainly hard to come by and I am very fortunate to have each one of them.”
Taking over this responsibility of a forty-year success story only encourages Enrique to do his very best with this wonderful opportunity that his family has entrusted him with. Knowing he gets to be a part of the legacy his family has already created makes Enrique especially proud to be a part of the family business. He is excited every day that he gets to work alongside his aunt and his father giving him a chance to show them how hard he will work to create continued success of the family business. Consistency at the core, but also the ability to adapt with the times, is Enrique’s motto.
I asked Enrique, “Now you have a chance to say something to your loyal customers, community, and city that supports the Crest Café, what would you like to say to them and what is your biggest hope to them as they continue to support you?” His response was, “I would love to scream “thank you” and let them know how we couldn’t have done anything without their loyalty and support over all these years. My hope is that they continue to do so, and they know that I consider them my extended family. It really is a beautiful part that I really cherish. We get to spend holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and so many more with our beloved patrons and I know my family feels privileged to do so because they could be anywhere else, but they chose to spend it with us. We thank you all!”
To the landmark pink building that houses the Crest Café on Robinson Avenue at the counter next to the alley that is family owned, thank you for being a reliable place to gather and share delicious food and drinks for forty years. In the process it has created friendships, good times, great food, and loyalty from both the staff and its customers. If for some reason you have never eaten there, I personally invite you to get yourself in there and have some of the best comfort food made with love in San Diego. Oh, by the way they are big huggers. Do not be surprised if you get a warm hug from them one day. Thank you to the Crest Café family for being one of Hillcrest’s examples of longevity, delicious home cooked food, kindness and how to show everyone what love can do after forty years. Here is to the next forty years of making that dream continue. I will see them soon for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I hope I see you there as well.
Location: 425 Robinson Avenue, San Diego, California, 92103
Enrique Medina: Cell: 619-987-7186
Crest Café: Office: 619-295-2510