After 20 years in business, Colden and Mary Waller have learned a few things. First, remember your friends. Second, leave the menu favorites alone. And finally, but somewhat contradictory, do not fear change.
Those three lessons have served them well since they opened Cadwallader’s Cafe, and they expect to apply them in the future. On St. Patrick’s Day, they’ll begin their 21st year.
But it’s their first year that they credit to their long-term success. Like a lot of local restaurateurs, Colden had attended the “Craig Calvert school of culinary arts.” He was well-known in the local food and beverage industry before he and Mary even thought about opening their own place.
But it was a long-time friend that helped them get started the most: Frank Chirkinian, the former coordinating producer for CBS’s Masters telecast.
“His wife’s from Augusta, so I just knew them,” Colden demurs modestly. “He gave me some business when we first opened.
The first 15 years, they catered for CBS on the course and in the private residences that they utilized.
After that, the network began to use an on-site trailer for their talent and crew. But that connection helped Cadwallader’s Cafe to bring in a contract with Tokyo Broadcasting, for whom they continue to cater.
“They’re great people to work with,” Colden said. “They’ve been very generous with us.”
But he openly credits the Chirkinians as friends and advocates who got them through the trying first few years in business that all restaurants encounter, as they try to build a name, reputation and client base.
Looking around the expansive dining facilities, arranged into a series of private alcoves that belie the space that is actually available, it’s difficult to imagine their humble beginnings as just a small deli and wine specialty food store.
And, in truth, it’s probable that few people remember them that way. They only stayed small for about six months.
“In those days, people didn’t want to tell anyone about us because we were so small and they wanted to have a table,” Colden laughed.
But good news travels fast. They’ve since expanded to take up the entirety of the low-slung dusky rose-painted building with faded green awnings.
They enlisted the design help of architect Al Cheatham, who designed the Augusta Museum of History and the Church of the Good Shepherd on Walton Way.
The result is a combination of dark wood trim with elegant entablatures and crisp, white linens that is has both classical and modern appeal.
The quiet appeal, devoid of flashy or trendy flourishes, includes fresh floral arrangements, rough stone accents and a glassed-in, temperature-controlled wine storage rack storage closet that also serves to divide one dining area from the bar and adds a visual interest point to the dining area.
But after 20 years of smooth sailing, they’ve encountered their bumps. They recently lost their longtime friend and chef, Jean Louis Gerard Pierre Gamper. The native of Paris, who formerly owned the White Elephant Cafe on Broad Street, died after a long illness. Colden estimated that he’d known Gamper for 25 years.
“He was a great fixture in town. He fought that illness… but he never gave up,” Colden said. “He was always positive.”
But his loss means that Cadwallader’s is undergoing some changes — not too many on the menu. Over the years they’ve made some adjustments to the menu as tastes and times have changed, but not to dishes like their pork in an apple cider reduction.
“I tried to take one or two of them off and people got mad,” Colden laughed, and shook his head.
And right now, his wife and Darrin West are orchestrating the menu — West, by the way, refuses to label himself a chef, referring instead to himself as a “senior kitchen staffer.” And change sparks new ideas, spicing up the familiar with a good measurement of variety.
For example, Colden said that they’re serving buffalo on the menu, and looking for ways to serve more local produce.
“Most produce comes out of California and is picked very young,” he explained, before the full flavor is developed.
Being a locally owned restaurant, they have the luxury of arranging things like that because they only have to work on the logistics for one restaurant instead of dozens.
And in the end, Colden said, customers are the ones who win. They’re accustomed to the food at Cadwallader’s Cafe being seasonal, so it’s easy to tell them when something is unavailable.
“Customers that come here know that we might be out of something. You try not to run out, but they understand. They’d rather it be fresh,” he said.
Fun fact: The cafe is named after Colden’s direct relative, Colden Cadwallader. He was the acting governor of the state of New York in the early 1700s, and a clipping about Colden’s ancestor hangs on the cream-colored wall of the restaurant.
106 David Road, Martinez
Tues.-Sat. 4-11 p.m.