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Eat, Drink, Savor: Grab a Bite opens in Hollister

Jun 02, 2023Jun 02, 2023

Regulars at San Juan Bautista's Mission Cafe will have no problem recognizing the owners of Grab a Bite Cafe, a new restaurant that opened Jan. 30 at the old location of Lighthouse 55 Bakery at 396 Fourth Street in Hollister. Maria De Anda waited on customers at Mission Cafe and at the now-closed Basque Matxain Etxea Restaurant for 16 years, and her husband, Lucio Lozano, who once served as a chef at Mission Cafe.

"Our family and friends have been telling people we are open here," De Anda said. "So we are starting to see some people from San Juan Bautista already. It is very nice—I have really missed my old customers."

The transition of the bakery to Grab a Bite began when loyal Mission Cafe customer Dante Bains, who owns the Fourth Street location, told De Anda that Lighthouse 55 owner Lorie Rios was giving up the lease. De Anda and her family helped Rios with the job of cleaning out the building, acquiring enough of the equipment to give her a head start in opening her business.

"We didn't have to wait very long," she said. "It took about a month and a half to open after she left because she pretty much had everything ready, so we only had to wait for the health department and the permits."

Getting started with only the equipment Rios gave or sold them has resulted in a somewhat truncated menu for the moment. Without a stove, traditional breakfast fare such as pancakes or omelets are still in the planning stage, so they rely on waffles, crepes, and baked-from-scratch pastries and muffins to fill the breakfast gap until it arrives.

"We are doing research on a stove," Lozano said. "I want to have a full kitchen because I want to be able to have specials and more things on the menu. But right now, we have the crepes and sandwiches, and I am adding more soups, like the chicken soup, which people seem to really like. But we will add more, like tomato soup and clam chowder, too."

Lozano has 22 years of experience as a chef, and, besides working at Mission Cafe, spent time working locally at Paine's Restaurant and Westside Grill, before moving on to a stint as head chef at Raul Escareno's recently-opened Baler Bar, also in Hollister.

"I wanted to work for myself," he said. "I was looking for a place, but I didn't have luck before. Now I have a place, I know it's going to be a challenge, and it's going to be hard, but I know we will be able to manage it."

De Anda is content to manage the front of the house while Lozano works out the kitchen details.

"He knows more about the food than me," she said. "So the end of the day, he has all these ideas, and he's the one that decides, but I am helping too. We want to do more, and we are thinking about getting a wine and beer license and maybe opening for dinner at some point."

While they make adjustments to the menu as they get more used to the neighborhood, they have already made plans to capitalize on one almost-guaranteed stream of customers: people who work at the San Benito County Superior Court across the street who seem to be on perpetual short lunch breaks. The regular menu of salads, soups, and sandwiches will be available to-go, in some cases pre-packaged so that customers can literally grab a bite and go.

"This seems to be a very good neighborhood," De Anda said. "Hollister is full of very friendly people, and they have been very welcoming to my husband and me. We both know how to do this, and, thank God, we are getting busier every day."

Selected menu items at Grab a Bite Cafe

Crepes – The cafe currently serves three different crepes. I tried the ChocoBanana, with banana, chocolate chips, and whipped cream, and the Strawberry and Cream, with strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and a chocolate drizzle. (I avoided the third, Nutty Nutella, due to my allergies to nuts.) The crepes reminded me of the Swedish pancakes my grandmother used to make for me when I would come to visit—tender, sweet, and slightly thick. I love bananas, but the generous amount of fresh fruit made the Strawberry and Cream my favorite.

Sandwiches – I tried several sandwiches: the BLT Classic with thick slices of Applewood bacon, the Ham Sandwich with American cheese, and the Veggie Sandwich with fresh local avocado, cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, onions, and lettuce. The Veggie has a great combination of bright farm-fresh flavors, but my favorite was the Chicken Pesto, for its liberally-applied layer of house-made pesto that made the sandwich explode with a rich, savory taste. Preservative-free bread from Sumano's Bakery in Watsonville is used for all of the sandwiches.

Salads – The menu includes tuna, salmon, caesar, and chef's salads, but I tried the Salad Seed Mix—spring mix served with piles of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, and dried cranberries. I have never had a salad that could double as a dessert, but this comes close with the house-made balsamic vinaigrette adding a sweet glaze to the crunchy seeds. Though not indicated on the menu, De Anda said that chicken or salmon can be added to the salad which would make it a fun choice for lunch. For me, this is a must-try.

Cake – The cake selection will rotate, and on the day I was there, my choices were lemon cake, cheesecake, and carrot cake. On being told that the carrot cake that day had been made without nuts, I went for it. (Lozano said he would be making it with nuts as well, so ask before ordering if you have an allergy.) And it was an excellent choice: moist and dense, topped by what seemed to be a cross between the usual cream cheese icing and whipped cream. The frosting helped elevate the cake to perfection—it let the spiciness of the cake really shine without being overwhelmed by sweetness.

Recommendations for future Eat, Drink, Savor articles can be emailed to [email protected].

BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.

Regulars at San Juan Bautista's Mission Cafe