by David Axelson
On the off chance there was ever a Jeopardy quiz category entitled, ‘Coronado Restaurants,’ Roger Boomer would be your guy. He would run the entire topic and not even the incomparable Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings could stop him. As we will discover later, except for a six-year sabbatical at a local real estate firm, Boomer is a restaurant lifer.
Born in Modesto, a graduate of Turlock High School where he played tennis for four years and was team captain, Boomer went on to graduate from California State University Stanislaus with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing. But it wasn’t so much what he was studying, as what Boomer was doing away from class. “I worked through college in the industry as a server and a bartender and so on. It was just in my blood and what I like to do. I did go through some standard campus recruiting seminars and nothing grabbed my attention like the restaurant business had. No one in my family has a background in the business and I got hooked at an early age. When you have cash in your pocket in college, you’re a rich kid.”
After college Boomer went straight into the Chart House Management Program in La Jolla and from there his first assignment was in Baltimore, followed soon by his first general manager position at the Chart House in Melbourne, Florida. For a total of 20 years Boomer ran Chart House properties in San Francisco, Cardiff, Redondo Beach and from 1994-2002 he ran Peohe’s Restaurant in Coronado.
Boomer joined Coronado resident Jim Rowe in the Help-U-Sell portion of Simcal Properties in 2002 and had a six-year run with the company, working as chief operating officer. Boomer said of the position, “I had an opportunity to get into business for myself and I helped Jim sell real estate. We’re still good friends.” The recession of 2008 created a dramatic downturn in the real estate industry. Boomer explaining his return to the restaurant business smiled and said simply, “I needed a job.”
Shortly afterwards, Boomer joined Alberto Mestre as the general manager of Candela’s. “It took six months to get Candela’s open,” Boomer said of his stint with the Mestre Restaurant Group. “Then in July of 2008 I joined Red Robin and was there for four years and learned a lot. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people. I was the opening general manager for their Plaza Bonita location.” Then it was on to the Firehouse Restaurant in Coronado, where he served as the operating partner for 10 months.
Then in 2012 life took a right turn, as Boomer explains. “From there I put everything in storage and bought a one-way ticket to South Carolina. I was divorced and the kids were grown. I met Christine Dulin, who is now my wife, at the Hotel Del that August and we developed a long-distance relationship. There was nothing to tie me here and I decided to make a go of it in South Carolina. All the while Christine was working feverishly to get a job in San Diego with her company, which is AbbVie Pharmaceuticals. I was only in Greenville, South Carolina for a total of five weeks. I was planning on finding work had she not found a job here. I helped load a three-bedroom house into the biggest truck and trailer we could find. Christine, her seven-year-old son Sam and I drove across the country to Coronado to get here by April 1 when she had to report to work. In May 2012, I went to work for Marty Jensen during the transition to 1887 on the Bay. Marty and I go all the way back to 1980 in Tahoe when I was a broiler assistant and prep cook and Marty was an assistant manager.”
Then it was on to the Coronado Brewing Company for a two-year run from February 2013 to February 2015. “I was the general manager and oversaw all of their hospitality operations, from the original restaurant in Coronado to their tasting room at the brewery location in San Diego,” Boomer said. “The majority of my time was spent with design and construction oversight for their Imperial Beach location, which was originally a 7-11 store and then three different restaurants. We added interior seating and the location now seats 105. It’s a fast casual concept where you walk in and order at the counter. It was a great experience and from what I hear, they are doing well. It’s been well-received in the community for sure. I first met Rick and Ron Chapman in 1994. When we finished opening the IB location, Ron and I sat down in February and he said they had decided not to expand their restaurant division. It was best for them to eliminate my position and move on. We parted on very good terms and I still have a Coronado Brewing Company logo on my truck. They have a great brand.”
Peohe’s means ‘Gathering of Friends’ in Hawaiian and by now you have followed the narrative and picked up on Boomer returning to Peohe’s and Chart House Inc. as Managing Director. Chart House, Inc. is in turn owned by Landry’s, Inc. from Houston. Boomer explained, “Landry’s bought Chart House shortly after I left in 2002.” Other Landry’s holdings include the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company locations, Claim Jumper, McCormick & Schmick’s, Morton’s The Steakhouse and the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casinos in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada.
It’s like old home week for Boomer as Landry’s Regional Vice President Peter Wagle joined the management ranks at Peohe’s when Boomer was general manager; Landry’s Regional Director Michael Richardson was a waiter for Boomer at Peohe’s; and Rich Penny, who hails from Imperial Beach and was executive chef under Boomer, is now Concept Executive Chef at Landry’s/Chart House. “I still get to work with the Chart House crew,” Boomer said. “They are all great guys.”
Boomer addressed his goals at Peohe’s and said, “In the short term I want to restore the connection between the restaurant and the local community. Long term my goal is to remain as the Managing Director until Sam graduates from high school in eight years. He’s a fourth grader at Village Elementary now. Christine and I were married Nov. 25 at Dog Beach. The ceremony included the three of us and our 80-pound Malamute Gracie and her mutt sidekick Piper. It was a lot of fun.”
Honesty compels me to report that even though I live a non-brisk, five-minute walk away from Peohe’s, my last dining experience there was probably during Boomer’s first tenure at the establishment. Since I was there last, the rain forest motif which originally occupied the middle portion of the restaurant has been removed and a 120-seat wrap-around deck has been added to the Bayside front of the location. “It’s the preferred seating area for lunch during the day, weather permitting,” said Boomer. “This month, until yesterday, we were serving lunch outside every day. To sit outside in December and be comfortable and look at the ships go by is always entertaining. Also, the parking in the lot in front of the restaurant is now free. The total seating capacity of Peohe’s is 500 seats including the outside. I’m thrilled to be back.”
My wife and co-dining enthusiast Sharon and I ate at Peohe’s Saturday. For the most part I stayed with Boomer’s recommendations and I opened with the Kim Chee Calamari, which is lightly fried and served with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce. I admit to being a calamari enthusiast and if the dish appears on a menu, there is a 90 percent probability that I’ll order it. Sharon and I both agreed the Peohe’s version is the best we’ve ever had. The truth of the matter is it was so good, I went to lunch with a friend Monday at Peohe’s and ordered it for my entrée.
Sharon’s appetizer was the Crab, Avocado and Mango Stack, which as the name implies is a vertical stack from top to bottom of crab, mango and avocado. It is served with Parmesan cheese topped toastettes and the chilled combination of the ingredients was refreshing and worth revisiting.
We shared a cup of the lobster bisque, which comes with an optional splash of sherry and contains large chunks of lobster. I would suppose we have all experienced lobster bisque where the seafood ingredient was largely missing, but not here. It’s not a classic version of lobster bisque, but definitely should be experienced.
For the entrée I had Peohe’s Mahi Mai’a, which is sautéed with macadamia nuts, bananas, topped with Frangelico and served on a bed of coconut ginger rice. Although I read the menu carefully, the ‘sautéed’ modifier for the Mahi Mai’a escaped my attention and I was expecting grilled fish. There is no one to blame on that front except me. The dish was nicely prepared and the macadamia nuts provided a nice crunch, but I would have love to have tried the same dish grilled.
Sharon countered with the Peohe’s Shrimp Trio, which consisted in part of coconut shrimp with a delicious crunch. Best of all the chef doesn’t overwhelm the seafood with excess coconut. The dynamite shrimp was very good, but the star of the show was the Pacific Fire shrimp, served in a small, baked pastry shell. It had a little spice kick and by our way of thinking was the best of the three options.
While we were waiting for dessert, we had an unobstructed panoramic view of Downtown San Diego. Living in Coronado, surrounded by scenic water views, we sometimes get jaded, but the view and close proximity to the Bay was stunning.
For the final course we opted for Mud Pie, a long-time family favorite. The concoction was served with macadamia nuts on the side, with the familiar chocolate crust on the bottom and garnished with chocolate covered bananas slices. The good, rich coffee we ordered was a nice counter balance to the additional chocolate sauce our fine waiter brought with the pie.
A quick plug for Peohe’s wine selection. The Axelson default setting is for white wine and I had the Bogle Sauvignon Blanc and Sharon ordered the Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio. Both were inexpensive by current dining standards and nicely complimented the meal.
Peohe’s is located at 1201 First Street in Coronado, in the Ferry Landing and their phone number is 619-437-4474. Reservations can be made through Open Table, online or by phone. Hours include: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, which includes an ala carte brunch offering. Happy hour runs from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and features appetizers (Kim Chee Calamari anyone?) priced from $5-$8. Well drinks are $4.50, beer is $3 and wine is $5. The appetizers are a cross section from dishes found on the regular menu.
The bottom line on our dining experience? Well, I returned two days later and plan to return often. Being originally from the Midwest, despite having lived in Coronado for 23 years, I’m still favorably disposed to water views and fresh, really fresh, and well-prepared seafood. That seems to me to be a great dining combination.