TERAJI: A taste for kindness, hospitality, compassion

Sandy Moretti

It’s not all of us that get to live our childhood dream.

“It’s always been my dream to have my own little restaurant,” grandmother Sandy Moretti said as she gave me a big hug. A waitress since the age of 12, it took nearly 40 years, but Moretti’s dream finally came true when she became owner of the restaurant formerly known as the Sunrise Café on Monterey Road next to Motel 6.

“I didn’t picture anything as grand as this,” Moretti said. She served as a waitress for 17 years at the former Sunrise Café before becoming its owner. Over its lifetime it has gone through 6 previous incarnations, beginning as Little Sambo’s.

Now it is her name emblazoned on the sign out front: “Sandy’s Café.”

When it went up for sale in 2011, she thought she would just feel out the possibilities, but her husband surprised her by making an offer that was accepted by former owners John and Sinie Karas.

“I can’t believe it; sometimes I have to pinch myself,” she said with an expression of incredulity on her face as she gazed around the restaurant.   

Surviving the dreaded first year is an accomplishment for any new business owner in this economy. Moretti has now almost made it to her 2-year anniversary. 

“We had to make some adjustments to lower our overhead,” she said. “We are really a café, not a dinner house. Now that we’ve changed our hours to better fit our busiest times of day, we are doing better.”

“The boys are here,” Moretti said, turning to two tables filled with 10 guys enjoying their morning coffee. “The regulars come every day. That’s what’s keeping us afloat,” she smiled. “It’s the hometown people.”   

No waitresses are on duty yet at a little after 5 a.m., but the local farmers are already lining the counter for their daily morning coffee. Sandy’s husband of 8 years, Junior, comes in before business hours to start pouring the hot brew that gets them going for a hard day’s work.

“It’s a neat little thing that he does,” she said. She met the man of her dreams at the restaurant:  she waited on him for 17 years. She finally asked him if he wanted to go to a Bingo game. She won $500 and gave him half. He tried to refuse the winnings, but she said that if he didn’t take it, he couldn’t go with her again. The next day after she served his meal, she found he had left a $250 tip! 

“I love Gilroy because of the size; everywhere I go I am greeted by a familiar face. You feel like you’re a movie star. I just love that hometown feel.”

“Hi, Don,” “Hi, John,” you can hear Moretti and members of her crew of 3 cooks, 3 dishwashers, and 4 waitresses calling out. It’s the personal touches that bring people back again day after day. Moretti learns their names; she knows their favorite seats and often has their tea or coffee already there waiting for them. They need only say, “The usual,” and the food quickly arrives. She encourages her waitresses to be personal with people.

“Talk to the customers and get to know them,” is part of her training advice. “It’s not just about the food. Food and service go together. I tell them to get in there and help each other. Look at people as you are walking by; make it easy for them to make eye contact.”

“I know what it’s like; I’ve been on the other side.”    

Moretti has turned the restaurant into a one-woman crusade for compassion and care for the community. At Christmas time, Moretti signed up to provide gifts for children in need at Rebekah Children’s Services.

“They gave us their wish list. We couldn’t believe what they asked for,” she said.

“This is going to make you cry,” “The 11-year-old asked for newborn Pampers for her baby brother–that’s what she wanted for Christmas.”

Another little girl asked for a Cinderella coloring book.

“They were happy with something so simple,” she said, tears in her eyes.

She collected a huge amount of toys by putting out a barrel, and all those who donated a toy received half off their meals.

Homeless people who come in never leave hungry. A man came in with no shoes to wear in winter. He wore pants with long legs which he had folded down over his feet and fastened with safety pins. It was more than Moretti could stand. She gave him twenty dollars to go buy shoes. She negotiates with nearby hotel owners when someone needs to put up in an emergency situation, sometimes paying for whole families who need shelter for a week at a time.

“Often people just need a little boost. I know as a single mom supporting my family as a waitress, I had times when it was tough.” 

“People ask, ‘How can you be there 7 days a week?’ But it’s just been a blessing,” Moretti said with a smile lighting up all the corners of her face. “I just love people. I learn something new every day. I meet someone new every single day.

“When you love what you do, it’s not work. I feel like I am living my childhood dream.”   

By the way, the shoeless man she helped came back to show her his brand new tennis shoes – and to bring back her change.

Sandy Moretti truly lives the philosophy posted as you enter her café: “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.”

To help Sandy Moretti give to those in need in our community, contact Sandy’s Café at 6120 Monterey Rd, Gilroy, CA, 95020, or call (408) 848-1200. Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 7 days a week.  

It’s not all of us that get to live our childhood dream.

“It’s always been my dream to have my own little restaurant,” grandmother Sandy Moretti said as she gave me a big hug. A waitress since the age of 12, it took nearly 40 years, but Moretti’s dream finally came true when she became owner of the restaurant formerly known as the Sunrise Café on Monterey Road next to Motel 6.

“I didn’t picture anything as grand as this,” Moretti said. She served as a waitress for 17 years at the former Sunrise Café before becoming its owner. Over its lifetime, it has gone through six previous incarnations, beginning as Little Sambo’s.

Now, it is Moretti’s name emblazoned on the sign out front: “Sandy’s Café.”

When it went up for sale in 2011, she thought she would just feel out the possibilities, but her husband surprised her by making an offer that was accepted by former owners John and Sinie Karas.

“I can’t believe it; sometimes I have to pinch myself,” she said with an expression of incredulity on her face as she gazed around the restaurant.   

Surviving the dreaded first year is an accomplishment for any new business owner in this economy. Moretti is approaching her two-year anniversary.

“We had to make some adjustments to lower our overhead,” she said. “We are really a café, not a dinner house. Now that we’ve changed our hours to better fit our busiest times of day, we are doing better.”

“The boys are here,” Moretti said, turning to two tables filled with 10 guys enjoying their morning coffee. “The regulars come every day. That’s what’s keeping us afloat,” she smiled. “It’s the hometown people.”

It’s a little after 5 a.m. and no waitresses are on duty, but the local farmers are already lining the counter for their daily morning coffee. Sandy’s husband of eight years, Junior, comes in before business hours to start pouring the hot brew that gets them going for a hard day’s work.

“It’s a neat little thing that he does,” she said. She met the man of her dreams at the restaurant:  she waited on him for 17 years. She finally asked him if he wanted to go to a Bingo game. She won $500 and gave him half. He tried to refuse the winnings, but she said that if he didn’t take it, he couldn’t go with her again. The next day after she served his meal, she found he had left a $250 tip! 

“I love Gilroy because of the size; everywhere I go I am greeted by a familiar face. You feel like you’re a movie star. I just love that hometown feel,” she said.

You can hear Moretti and members of her crew calling out the names of customers. It’s the personal touches that bring people back again day after day. Moretti learns their names; she knows their favorite seats and often has their tea or coffee already there waiting for them. They need only say, “the usual,” and the food quickly arrives. She encourages her waitresses to be personal with people.

 Moretti has turned the restaurant into a one-woman crusade for compassion and care for the community. At Christmas time, Moretti signed up to provide gifts for children in need at Rebekah Children’s Services.

“They gave us their wish list. We couldn’t believe what they asked for,” she said, giving an example of an 11-year-old who asked for newborn Pampers for her baby brother. Another little girl asked for a Cinderella coloring book.

“They were happy with something so simple,” said Moretti, with tears in her eyes.

She collected a huge amount of toys by putting out a barrel. Everyone who donated a toy received half off their meal.

Homeless people who come in never leave hungry, either. One time, a man came in with no shoes to wear in winter. He wore pants with long legs which he had folded down over his feet and fastened with safety pins. It was more than Moretti could stand. She gave him $20 to go buy shoes. She also negotiates with nearby hotel owners when someone needs to be put up in an emergency situation, sometimes paying for whole families who need shelter for a week at a time.

“Often people just need a little boost,” she resolved. “People ask, ‘How can you be there seven days a week?’ When you love what you do, it’s not work.”  

By the way, the shoeless man she helped came back to show her his brand new tennis shoes – and to bring back her change.

Sandy Moretti truly lives the philosophy posted as you enter her café: “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.”

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