For these three ladies, the restaurant business has been a sort of calling. They live to create dining memories and serve Bakersfield. Meet these entrepreneurs here and learn about their signature items and favorite moments of running a restaurant.
Shawna Haddad Byers
Shawna, former owner of Fishlips on 18th Street, took over the former Suds Tavern spot in the Wall Street alley in 2012. At Muertos Kitchen & Lounge, Shawna's goal is "to serve simple flavorful food, provide top service and just let people relax with friends or family in such a wonderful setting."
What inspired you to run a restaurant? Besides the obvious of needing an income, I wanted to embrace my life -- all my success and sorrows, happiness and pain and to honor my grandmother and continue her wonderful spirit. Sadly, I am not even close to her amazing cooking skills, which is why I have Fern, Fil and Matt help me keep the love and flavors in the all the food at Muertos. Although "muertos" means "death/the dead" in Spanish, we are celebrating life! There is a lot of laughter and joy at Muertos. We have a very warm and welcoming vibe.
What is your favorite part about running a restaurant? Watching people truly enjoy themselves, hearing my staff laugh with each other, knowing my son Hudson is very proud of our place.
What's the biggest challenge? Our size -- 1,800 square feet. We have 14 tables and our kitchen is only 100 square feet. We serve more than 800 people in a five-day service week. We try our best to keep things consistent, timely and fun.
What's a signature item on your menu? Halibut tacos with a blood orange jalapeno margarita. We are getting known for our rotating specials and custom orders.
What's your favorite item? The menu is actually a collection of all my favorite things to eat, but right now I would say the halibut salsa, lamb tacos with bleu cheese crumble, ahi tuna tacos with wasabi red pepper honey sauce, and the "James burger."
What is the most interesting thing that happened at your restaurant? We get a lot of people traveling through or in town for business. My favorite is still the four businessmen from Georgia, Idaho, Germany and Finland -- that was a fun table.
What is the greatest thing you have learned through running a restaurant? To never give up. To believe in yourself and vision. To listen to the needs of your guests and staff.
Besides your place, what local restaurant is one of your favorites? Have to have our Mexicali Mondays, my son's constant request. Mama Roomba, Luigi's and Sequioa Sandwiches, too!
Laurie took over Bonnie's Best Cafe in October 2006. She started in the cafe on the sandwich end and then began created casseroles with the second owner in 2001 before taking over management duties.
What inspired you to run a restaurant? Craziness and the fun of creating good food for good customers inspired me to take the leap from employee to employer. I'm not sure I would have opened a restaurant without having experienced it first.
What is your favorite part about running a restaurant? All the different people you encounter. Many customers have become good friends. They can cheer you up on bad days, challenge you to keep your composure on other days, and teach you patience many days. I love the diversity that each day brings.
What's the biggest challenge? Employees are probably the biggest challenge. Paying the bills comes in as a stong second. There's nothing better than a good team and nothing more frustrating than a fractured team. They do teach me a lot and keep me well informed on the latest trends. My texting skills have improved, although I still can't figure out what a hashtag means. Finding time away is also a challenge, and vacations are few and far between.
What's a signature item on your menu? For the casseroles, our signature item has to be the chicken pot pie. It's so popular that we feature it every other Wednesday. Our signature for the sandwiches has to be the crazy celebrity names. The Tanya Harding is our club sandwich. First-time customers usually start laughing at the menu.
What is the most interesting thing that happened at your restaurant? On any given day, friends re-connect unexpectedly at Bonnie's. It happens all the time, and I'm in awe everytime.
What is the greatest thing you have learned through running a restaurant? How to be more patient and understanding (not sure I always am successful, as my employees will verify!). It's a lot of long hours, but the rewards are there.
Besides your place, what local restaurant is one of your favorites? We recently tried The Mark downtown, which we enjoyed. The Padre is also one of our go-to places. My husband is an excellent cook, so we tend to stay home for dining unless he's feeling the need to leave the kitchen.
It was a dream of Nancy's sister's to open her own restaurant, and she did when her family moved from Boston to California. But the Visalia restaurant could not support the family's six siblings. Forty years ago, the sisters moved to Bakersfield and opened an Italian restaurant named after her sister, Rose. And 20 years ago, Nancy's daughters wanted in on the business, and they opened another restaurant in southwest Bakersfield, calling it "Sorella," meaning sister.
What inspired you to run a restaurant? I started in this business when I was 14 years old. It got into my blood, and I loved the business. I always wanted to own my own.
What is your favorite part about running a restaurant? Throughout the years, I have made some wonderful close friends that come in to eat at Sorella, and (I also have) the pleasure of seeing customers leave with a smile on there face.
What's the biggest challenge? Finding good people to work.
What's a signature item on your menu? The signature dish has become our 18-ounce porterhouse steak with scampi. It's the best in town.
What's your favorite item? Our handmade manicotti and cannelloni with alfredo sauce and marinara sauce.
What is the most interesting thing that happened at your restaurant? There have been many marriage proposals, and one that stands out was a young couple who got engaged here. They had their wedding in the restaurant, and for their first anniversary, they celebrated here with their newborn baby.
Besides your place, what local restaurant is one of your favorites? My favorite local places to eat is Bill Lee's Bamboo Chopsticks Restaurant and Mexicali.
What is the greatest thing you have learned through running a restaurant? That owning a restaurant is not easy with its ups and downs, but if you believe in a dream, put in hard work and provide good food, it will happen. My family and my daughters work with me side-by-side through good times and the bad. And we have a wonderful chef, Gustavo Gomez, who makes things easier.