Remembering Ridgecrest’s first restaurant, Shoaff’s Cafe

Remembering Ridgecrest’s first restaurant, Shoaff’s CafeBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Ridgecrest boasts some colorful ancestors who were so renown that when the moon landing astronauts were training on the base they knew one of them by name and instead of eating at the Officer’s Club, they said, “No, we want to go to the Drawing Room and meet Rita.”

Before it was the Drawing Room the restaurant was known as Shoaff’s Cafe – the first restaurant in Ridgecrest. Rita’s brother, Sherm Shoaff, also quite a character, came to Ridgecrest looking for work in 1943. He labored for a while helping with the footings on the new base’s admin building.

His niece, Rita’s daughter, Rosemary Galvin tells us, “Sherm told Joe Fox he would like to to build a restaurant, Joe said, ‘I have some bricks and you can have them.’ So Joe Fox and Elliot gave him the bricks that built the restaurant in 1943.” The building is still standing across from Victory Market on Ridgecrest Boulevard and is now a smoke shop.

Over the next few years, Sherm’s family took the train from Ohio to Barstow to join him. His mother, Mom Sadie, came in 1945. Rosemary says, “We came January 17, 1946. Sherm had called my mom, Rita, and said, ‘You have to come because nobody knows how to cook.’

Sherm picked us up at night, and of course my father came. The next morning, he looked around, not too many buildings in town and said, ‘Don’t unpack, Rita, we’re not gonna stay.’ Well, here it is 75 years later and I am still here.”

Sherm built homes for himself and for his mother. Rita and her kids lived in an apartment behind their houses. Rosemary shares fond memories of the many businesses of early Ridgecrest and her childhood. “Mac Rizzardini had the Victory Market across the street. Eva, Mac’s sister, and her husband Marshal Goulette, had the Ridgecrest Variety Store. Jimmy Rizzardini and Millie had the furniture store on Ridgecrest Blvd.

Hazelton’s Department store was at the end, that building became JD’s Bar. The Burkes were here in town. He had a big meat market on the side of Hazelton’s. Hazelton had a boys’ home out on Bowman Road.

You could go up to Mean’s Nursery. That yellow house on Ridgecrest Blvd is where they lived and they could walk across the street to their great big nursery.”

Sherm enlisted Rosemary’s help to run errands to the Bamboo Club and the local bookie, “When I was 4 or 5 years old, Sherm would hand me a piece of paper and some money. I would mosey down the street, knock on the door and say, ‘Joe, it’s Rosemary. Sherm sent me.’ He’d stick his hand out I would give him the money and in the afternoon when the races were over, if he won, I would have to mosey down the street again and knock on the door, ‘Joe, it’s Rosemary.’ He would pay me money and I would mosey back up the street again.

They had The Chicken Coop where they played pool and stuff like that. Of course, being young, we weren’t allowed in there. But you could stand at the screen and they had a cooler. We would stand at the door at the screen and watch them play pool because it was so cool.”

Shoaff’s Cafe was a family venture. When she was older, Rosemary worked in the cafe. “My grandma made all the pies by scratch each morning. My mom did all the cooking. She would go at five in the morning and start cooking for all of the meals.

She made everything from scratch. She would make the meatballs for the meatball sandwiches, she would cook the corned beef, cook the roast beef, make soup, make chili during the winter time.” Remembering her mother, brings a tear to Rosemary’s eye, “She was only four-foot eleven, but I tell you - she was a spitfire! She had a sign that hung up in the kitchen, ‘You get it my way or you don’t get the S.O.B. at all.’ A lot of people liked the sign, my brother has it to this day.”

As time went on, more restaurants sprung up in Ridgecrest. Rosemary remembers, “Sherm said, ‘It’s too hard to keep competing with the other restaurants. We are going to make a poker parlor.’ We had to do some remodel. It was closed for about a month.”

They reopened with their new name, the Drawing Room, because draw poker was their game.

Then Rita started making sandwiches. “In about a year the sandwich business was bigger than the poker business so he closed the poker room up and we started doing a full sandwich shop. From eight until eleven my mom would cook breakfast.” Ham or sausage or bacon, eggs and silver dollar pancakes were on the menu. “The kids all came in and she had a cash register at the end of the counter, and it was on the honor system. The kids knew how much they owed for breakfast, they would put their money in, take their change and if you didn’t have enough money until payday you just left a little note in there. So everybody would pick their notes up on payday.”

For lunch,”She made a homemade potato salad every day. She cooked ten pounds of potatoes and when that was gone, it was gone. She made two-to-three pans of coleslaw every morning. “ They would close and come back at four, serve pizza and spaghetti and close at nine.

‘Sherm would mosey in about 10:30 so he could have breakfast before the lunch started at noon. He would get his pad and his pencil in his hand. He would walk in and he would start taking orders for lunch but if somebody spoke to him, he would sit down. So Sherm wasn’t too reliable with his orders. He was an entrepreneur. He would tell stories. Sherm was a visitor. When people came in he always greeted everyone at the door.”

“We were Tommy Mather’s first customer when he started his dairy. When we first started Sherm would have to drive to LA to pick meat and stuff up. Jimmy Bobo was our first produce man. He would come from San Bernardino.

It would take him thirteen hours to drive because it was only a two lane road and Cajon Pass was single lane. He would come once a week and bring all the produce in. Then Bill Dick took over for him and he would come a couple of times a week. Then Blair Zurn took over and he was our last produce man. The Kraft company would bring all of our pickles and our mayonnaise.”

“We always closed the restaurant the whole month of August. The first two weeks of August we all went up to Sherm’s trailer in Lake Tahoe. We went for sixty straight years. We closed the Drawing Room in July 1997. My mom ended up with cancer, quite severe. And so I called my sister, a nurse down in Los Angeles. We took my mom down there. In one year they completely cured all of her cancer. She was a real trooper. We had my mom until 2005.”

Rosemary tells us, “Everybody said, ‘Oh, you are Rita’s daughter.’ I didn’t have a name, but that was okay.” She continues to be a vital part of Ridgecrest. She’s been an Avon lady for forty-nine years, is a member of the USO, the Moose Club, the American Legion and is an active docent with the Maturango Museum.

Her family grew and prospered in Ridgecrest. “In town there were over one hundred of us at one time. My mom’s seven brothers and sisters came and worked here, retired here, and have passed away now. Some of their kids are still here. I have a daughter, son-in-law and two of my grandchildren are in town. I have one brother and his family in town. I have a cousin who owns a plumbing shop and a cousin who owns a car dealership.”

Rosemary travels a bit and still make it up to Lake Tahoe, but now she stays in hotels.

Laura Austin photo: Rosemary Galvin with photos from Ridgecrest’s first restaurant. Upper Left: Her uncle, Sher Shoaff, and her mother, Rita Gatchell. Upper Right: The Drawing Room; Lower Right: Rita cooking; Lower Left: Rita’s iconic sign “You get it my way or you don’t get the S.O.B. at all.”

Story First Published: 2021-06-25