527 Bald Eagle Dr, Marco
Like father, like son: Four words that could sum up 22 years and forego telling the story of Kretch’s restaurant.
Arguably, it’s the best family-run restaurant on Marco Island as well as chef-owned for 22 years, and that’s a good reason as any (in my book) to make Kretch’s a Sunday feature story.
Be patient, there’s more.
The big thing for the family — Ellen’s and Bruce Senior’s son Bruce Kretschmer Junior turns 21 this March. This past year he’s been working in the kitchen, but now he will be able to work full time, side by side with Ellen and Kretschmer Senior, while Miss Ellie is running the front of the house and perhaps the… Oops! I meant to say Ellen (that’s Mrs. Kretschmer, the proud Mom and CEO of Kretch’s), but that’s putting the cart before the horse.
Horse — that’s where I went off course, because Kretschmer started his chef’s training at DRSW — dude ranch in Sheridan, Wyoming. Neigh, not really, but there’s a rein here worth holding despite the jumps in between.
“I’ve been a chef for 45 years,” Chef Kretschmer began. “I went to college in Denver, got a BS or BA in Hotel Management but I always liked cooking, not the front of the house — There was only one cooking course in the Hotel Management program. If you wanted cooking you took a summer job. I took a job as chef at a dude ranch in Sheridan, Wyoming. The following summer I worked at a resort in northern Wisconsin — this was in the 60’s.”
Somewhere down the line he became Director of Food Services at the University of Illinois but there was a downside: “A lot of times I was peeling potatoes.”
In the 70’s he was working at a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin. Silly me, I neglected to inquire why, what, where, and how Chef Kretschmer managed to jump ahead from here (Wisconsin) to there (Marco Island) in 1977:
“I came down in a boat to see a friend, Doc Folsom — he was one of the first doctors on the island,” Chef Kretschmer related. “I was going to go back but… Chef Blomier at the Old Marco Inn was my first job on the island. He was an old German Chef — very colorful.”
Chef Kretschmer added that the Blomiers went to Maine summers, and that Mary Blomier was very well known on the island.
There were only five restaurants on Marco Island in the 80’s including the Jolly Roger, located where Porky’s is now, where Chef Kretschmer was working at the time.
“I met my wife Ellen there. It was the local hangout. Jack Creedon owned it then and now he’s at Jack’s Lookout up the road,” Chef said, explaining he worked at the Windemere Country Club before he got up and went back into the kitchen. Not to worry, Ellen was still sitting here at the table.
“We bought Mancuso’s Deli in May 1986. It was located between the Old Marco Inn and Café de Marco,” she said.
Ellen then explained, “It was a deli. We had to change it into a restaurant — it took us several months before we opened Kretch’s in October 1986.”
When they first opened it they were baking pizza in household ovens, she recalled. As the fledgling restaurant business spread its wings they bought more equipment and added tables and chairs to the screened-in area in front of the restaurant.
“We had my aunt and uncle sitting at one of the tables, pretending they were dining there to show people we were open and were busy,” Ellen said, noting the Café de Marco next door opened approximately three years earlier.
Now, fast forward to 1994. The complex had been sold to Sandy (Café de Marco owner) a few years earlier.
“Kretch’s stayed open through ’92 and ’93, but we couldn’t get an extended lease in 1994 because they were knocking it all down. The condos there now in Old Marco went up in ’95,” Ellen remembered. “We pulled out. This place started as a 7-11, next door was the Laundromat and the Post Office. The 7-11 was the only one on the island then.
“The 7-11 closed, just located to a different place — changed hands and operation mode. We then took this place in 1994 — moved everything over here from the old place and opened Kretch’s in October 1996.”
While Ellen was talking to us, she was up and down, talking to Wanda, who is one of the servers, and getting things organized before they opened for lunch at 11 a.m. We used to eat here when I did restaurant reviews for the Islander and I remember seeing her carry food to the tables as well as take order after seating people. Now, I asked Ellen if family affair included working in the kitchen then and now.
“When you own a restaurant business for 22 years you have to know how to cook!” she declared, noting that Wanda is practically one of the family because she started working at Kretch’s a month after they opened at the present location.
“Yes,” agreed Chef Kretschmer, “I’ve been cooking here 12 years.”
We thought it might be a judicious time to inquire about cooking style.
“We do a lot of catering,” he answered, and I thought I detected a slight impatience because the lunch hour was fast approaching, but no.
“Basic catering — we like to talk to our clients and base the menu on specific need — and suit the occasion. You can’t come up with an occasion or event — something we haven’t done before,” he said simply, adding that we really should speak to Bruce: “He’ll be working here full time when he turns 21 this March!” There was no mistaking the genuine fatherly pride when he looked at his son.
Bruce Junior was positively beaming. “I did a year (college) and decided it wasn’t for me,” he explained. “All through high school, I was probably thirteen, I bussed, set tables, prepped in the kitchen, and sometimes my mom and dad let me cook. I came back to carry on the family tradition — I’m very proud of what my family have accomplished and our reputation for serving fine food, simply prepared with the best and freshest ingredients — besides I really love cooking,“ he said, grinning at his dad.
Kretschmer Senior had just plunked down on a chair at the adjoining table and was writing furiously on a pad of paper.
“You can see I’m the one writing down the specials for the day for the lunch crowd, and that’s only if they can read my handwriting,” he said with mock exasperation, grinning at his son.
Yeah verily, like father, like son.