Cafe N' Stuff's Ebie Ghaneian likes to reinvent his restaurant

DOWNEY - The last time this reporter had as much as peeped inside Cafe N' Stuff was years ago. Revisiting it on Monday on assignment provided a few surprises. The fuzzy picture of the restaurant I carried in my mind all this time was that it was small, with only a few tables inside, distinguished only by its outside panoplied cafe. I was never more mistaken.

Glancing around while owner Ebie Ghaneian and catering manager Rita DeBenedictis fed me with information about its operation, the inside seemed to have at least tripled in size. Of course its decor changed as well. Its walls and its lighting exuded a warm, inviting feeling to the place. Cafe N' Stuff, 9306 E. Firestone Blvd., had been transformed!

In due course, I would view its bakery and cold storage facilities, and, to the left of the entrance to the Downey Elks Lodge building, its warehouse (where its dry goods are stored). I already knew of its conference room, scene of many service clubs' meetings. I learned that over time a previously occupied space on the restaurant's right and on its left had been added to accommodate expansion.

Ebie Ghaneian, 60, is a native of Shiraz (pop. 1.2 million), Iran, which is some 571 miles south of Tehran, the two cities separated by the Zagros Mountains whose southern portion roughly parallels the Persian Gulf. After graduating in 1976 with a bachelor's in physics from Shiraz' Arak University, he went on a company scholarship to San Diego's International University where he obtained an MBA in retailing in 1978. He was supposed to go back to Iran, but the Iranian Revolution put an end to that idea.

Ebie's family in Iran belonged to a line of merchants and businessmen and, as he was growing up, he had learned how to prepare food. So, settling in Torrance, he started a small restaurant, with himself as chef.

In the meantime, in 1978, he married Azar; they have two children: their 30-year old daughter has a master's in child psychology and works for UCLA, while the 24-year old son is currently in property management.

His parents, four brothers (one passed away last December) and two sisters, who followed him to the U. S. ten years later, all live in Orange County. His parents, since deceased, are interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

In 1989, he went ahead and bought Cafe N' Stuff from a Mr. Kishmaz for $35,000. Today, he estimates the restaurant is valued at $800,000 to $900,000.

The secret to his success? Rita, who has been his catering manager going on 20 years now, says it's because "He likes what he does. The business is his hobby."

Ebbie nodded his head in obvious agreement. He explained: "We've renovated the place six or seven times since I acquired it. In fact, we upgrade practically everything-the menu, try new things, etc.-every two or three years. We want to keep things fresh, we want to keep everything here moving. In other words, we welcome change. We try to improve things, we try to innovate."

The restaurant's catering operation produces 90 percent of total business. It is also, as in many restaurant operations, the source of much of its profit. Hence Rita's role is significant. A former resident of Downey and transplanted to Menifee near Temecula, she has a BA in graphic arts and design from Cal State Long Beach and she uses these skills to advantage: in addition to managing Cafe N' Stuff's catering department, she says "I design all of our menus, advertising, marketing and uniforms. Yes, I make the crazy drive everyday, 72 miles one way. I really must love my job." She was born in Artesia and raised in Huntington Park. She'd had 18 years of catering experience in Huntington Park before joining up with Ebie.

In addition to the restaurant's service staff of three waitresses and one waiter (all of whom have been with the company for a long time), the catering department has for the past ten years been functioning with the same four fulltime staff and about thirty part-time servers. Ebie says they service customers' needs within a 25-mile radius, especially such areas as Whittier, Bellflower, Cerritos, Santa Fe Springs, South Gate, Montebello, Long Beach, parts of Orange County, and Los Angeles.

"We work as family. We've had no staff lay-offs, even during the bad times," Rita said. "We specialize in weddings, corporate functions, and quinceaneras," she adds. Wedding groups range from thirty to three hundred people. Cafe N' Stuff has also made service arrangements with such parties/groups as the OASIS Club held at Columbus High and the Seniors' Club for its special events (e.g., the Mother's Day Tea in May, the Valentine's Dinner), as well as entered into a partnership with the Downey Theater to provide food and beverage.

Further, it has entered into an exclusive arrangement with the city of Santa Fe Springs to handle its catering for all their Heritage Park events such as weddings, picnics, and other special events.

Users of its meeting/conference room include the Toastmasters' Club, the Exchange Club, the Sertoma Club, and the Downey Networking Club; the Kiwanis Club board as well as the Optimist Club of Cerritos (of which Ebie is a member) also hold their meetings in the restaurant.

Soccer was Ebie's sport in high school (in Iran). Today he likes to play racquetball. Rita says Ebie "watches all sports" (football, Lakers basketball, baseball, etc.). Lately he has taken to fishing: he went to Sitka, Alaska last August, and he is gearing up for another trip this summer.

He makes sure he is involved in the community, for networking purposes, to volunteer his services. He says his memberships in these service groups provide him with an opportunity to "give back to the community." A member of: the Chamber of Commerce as well as Kiwanis for 24 years, he is also active with the Elks Lodge, the Lions Club of Whittier, and the aforementioned Cerritos Optimist Club.

Still a resident of Torrance, site of his first restaurant venture, Ebie says running Cafe N' Stuff involves long hours but it has also provided him with a good slice of the American Dream.

********** Published: April 4, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 51