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Vic's Cafe keeps comfort food and the classic American diner alive in Paso Robles

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Mark Schwartz has been going to Vic's Cafe for 18 years, but it's not just the perfectly cooked pancakes and waffles that keep him coming back. It's also the people.

"The service is always fabulous," Schwartz said. "I compare it to that TV show Cheers, where you walk in and everybody knows your name. It's just like family there."

Schwartz said he grabs breakfast at Vic's two to three times a week, and he always orders pancakes or waffles.

"The pancakes are just amazingly hot, and the waffles are kind of crispy," he said. "Whenever I walk in there's just a very warm greeting. In fact, they always say to me, 'You want pancakes or waffles today?' That's how consistent I am."

Vic's Cafe is celebrating 80 years in the Paso Robles community this year, and Schwartz is just one of the many longtime customers who appreciate the restaurant's classic and consistent diner food, along with "the warmth and friendliness that the staff gives off," as Schwartz puts it.

Owner Dee Aud, who bought the business with co-owner Brett Skinner in 2018, told New Times that it was important to her to keep quintessential diner items on the menu—something Vic's has been getting right for eight decades.

RESTAURANT NAMESAKE Vic Buckley, the original owner and founder of Vic's Cafe, started the restaurant 80 years ago in 1942. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VIC'S CAFE
  • Photo Courtesy Of Vic's Cafe
  • RESTAURANT NAMESAKE Vic Buckley, the original owner and founder of Vic's Cafe, started the restaurant 80 years ago in 1942.

"I would call it classic diner food," Aud said. "We have people who drive [to Vic's] twice a week from Salinas because we're one of the few places that still offers liver and onions. I think we're the only restaurant around here that offers trout and eggs as well."

A customer favorite is Larry's Combo—two eggs, two strips of bacon or sausage, and a choice of pancakes, French toast, or a cinnamon roll.

"The cinnamon roll is ordered a lot," Aud said. "We have great big cinnamon rolls, and we make our own cream cheese icing in-house."

The Larry's Combo is named after former owner Larry Eastwood, who bought the restaurant in the 1970s after original owner Vic Buckley passed away. Aud said when she and Skinner took over from Eastwood in 2018, they kept a lot of the old favorites while updating ingredients.

"We started making more things from scratch, sourcing some more local ingredients," Aud said. "We changed the fruit, now we have seasonal fruit, and we updated the gravy recipe."

Aud also made the menu more accessible to people with dietary restrictions.

"We offer a lot more gluten-free options. My husband has celiac disease, so that's really important to him," Aud said. "We added a dedicated gluten-free toaster—just made it so that the separation was clear, so there wouldn't be any cross contamination. ... We added our own in-house, vegan, gluten-free veggie patty that we make ourselves."

Aud said she was drawn to buy Vic's Cafe because she could see how valued it is in the community—not just because of the restaurant's longevity, but also because it sticks to traditions and affordable prices.

"Twenty years ago, there was probably 10 percent of the restaurants that there are right now," Aud said. "A lot of [the new restaurants] are really high-end, sort of trendy places."

She recalled a time where Vic's got a bad Yelp review: Someone complained that the dishware looked too vintage.

CLASSIC DINER The 1940s staff and restaurant are the archetype of a classic American diner—a feeling that Vic's continues to keep alive today. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VIC'S CAFE
  • Photo Courtesy Of Vic's Cafe
  • CLASSIC DINER The 1940s staff and restaurant are the archetype of a classic American diner—a feeling that Vic's continues to keep alive today.

"I keep the color scheme looking original," Aud said. "That actually worked in our favor because people read the review and they came in—just because Vic's is an old classic."

Surviving the pandemic has been challenging, especially when COVID-19 first shut everything down.

"It was really, really hard," Aud said. "For a while I had to furlough everybody because everything was takeout only. ... payroll protection [program funds] helped a lot. I was able to bring people back in as soon as I got that money."

Now, the bigger challenges are supply chain issues and increasing ingredient prices.

"I'm having to redo the menu because of Proposition 12," Aud said, referring to a new California law that requires hog farmers to give pigs more room, which is making bacon prices go up. "So I'm having to raise prices."

Despite some of the challenges of the last two years, Aud said her committed customers and hardworking staff—some of whom have worked at Vic's for more than a decade—keep everything afloat.

Janet Davalos Mendoza, a server and the front of house manager, has been with Vic's for nine years.

"I started working there washing dishes, and later after three or four years I moved to be a waitress," she said. "You feel like you are in a family restaurant. You know everybody coming in, and what they're eating, what they're drinking.

"It's a big family, and that's why I love that place." Δ

Staff Writer Malea Martin will take the Larry's Combo with a cinnamon roll, please. Reach her at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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