For the past 19 years, Wanda’s Café and Bakery in Nehalem has been serving delicious breakfast, lunch and baked goods at the hands of Wendy Crosta. But with retirement plans looming, Crosta has placed the café in the capable hands of Frank Squillo and his husband Patrick.
The Squillo family moved from Dallas, Texas to Portland a while back, but made frequent trips out to Manzanita to get away from the big city life. As they looked for ways to make their residence on the coast permanent, Frank and Patrick decided the best way to do it was obviously to buy a restaurant.
“It’s actually something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Frank said. “I had a pizza restaurant in Western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh back in the 90s and my dad had a restaurant when I was real young and I remember that and always wished he would’ve kept it. So it’s always been something I’ve wanted to get back to.”
Upon their search, they discovered that Wanda’s was for sale in Nehalem and after the Squillos took a closer look at the café’s brand, popularity among visitors and locals as well as its delicious food, Frank decided it was a perfect fit. Over the summer, they began working with Crosta on transitioning over to new ownership and on Jan. 2, Frank and Patrick officially took over.
“The first month is always the trickiest because you are just learning, observing and not really doing a whole lot,” Frank said. “We got through it and we are just going to keep working through the cycle of our first year, adjusting to all the seasons and the weather changes, but overall it’s been a great experience so far.”
Frank and Patrick have been adjusting rather easily thanks in part to Crosta who has still been working at the café, cooking and baking like she has been for many years.
“She’s trying to retire but we made a deal to have her here for a few months but we’ll see because if she wants to keep baking, we aren’t going to stop her,” Frank joked. “Everyone loves what she bakes and thankfully her assistant knows how to bake everything so she can keep that tradition going once she finally decides to call it quits.”
Although much of the restaurant looks and remains the same, it soon will be receiving a major facelift to both the interior and the exterior. On the exterior, the Squillos will be re-shingling both the café and bakery, adding new lighting and creating a courtyard out front with fencing, speakers and heating for people to wait outside when it gets too crowded inside.
“During the summer time we want to add things like maybe cornhole, a giant connect four or just something to do to pass the time while they wait,” Frank said.
Additionally they will soon be paving and striping the parking lot, which they’ve expanded by a few more spaces.
The new owners are also redoing the patio area in the back and converting it into more of a kids area to make their restaurant more family friendly. Plans are to add chalkboards and other games that the kids can entertain themselves with.
“My husband and I have a ten and a six year old and when they were younger and we’d go out to eat, they’d get done quickly and then it’d be time to go,” Frank said. “But if you are at a place that’s kid friendly, it was so much nicer for everyone because you can relax and take your time.”
Inside, the Squillos will be reconfiguring the kitchen to add more space and upgrading all the kitchen equipment.
“One thing we will be adding to the menu will be pancakes and they weren’t able to do them before because our grill space is just too small,” Frank said. “However, the menu will be the same, we just want to add pancakes and maybe hash browns as well.”
In the dining area, the café will receive new vinyl flooring, upgraded tables and chairs and they have added speakers to give the place more of a relaxed vibe.
They also already took down a staircase that went up to the attic and allowed for a lot more space for bakery displays. Wanda’s will also add mobile ordering with iPads at all the tables, which is a convenience that a lot of people expect nowadays according to Frank.
With all of the changes forthcoming, many lovers of the Nehalem staple have feared whether or not too much change will be good for the café. However, the Squillos feel that these changes are just what the place deserves.
“The name stays the same, the food stays the same and the staff will all be staying,” Frank said. “It’s one of those places that has been here so long that it deserves these upgrades. When we get to the other end of it I think everyone’s going to be able to take a deep breath and say, ‘you know what, good job guys,’ because we don’t want to turn it into something that shouldn’t be, like something straight out of hipster Portland.”
Wanda’s will also soon be open seven days a week after all the construction is finished.
With a background in TV and radio, Frank feels his experience has prepared him to be able to run a successful restaurant.
“Three things had to happen for my morning radio show, people had to listen, they had to like what I was doing and they had to come back to listens some more,” Frank said. “If those three things didn’t happen I would be out of a job and it’s the same when owning a restaurant.”
Frank and Patrick bought a house in Manzanita and are looking forward to living in the small coastal town.
“There’s not a whole lot of negatives about living in a small town,” Frank said. “I grew up in a small town and I’m glad that my kids will get to grow up in that environment as well.”