The Soul Of Simonville
The Simon family goes the Whole "9" Yards, with hot gumbo and an even hotter karaoke.
Thursday, January 27, 2000
Have you ever had one of those experiences which was so very profound in its simplicity and yet reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Well, you''ll find just that at the Whole "9" Yards Cafe in Simonville, a mobile home village on Highway 156 just past Castroville.
Simonville was named, appropriately enough, for the Simon family of 11 brothers and sisters who inherited the property two years ago when their father, Jack, passed away. The land had been in the family for 50 years. In opening a unique cafe that offers family cooking and free karaoke three nights a week, the siblings found a way to heal their grief.
"You know, my mother died seven years ago and my father two years ago," says Jacqueline Simon, the main force behind the cafe''s operation. Owner of her own business development consultant group, Jacqueline teaches entrepreneurship at San Jose State University. "I opened the cafe to help with the healing that needed to be done and it has really helped to bring the family together. Now we''re hoping to make some money!"
Today, just four of the siblings remain on the property, sharing mutual responsibility for running the cafe and gift shop. Sisters Janice, Sue and Jacqueline and brother Theodore take turns running the cash register, cooking the food, balancing the books and, of course, singing at the open mic.
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, the cafe is open to the public, serving up mouthwatering soul food from recipes pulled out of the family cookbook. They cook the ribs like Dad cooked them, and it''s Mom''s recipe for the seafood gumbo boiling away in the pot. Nothing fancy: chicken, salad, mashed potatoes, ice cream and more, all at single-digit prices.
Every third Saturday, the Simons offer a special "karaoke dinner," where it costs ten dollars to get in the door. That includes a plate of piping hot food, entertainment by some of the regular karaoke crooners and a room of people who are there strictly to have fun.
It gets harder all the time to find a place where you can just let go and forget about pretense. This is that kind of place. Most of the folks seem to know each other--it''s the kind of nightspot where a regular feels comfortable enough to bring in a bowl of her own Filipino salad, and dish it out for free.
Karaoke asks just one thing--that you get up and sing like a maniac no matter what you might think of yourself in the morning. Karaoke usually takes place in bars, where after enough drinks, you might get up and sing a song you don''t mind ruining forever. But karaoke at the Whole "9" Yards is just good, clean fun for all ages, a place you''d feel comfortable bringing the kids to. It''s like sitting in a large living room with your family and friends.
If you''re a stranger when you walk in the door, you won''t be by the time you leave. It''s hard to feel reserved when you''re sitting behind a mountain of BBQ ribs and a shot of imported Japanese plum wine with someone singing a song as you might never have heard it before in your life--nor might you ever want to again.
On one recent night, the singing varied from awful to sublime. Brother Theodore sang James Brown with all the nuance and twice the soul. Janice Gionvamazzi appeared as Mae West, complete with boa and slinky dress, purring lustily into the microphone. An elderly gentleman named Art shuffled up and crooned out a song with sweet sincerity, only to be caught later hopping around on the dance floor. A young lady named Yvonne sang Alanis Morrissette better than Alanis Morrissette, then turned around to squeeze out a smoky jazz ballad.
At the other end of the scale was, sad to say, this journalist, who murdered Frank Sinatra shamelessly and with reckless abandon. That was primarily the fault of Mitch Page, who runs the sound machine and is the world''s best karaoke DJ. Before the night is out, he drags anyone and everyone up to the mic--you can trust me on that. (Actually, after a while they couldn''t drag me off the thing.)
You''ll find a lot of things at the Whole "9" Yards. Me, I found solace, beatitude, cold beer, and a Zen-like communion with people I feel very fortunate to have met. This may not be a perfect world, but by god, we can still sing like devils and feast on heavenly morsels of delight in the meantime.
The Whole "9" Yards Cafe serves food and holds free karaoke evenings Thursday through Saturday; "Karaoke Dinner," the third Saturday of each month, costs $10, including a plate of food and a drink. Call the cafe at 633-9063 for more details.