A decade ago, Gladys Parada was ahead of the culinary edge, at least for Monterey County. Now she is planning a step back in time—a soup and sandwich diner.
Parada expects to open Babaloo Cafe & Cuban Cuisine by mid-March in The Press Club, with much the same small menu that made her such a favorite in the first place. Hidden Fortress, which currently occupies the space on Fremont Boulevard, is closing its Seaside outpost on Feb. 8.
A brick-and-mortar Babaloo is something Parada has been wanting to do for some time.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” Parada explains. This—a lunch cafe—is what I’ve always wanted to do.” Although she has managed at destinations like Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn, Parada prefers to roll up her sleeves. “It’s more genuine. You don’t want to be fancy all the time.”
Parada ran the Babaloo food truck from 2010-2013—just three years, but those three years made her into a local culinary legend. But she has no intention of bringing the truck back alongside the cafe.
“That thing nearly killed me,” she says.
Food trucks were a rarity back then (and now, for that matter) in Monterey County. And the almost uncharted trail she forged was a struggle. Getting permits proved difficult to near impossible. Charges to operate at festivals made profit margins thin and rules regarding parking the truck while not in use limited options to a commissary in Watsonville.
Her days started with a 40-mile drive just to retrieve the truck. Then she made the rounds picking up ingredients (“no one was delivering product to a truck,” she recalls), plus finding propane and a trip to the bank. Those handy pay-by-smart-phone apps were still in development.
“It was brutal—all of that before you roll out and go to your location,” she points out. “It was like, ‘Holy crap, why is this so hard?’”
She ended up moving to San Francisco, where her truck also met with success—except that after one of her best days she discovered the truck needed brake repair work.
She laughs about it now. Serving and interacting with her guests balanced out all the pain. And, Parada says, she hopes to see the community again: “Babaloo has to be a destination.”
Hidden Fortress, meanwhile, isn't going away entirely. The original roastery and cafe in Watsonville is still home base, and proprietor Amelia Loftus plans to keep selling beans at the Friday farmer market at Monterey Peninsula College.
The Seaside location, Loftus wrote in an Indiegogo campaign last month, had been a money-loser since day one, drawing resources from the prime mission: roasting good coffee. "At this crossroads our path forward is clear: Focus on our strengths: roasting great coffee and serving great coffee drinks," Loftus wrote.