Busy Bee Cafe
478 E. Main St.

A mainstay on Main Street in Ventura, Busy Bee Cafe has served residents and tourists alike for decades. For the younger generations, it serves as a full-size copy of life in a more iconic scene of the 1950s, with replica mini-jukeboxes at every table, décor in Formica and chrome tables, red vinyl booths and checkerboard tile flooring to boot. The servers often wear pleated skirts and polo shirts — only thing missing is the roller skates but I am sure that would be a Cal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Standards Act) nightmare. Sue, our server and hostess, has been working there since 1985. My breakfast companion, a friend whom I reunited with from junior high, said that he recognized Sue from when he was a child in the 1980s, recalling when Sue would bring him sugar cubes and make bloody marys for his grandfather. Those bloody marys and mimosas as well are still favorites at the Busy Bee.

Sue, an icon.

As we perused the menu, classic Americana fare, I picked out some songs on our tableside juke box: “Why do fools fall in love” and “Chantilly lace.” As the songs geared up, my companion was reminded of begging his mother to take him to see the Beach Boys at the fairgrounds in the early ’80s; after much persistence, she did end up taking him to see them. As my songs started to play, my choices were not what I picked out. After I mentioned that to Sue, she reached in her pocket and gave me a couple more quarters. I told her that wasn’t necessary, given that I wasn’t sure if my songs would come on anyway. She said, “Take a gamble, like you are in Vegas.” Second time around, I played “Tequila” and got “Hello, Mary Lou,” or at least that’s what it sounded like. My friend randomly chose a song just by punching a couple of buttons, which may not have been so random: “Runaround Sue.”

Wall poster

For our breakfast, my companion chose country-fried steak and eggs and I chose the lox scramble with Busy Bee potatoes. I didn’t ask about certain substitutions for people on restricted diets, such as vegan or lactose intolerance. After the last couple of weeks of the firestorm in Ventura, making a fuss didn’t seem worth it.

Our meals came out in a flash, practically speaking. My scramble included cream cheese, freshly sautéed spinach, capers, tomatoes and chunks of salmon, cooked just enough to keep it flaky and moist. I added a little Tabasco – magnifique! The potatoes were prepared with green peppers and onions, though a few bites of the potatoes were a little cold, but overall, they were cooked through and no doubt Sue would have thrown the potatoes back onto the griddle for me. But they were A-OK. The slice of watermelon instead of the usual mini-apple, as I recalled from years before, was a sweet way to wrap up my meal.

I will give my companion props for trying to conquer his massive meal: two eggs, sunny side up, flawless preparation; country-fried steak, crispy, salty crust smothered in rich country gravy; a side of hash browns and a watermelon slice. He finished everything except half of the steak, which he took home for lunch.

As we finished our meals Sue came to take away our dishes and give us the check, and we got to talking about the Thomas Fire. She told us about how everyone in her family was fine but her house had burned down in Upper Ojai. The way she spoke about it, in a calm easy manner, telling us that she had evacuated with only her pajamas and “slippies,” I asked her why she was so relaxed. She said she already did her yelling and screaming and crying, but now she is at the place of, “What can you do?” She also talked about how great the Salvation Army was, giving her gift cards to Walmart, Home Depot and the Salvation Army thrift store, a value of $500.

As we left, I was thinking about the Christmas Eve special at the Busy Bee, $5 plates, and decided, if possible, that’s where we would be this holiday. Perhaps home isn’t a place where we hang our hats and lay our heads, but it’s the people we get to know, the memories we cherish and the kindness we see and experience all around us. And Busy Bee is a great place to rekindle that goodness.