Thursday, December 17, 1998
There seems to be two camps of Christmas thought: You either adore the whole idea and start planning for it on the day after the fact, right when all the theme merchandise gets marked 75 percent off, or you''d rather be doing rum drinks on some tropical isle until the whole thing blows over. In either case, you might experience that characteristic Christmas tingle when you hear about Christmas at the Crocodile Grill.
Ted and Cindy Walter were featured in Chef Profile after they bought the former El Cocodrilo restaurant in 1997. At the time, Cindy was fully active in managing the front of the house and a recovering from a broken back, complete with a full body cast.
Still healing when the holiday season rolled around, she was finding it difficult to muster up much Christmas spirit. "Our two teenagers wanted to go skiing," Cindy recounts, "and I didn''t want to ruin Christmas for them, so we let them go with their grandparents. It didn''t seem like it was going to be much of a Christmas without them. I was thinking about how we''d spend the holiday and started getting an idea."
"In the past we ''adopted'' families through the Salvation Army''s Project Santa and when they were little, the kids would get their old toys together and clean them up and we''d buy some new ones, too, something for each child. The Salvation Army chooses families who really meet the need requirement, who otherwise would have no Christmas at all," she explains. "I thought, what about opening up the restaurant to those families on Christmas Day, for a real Christmas feast?"
They had the restaurant already and, when Ted agreed, they had their chef. With community support that became nothing short of amazing, Cindy''s idea snowballed. Seventeen disadvantaged families had turkey with all the trimmings, seated at their own beautifully decorated tables and served by Crocodile Grill staff members and friends who donated their time. Each child was presented with their specifically selected gift, presented by Santa Claus (Monterey police officer Bruce Roberts), who even knew them by name, thanks to a surreptitious seating chart.
"When Santa rode up to the restaurant on a motorcycle with a police escort, the kids were all glued to the windows," they fondly recall. "And when he approached them by name, they were really impressed." That was when the Walters knew that they had helped make something special happen, and that they would do it again. (Cindy confides that Ted was a little nervous, at first, about all the impromptu kitchen staff, and remembers noticing an audible sigh of relief when Greg Lizza, chef at Fresh Cream, turned out to be one of the volunteers.)
"We were amazed when it was all over and there were still cash donations that hadn''t been used. There was enough money left over to give each family a gift certificate at Safeway," Cindy recaps. Now, with the second annual Crocodile Christmas effort well underway, more families have been invited, and each one has already received a Christmas tree. This year''s forecast is for an equivalent success. Any interested parties not currently installed under a palm tree may make a contribution by phoning 655-3311 for more information.
Condolences go out to the family of Sabu Shake, Sr., long familiar to visitors of Fisherman''s Grotto and the Monterey Wharf, who passed away last week.