Written and photographed by Randy Scott
There is a line forming outside Richard Walker’s Pancake House and Richard Walker is distracted. Although he is curating one of the most sumptuous breakfasts in San Diego, he can’t seem to keep his eye from the growing line outside.
To showcase his restaurant’s award-winning gourmet food, Richard orders a baked German pancake—a house favorite—for all of us to share. The pancake’s bottom dwarfs the plate and its sides are stiffly standing at attention. It is a giant “flour pot” best served with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a dash of fresh lemon juice. Syrup? Nein! It would only mask the German pancake’s delectable flavor.
Before the pancake can be polished off, one of the main courses arrives: The Dutch Harvest. A baked deep-dish work of art filled with fresh broccoli, onions, tomato and mushrooms, topped with a generous layer of melted Havarti cheese from Denmark.
“We use all the most expensive, flavorful ingredients, and then,” Richard gestures toward the towering remnants of our German pancake, “we present it with great flare. The butter is clarified, we whip our own cream, squeeze our own orange juice and grind our own coffee. It’s done from a Ritz-Carlton point of view; it is a gourmet breakfast on steroids.”
His wife, Veronica, is nursing a Sante Fe Omelette the size of a small football. Richard points toward her side of bacon and adds, “Most restaurants cut their bacon around 28 pieces per pound. Ours is about 9 pieces per pound. As you can see it’s a very, very thick, hardy bacon.”
As Richard explains his approach to cooking, his eyes begin to dart more anxiously toward the long line of hungry customers, until finally he says, “We have a crowd standing in line outside, so we should finish up.”
This is the reason why Richard Walker, the 60-year-old owner of three award-winning breakfast restaurants (the other two are in Schaumburg and Crystal Lake, Illinois), is such a successful restaurateur. Obviously the food and presentation are paramount, but almost equally important is the attention he gives his customers. It is a strict employee policy that each guest is greeted within 30 seconds upon entering the establishment, and they are served water within 60 seconds of being seated. Coffee cups are never to run dry. Although it is a daily occurrence to have customers line up outside to wait for a table—a testament to the Pancake House’s quality—Richard innately chafes at the sight.
Once Richard gives our table to the next customer in line outside the restaurant, he grows noticeably more relaxed. After he exits his restaurant, he is officially off-duty. Smiling, he says: “The boat is only about two blocks away at the Marriott Marina. Not far at all!”
Much of Richard’s world is close by. His restaurant is on the ground floor of the 36-story Pinnacle Marina Tower, a residential high-rise in the premier Marina District and San Diego’s second largest building. Their residence is in the same complex. Richard takes an elevator to work each morning and then hoofs it a couple blocks to his 441 Sedan every afternoon around 4:00 p.m. There he kicks back in the yacht’s cozy salon, flicks on the plasma TV and watches Judge Judy.
“I really like her style,” Richard says. “She deals with these people who make immature choices and has this hit-them-right-between-the-eyes personality.”
After the judge makes her rulings, Richard is often lulled into a nap by the gentle rocking of his boat in its slip. After some sweet repose it’s time for the evening news, at which time Veronica usually returns from her nursing job in the short-stay observation unit at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, California.
Veronica actually has to drive to her job, which is about 13 miles away, but according to her sweatshirt, she could run that distance if she wanted. Embroidered on the pink garment are the words “New York City Marathon, 11.04.2007.” At 49 years of age, Veronica is an active runner with several marathons to her credit.
Her running regimen helps keep her in shape and has prompted Richard to refer to her by his own term of endearment, Pixie. “She’s my brunette Tinker Bell,” he says with open adoration. Richard’s expression of affection has made its way to the boat’s transom where, in bejeweled letters, the word PIXIE! stands tall with a brunette fairy hovering next to it.
If Veronica is Richard’s Pixie, then their 441 is Neverland. They are drawn to their personal floating “island” much like Peter Pan and Tinker Bell are lured to their fantasyland. Except that this fantasy is real. PIXIE! provides respite from the stress of daily routines even though most days the boat never leaves its slip. More often than not the Walker’s 441 Sedan is the destination.
And that’s just fine with Veronica. Her favorite moments aboard PIXIE!are spent simply relaxing dockside. “It takes you away from home. It’s an escape,” Veronica explains. Sometimes they entertain guests, but most of the time it’s just the two of them catching up on the day’s affairs and chitchatting about life.
The yacht is also popular when family comes to visit. The 441’s spacious design is great for entertaining, allowing groups to meander effortlessly from the comfortable salon to the al fresco aft deck to enjoy San Diego’s enviable weather, while the flybridge offers an uninterrupted bird’s-eye view. Both Richard and Veronica have children from previous marriages who view it as a bit of an adventure to stay onboard overnight.
Although the 441 Sedan comes equipped with a long list of standard features, Richard opted for a few other niceties on his 2011 model. First, he upgraded the standard twin 380 Cummins® diesel engines to more powerful 480s that include the Zeus® propulsion system. Understandably, he had some trepidation about piloting a bigger yacht for the first time, which is why he opted for the Zeus system. Zeus lets him maneuver the boat in tight quarters with the ease of turning a joystick.
“The Zeus system is a really great feature,” Richard says. “This boat has an overall length of 47 feet, which is a big step up from my previous boat. I thought it was going to be unnerving docking it in a tight slip, but Pete Zaleski—our MarineMax dealer—helped out with some captain courses that got me up to speed on driving it. When I actually tried it, I was shocked at how easy it was!”
Richard also opted to have a hardtop with a full Isinglass enclosure installed for the flybridge, as well as heating and air conditioning, TVs for each state-room, teak inlays for the aft deck and the steps leading to the flybridge and a central vac system (for all the PIXIE! dust). With the exception of adding an icemaker in the salon and a refrigerator in the bridge, Richard made no galley modifications. Given his gourmet restaurant background, that’s a testament to the 441’s comprehensive galley design.
At least once a week, friends join the Walkers aboard PIXIE! for a scenic cruise through San Diego’s expansive harbor. At 12 miles long and 1-to-3 miles wide, San Diego Bay is the third largest natural bay along California’s 840-mile coastline. Its 34 miles of protected shoreline offer a variety of shops, attractions, parks, hotels, boat-accessible restaurants (the Bali Hai is the Walkers’ favorite) and a spectacular view of the San Diego skyline that you’ll never see on land. The bay also hosts part of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and an off-base decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, is open to tourists.
San Diego Bay offers so much that the Walkers seldom venture elsewhere. Although Richard is a veteran boater, Veronica is not; Richard introduced her to the sport. Unfortunately, one of their first offshore experiences together involved piercing a heavy fog bank next to an enormous freighter. “Veronica kinda freaked,” Richard recalls with a mischievous smile. “I said, ‘We’re fine. I’m looking at the radar. Oh, by the way, off about 200 yards you’re going to see a big tanker.’ Sure enough, after about two minutes it showed up,” he says, chuckling at the memory. “It was pretty jarring. Just a monstrous tanker several stories high and two football fields long, emerging from the fog. It spooked her. ‘I don’t like going out in the fog’ she tells me now.”
On another rare occasion outside the harbor, they braved an 80-mile night-time crossing to Catalina Island, California’s version of a Mediterranean getaway. “We went in the moonlight, which was nice,” Richard says. And then he adds sheepishly, “But it was not as relaxing as it could have been.”
You could say that Richard is a bit of a throttle jockey. “I made the crossing in about four hours and it was pretty bumpy going into the waves. But I felt like going fast.” For Richard, the trek was a good sea trial for the 441, which handled the seas remarkably well. In retrospect, however, he intimates that Veronica did not share his need for speed. Grinning, he says, “Next time I’ll take an extra hour. It will be more relaxing.”
On the return trip from Catalina, however, they were treated to an unexpected, enchanting experience. “We saw thousands of dolphins. I’m not kidding, there were at least a couple thousand; maybe a couple hundred in close proximity to the boat, but we could see them far off into the distance. I mean, oh my God, it was wild. They were all around the boat and I thought it might last a couple minutes, but it didn’t. It lasted a good 20 minutes. It made national TV it was so cool,” Richard recalls.
“We saw thousands of dolphins. They were all around the boat. It made national TV.”
At some point Richard and Veronica would like to take their 441 Sedan south to Ensenada, Mexico. It is about 75 nautical miles from San Diego and a popular destination among the southern California yachting crowd. Richard says he’ll try harder to take his time and relax on his next trip with Veronica, but you get the feeling that as soon as he starts thinking about the perpetual line outside of his restaurant, he’ll throttle up until he gets home to seat every last customer.