Follow-Up File: Beefing up Hoover's Beef Palace

Name: Mark Simmons

Job: Owner

Business: Hoover’s Beef Palace

What he said then: In January 2010, The Tribune featured Hoover’s Beef Palace, a classic coffee shop in Templeton that dates back to the late 1950s.

Since 1995, the restaurant has been owned and operated by Mark Simmons and his family. Previously called Beef Palace, he added “Hoover’s” as a tip of the hat to his father, who launched a Hoover’s coffee shop in Atascadero in the late 1960s.

“We’re not fancy,” said Simmons, “but we serve really good food, and we’re known for our portions. It’s the old-fashioned way, the way my dad taught me.”

What he says now: Despite a “terrible” year in 2010, Simmons is planning to expand in 2012 by reviving a location in Santa Margarita that has been leased out for a decade.

“I’m leaning towards renaming it Hoover’s Redneck Cafe,” he said. “It’s on the main drag, El Camino Real, south of the auction barn, across from the feed store.”

The Templeton location employs 11 people full- and part-time, including his life and business partner, Kandy Simmons, and their six children, ages 15 to 28.

But as new, more convenience-minded restaurants have opened in recent years, Hoover’s Beef Palace has felt the increased competition.

“Last year was the first year ever that we went down” in sales, Simmons said. Before that, he was used to seeing annual growth between 10 percent and 15 percent.

Competition has gotten stiffer with chain restaurants such as El Pollo Loco, Subway, Applebee’s and Chili’s. Meanwhile, new restaurants have opened near Twin Cities Community Hospital and drawn more of the lunch business from its workers.

“The construction trade is way down,” Simmons added. Because of that, his breakfast business has slowed as those workers aren’t coming in for their hearty breakfasts.

Hoover’s continues to enjoy a loyal following with ranchers, vineyard workers and other area farmers. But Simmons also notes that many of those “oldtimers are dying off.”

With more customers looking for lighter fare, the cooks have been integrating less “beefy” specials. For example, a veggie-only omelet Sunday special was a recent success.

“Four year ago, I would have said, ‘You’re nuts — I’m not cooking an omelet with no meat in it,’ ” Sim- mons said. “People loved it. I actually sold out.”

And though the cost of fresh ingredients has in many cases doubled, Hoover’s has cut back on its portions and payroll rather than switch to cheaper, preprocessed ingredients.

“I still grind my own sausage and season it for my breakfast,” Simmons said. “We’re not going to use imitation, packaged gravy. I’ve tried to get more creative.”

This year has been “pretty good.”

Good enough, it seems, to invest an estimated $50,000 into converting the Santa Margarita space, currently occupied by Tina’s Place, into a new venue. With seating for about 80 and a patio, he hopes to use the space to expand catering as well.

Simmons expects to renovate the building in about two weeks and open it in January with a staff of six.