Before opening on Seabright Avenue, Laurie Negro and her husband, Juan, owned Costa Brava Taqueria in the Gateway Plaza. The taqueria was “doing OK, but not going anywhere,” Negro said. She started thinking what Santa Cruz needed was a place to get a good burger.
“I wanted to do something fun, unique and different in a burger place,” she said.
Thus Betty’s Burgers was born. With the popularity and success of the small burger joint at the end of Seabright Ave., Negro went on to open another Betty’s on 41st Avenue.
Then the idea of Betty’s Eat Inn came to her.
Calling in the Experts
She collaborated with local, renowned Cordon Bleu chef and restaurant consultant Mimi Snowden, who Negro describes as “an amazing artist and interior designer, an incredible talent!”
“I told Mimi I wanted the restaurant to serve reasonably priced food on the organic side,” Negro explained. “And I wanted it to be fun and funky. Mimi just rolled with the ideas.”
Mimi Snowden also created the menu for Betty’s Eat Inn, and she trained Chef Jose Espinoza, who has been working with Laurie and Juan for 20 years.
“I really wanted a comfort food menu in addition to the hamburgers,” Negro said. “Mimi and I went through a bazillion books; we went to restaurants in San Francisco. We do the classics, but the way we do them is what makes them special.”
Keeping it Fresh and Local
Negro said they try to source ingredients locally, but it’s not always possible.
“For instance,” she noted, “it’s difficult to get a red ripe tomato year round, so sometimes we do have to go outside the area. But we stay away from Mexico for tomatoes [because of the 2008 salmonella outbreak].”
The restaurant also uses antibiotic- and hormone-free, grass-fed beef, though it is grain-fed the last 30 days—the same beef sold at and other natural food markets. The grain adds “a little bump of fat content,” Negro explained.
Before cooking the burgers, the beef is seasoned and liquid mesquite is added, giving Betty’s burgers their delicious flavor.
Who is Betty, Anyway?
“Betty is in all of us,” Negro said. “She’s a fictional character—a little bit of Betty Boop gone bad. She came to Santa Cruz with only a hamburger recipe, clawed her way up and opened the restaurant.”
You can read Betty’s story at the restaurants, where the account of Betty’s troubles in Texas and her eventual triumph in Santa Cruz is handwritten on the walls.
Negro said her favorite part of managing the restaurants is the customers.
“I love my customers,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing about going to the restaurants. I tell my managers to lead their staff by example and treat the customers well. I love to deliver food to the tables. It gives me a chance to chat with the customers.”
So next time your digging into some delicious comfort food at Betty’s Eat Inn, keep an eye out for Negro. She’d be thrilled to stop by your table and say “hi.”
FYI: Betty’s Eat Inn website will debut in approximately six weeks. For now, Negro plans to add the menu to the Betty’s Burgers website.