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By Lillian Boyd
Editor’s Note: Tom Blake is a regular contributor to Dana Point Times. In his bi-monthly column, Life and Love After 50, Blake discusses dating, romance, and love for seniors.
In 1988, Tom Blake says he gave up the corporate headache to make big sandwiches.
Blake grew up in Jackson, Michigan before attending DePauw University in Indiana. He served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War and then did his MBA. He started his career in public relations for the aviation industry. After a few years he moved to the West Coast and started working for Victoria Station, one of the fastest growing companies in the US, in the 1970s.
“That’s where I got my experience in the restaurant industry,” said Blake. “I worked there for eight years and really got to know the special features of this world.”
In its heyday, there were 105 restaurant locations. Victoria Station eventually went bankrupt after business grew too fast, Blake said.
“(After Victoria Station) I really wanted to get out of the corporate world,” said Blake, who moved to Dana Point with his then-wife in 1987. “I knew enough about the restaurant business to be dangerous. But I wanted to create something that was my own. “
Blake saw that a shop was available in Dana Point.
“I got the lease in August and managed to open a deli with one employee by the end of the year,” said Blake.
Photo: Tom Blake published his book Tutor & Spunky’s: A Dana Point Landmark on July 17th. Photo: Lillian Boyd
In 1988 he opened Tutor & Spunky’s Deli – named after the nicknames of Tom (Tutor) and his wife (Spunky). Although Tom is no longer married to her, he decided to keep the name.
The following year, Dana Point became a town and the deli grew with the town. For the next 26 years, Tom ran the deli business, with annual sales of $ 1 million. During this time he hired 186 employees.
On July 17, Blake published his book Tutor & Spunky’s Deli: A Dana Point Landmark, which reflects the history of the deli and the design of Dana Point as a city.
The book describes the employees, customers and celebrities who visited. During this time Blake also became a newspaper columnist. After his divorce, Blake began writing again about his experiences and searching for love in the later chapters of his life. The columns were published first in the Orange County Register and later in The Capistrano Dispatch, Dana Point Times, and San Clemente Times.
“One of the messages I’ve tried to get across in my columns and in this book is that with adversity, opportunity comes,” said Blake. “You have to look for these possibilities because they are not always obvious.”
When a customer named Greta came into the deli in 1998 and ordered a freshly squeezed carrot juice, Blake said he noticed her while she waited for her juice to be made. He went around the counter and said to her: “Would you like to have dinner with me?” Tom and Greta have been together ever since.
Tom and Greta have had some incredible trips to Europe, South America and across the United States, including New York City, where Tom appeared on NBC’s Today Show and ABC’s Good Morning America while his staff held the positions.
The book covers key events that affected the deli, including the Dana Point Post Office shooting, the fires that decimated Laguna Beach, the local bank robberies, the Yacht Ponzi program by a well-known customer, and the murder of the former resident by Dana Point Nicole Brauner Simpson.
Blake also addresses the disappearances and murders of his former son-in-law, Joey McStay, McStay’s wife, and two children. McStay had worked in the deli when he was young.
The McStay family murders occurred around February 2010 after the family disappeared from their Fallbrook, California, home; their bodies were found on November 13, 2013 in the desert near Victorville.
The book also highlights the implementation of a downtown Dana Point plan that forced the deli to move and the never-ending problems, challenges, and rewards of dealing with staff.
“People who dream of one day owning a restaurant will benefit from reading the book,” said Blake. “There are risks and there are rewards of having a business of your own. It’s not a walk, not a walk in the park, and it has to be total dedication that can lead to success. “
And although Blake retired and sold the deli in 2015, Tutor & Spunky will remain in business in 2021. The deli is currently owned by two Vietnamese sisters, Samantha Nguyen and Elena Sik. They took ownership in 2019 and have since kept the original menu while adding Vietnamese-inspired menu items.
Blake’s book is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. The book is 382 pages long and contains more than 100 photos.
On Thursday, September 2, from 4 to 6 p.m. and on Thursday, September 16, from 4 to 6 p.m., there will be two book signing sessions in the Tutor & Spunky’s Deli
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