Coyote Bar & Grill owner leads a colorful life

By Arthur Lightbourn

Contributor

He’s the first to admit it. He’s a foodie.

Loves good food and loves to cook — invaluable traits for a man who, during his career, has built, designed and conceptualized some 100 restaurants, although his first attempt at owning and running his own English pub in Vail, Colorado, almost ended in disaster.

“I lost more money in the first six months than it cost to build the restaurant,” he recalled.

But Bob Burke is a man who isn’t afraid to acknowledge his mistakes and wastes no time in correcting them.

“I realized why Marriott was so successful and I reverted back to [what I had learned during] my Marriott days and within two years we were the highest grossing restaurant in Vail.”

Today, at 66, Burke is still very much a seasoned and successful restaurant impresario, but he also makes time for family, travel, reading, cooking at home, and doing what he can for troubled boys whose lives and futures are at risk.

We interviewed Burke at his home in Rancho Santa Fe.

Burke looks like he may have been a formidable football player when he was younger and he was, in high school and in college, until a blown-out knee abruptly ended his football career at the University of Virginia.

Burke is the owner of the Coyote Bar & Grill in Carlsbad, but he long ago gave up working at nights, except on special occasions such as Tuesday, Nov. 2, beginning at 6 p.m., when he will host a charity fundraiser for the New Haven Youth and Family Center, a community-based nonprofit residential treatment center for troubled youths.

New Haven provides clinical intervention, educational and vocational services for at-risk adolescent boys, ages 12 to 17, in 12 residences in Vista, Oceanside and San Marcos, plus two outpatient and home-based mental health facilities in Riverside and San Diego counties. New Haven has 72 boys in treatment at any given time and, since 1967, has helped 12,000 boys and their families.

“Once you find out what they do and you get an opportunity to meet some of the kids, it’s just absolutely amazing,” Burke said. “Our family goes down to Coyote on Thanksgiving (when it’s closed to the public) and instead of having Thanksgiving here at home we have it at the Coyote with all the boys who don’t have a place to go on Thanksgiving.”

Burke and his partner Jeannine do all the cooking.

“We started it last year and will keep doing until I can’t lift the turkey,” Burke said.

Tickets for the upcoming fundraiser are $55 per person ($65 at the door). Fire pit VIP seating $85 per person. All monies raised will go directly to programs that benefit the boys of New Haven.

Last year, Coyote held a similar fundraiser for New Haven and raised $23,000, and is hoping for an even greater turnout this year.

Tickets are available online at

www.newhavenyfs.org

.

Burke promises great food, a no-host bar, Motown and funk music by Smoke Staxx, and silent and live auctions. Auction items include a full set of TaylorMade customized clubs with golf lessons for two and club fitting at TaylorMade’s Performance & Research Laboratory, “The Kingdom,” valued at $5,000.

Burke was born in Philadelphia, and raised in northern Virginia, in Arlington and Falls Church.

“My father was in the Navy. He shipped out when I was about 1-and-a-half, so I was raised by a single mother.”

He loved growing up near the nation’s capital.

“It was a wonderful place,” he said. He attended J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church where he was a formidable 250-pound, 6-foot-1 defensive line backer and offensive center and, as a result, dined with President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a White House dinner honoring some of the top athletes in the Washington Metro area.

“I had to learn to eat a half a chicken with a knife and a fork so I had chicken for about two weeks before the dinner,” he remembers.

Also, while in high school, “I worked at the Pentagon,” he said, “selling newspapers.”

“And I got to see Kennedy’s Inauguration.”

Happy times and not so happy times.

“When Kennedy was assassinated, I was at the funeral.”

His mother, Louise, eventually became director of claims and examinations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was instrumental in the federal indictment and conviction of Texas multi-millionaire Billie Sol Estes on charges of fraud in connection with mortgages on nonexistent ammonia tanks used to obtain loans from banks outside of Texas.

While going to school, Burke found work in the food and beverage industry with the Marriott organization when he was 15, working his way up from “curb boy” to dishwasher, waiter and eventually executive.

Burke attended the University of Virginia for one semester “where I got my knee blown out playing football,” then transferred to Wichita State University where, in 1968, he earned a B.A. in education with minors in psychology and history.

While in Wichita, he worked for Pizza Hut, running a pilot steak house operation, and later joined Holiday Inns of Wichita running their food and beverage operations.

Tiring of wearing a suit and tie, he ventured to the then tiny ski resort of Vail, Colorado, dressed casually and opened an English pub and dinner house called Bully III.

But, as he quickly learned, you can dress casually, but to survive in business, you had to be anything but casual about the business.

The secret, he said, lay in the policies and procedures he learned while working for Marriott. “You had to have a strong semblance of order and you couldn’t just allow people to use their best judgment because oftentimes they didn’t,” he said.

For example, he explained, even today, “I use standardized recipes. I don’t use a chef per se. And I create the recipes along with my kitchen manager.”

Out of Vail, Burke built a chain of Bully III restaurants in Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Carmel and Lafayette, California; and Davenport, Iowa; and other restaurants, as well.

In 1989, tiring of the cold weather in Vail, he sold the Bully III chain and relocated to North County.

Burke also operated a restaurant consultancy.

In Carlsbad, he and partners bought the historic Twin Inns property in Carlsbad Village.

“Our initial idea was to develop a hotel, but funding for hotels when we came to the marketplace was non-existent. So one of the partners had experience in developing retail centers so we developed Village Faire [Shopping Center]. And we looked for a tenant for a corner pad that we had for a restaurant operation and I had been in the restaurant business by that time for many years, so we decided to put in Coyote Bar & Grill. And that was 22 years ago.”

After extensive renovations to the original Twin Inns restaurant, they also later opened and operated Neimans restaurant (now Ocean House) for several years before selling it to its current owners in 2004.

But Coyote is still very much with Burke.

“Coyote goes through a daily metamorphosis,” he said. “We’ve got a great music venue outside with fire pits on a patio that seats about 200. After the lunch crowd and from 6 to about 8:30 or 9 o’clock, it turns into a family place with kids and dancing and music.

“Then at 9 the younger crowd starts coming in and at 10 we have a deejay inside and if you’re over 30, you’re in the wrong place.”

QUICK FACTS

  • Name: Robert Burke
  • Distinction: Owner of the popular Coyote Bar & Grill in Carlsbad, Burke has helped create some 100 restaurants as an owner and consultant during a career spanning more than 50 years.
  • Resident of: Rancho Santa Fe
  • Born: Philadelphia, Pa., 66 years ago
  • Education: B.A. degree in Education, with minors in psychology and history, from Wichita State University, 1968 or thereabouts. “I’m not too good with dates.”
  • Family: He and his partner of 15 years, Jeannine, have a blended family of seven children, including two, one in college and one in law school, still living at home.
  • Interests: Watching sports on TV with his family, power boating, golf, travel (recently returned from a 35-day cruise to Southeast Asia), cooking, (“I’m a foodie”) and reading (has a library of 300 books, mostly fiction, on his Kindle).
  • Favorite Authors: John Sanford, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen.
  • Favorite Travel Spots: Ireland, Scotland, Rome, the south of France, and Koh Samui, an island off the coast of Thailand.
  • Favorite Dishes: Grilled lamb chops, grilled ahi with a wasabi butter sauce, and pork loin roast.
  • Hero: “My mom,” who raised him on her own after his father, a U.S. Navy sailor, “shipped out” when Burke was 18 months old. His mom, Louise, went on to become a director of claims and examinations with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Philosophy: “Getting old is not for sissies.”
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