For the past twenty-seven years, Mary McDonald Urcuioli has been opening the Harbor View Café at 7:00 a.m. serving St Augustine’s downtown visitors a hearty breakfast as they prepare to launch their own discovery of America’s oldest city.
When Mary started the iconic café at 16A Avenida Menendez in 1986, the converted space was part of a two-story addition of guestrooms to the Monterey Inn overlooking St Augustine’s historic bayfront; she told Historic City News editor Michael Gold this morning that, since her start, she’s seen three owners of the property now branded as part of the Best Western chain of hotels.
“We are completing the first year since the hotel’s conversion to Best Western,” Mary explained. “Our breakfast business went through the roof after the change — we’ve more than doubled the meals we serve every morning.”
Hotelier Kanti Patel, who also owns the Hilton a few doors down and several other hotel properties in the county, bought the Monterey about six-years ago, but last year, he invested heavily in upgrading the rooms, lobby and those upgrades extended to the Harbor View Café.
The once carpeted dining room is an attractive grey tile, the counter surfaces were replaced with dark granite, interior walls were resurfaced and have become a gallery of local paintings and photography that you can enjoy while you’re eating and then purchase to take back home.
The true measure of success of restaurants in St Augustine, the holy grail of those businesses that, as a class, suffer the highest mortality of any other in town, is whether or not the local residents patronize your establishment. For Mary’s Harbor View Café, that has never been a problem — not just because of the great food, but the McDonald clan grew up in St Augustine and knows just about everybody downtown.
Urcuioli is a graduate of St Joseph’s Academy and she says that she still sees friends who went to high school with her when they stop downtown for something to eat. Her sister, Laurie McDonald Vaill, also works in the café; and, the latest addition, her niece, 21-year-old Murphy McDonald, keeps everything moving in the dining room.
Mary told us that she loves what she does, “I’ve been cooking since I was 14-years-old.”
Visit Mary’s on facebook.