Coach Light Cafe Transforms Into Italian Trattoria
The phone rang off the hook. Opening night was completely booked.
The line for wait staff applying for work at the newly revamped Coach Light Cafe was out the door. Chef Curtis Shelvey is back in the kitchen, and on Sept. 12, he made his new restaurant home at what has become the Italian restaurant Coach Light Trattoria, formerly the Coach Light Cafe.
Chef Shelvey, as he's known to his students, former customers and employees, spent his early years cutting his teeth in the kitchens of New England. Shelvey's strictly Italian training began when he was 13 as a busboy and dish washer.
As a U.S. Marine, Shelvey's tour of duty overseas would serve to sharpen his love for authentic Italian and Mediterranean foods. His culinary career would take him to luxury dining establishments such as The Cloister in Sea Island, Ga., to the Pinehurst Resort and then Ironwood Caf. Then came a career in education as director of the culinary school at Sandhills Community College (SCC).
"I love cooking, and I love kids, so teaching was a natural for me," said Shelvey, father of a 3-year-old girl. "I wouldn't trade my time at the college for anything, but I'm really looking forward to being back in the kitchen and mingling with my customers."
During Shelvey's academic tenure, he became a mentor and friend to throngs of students. One of them was Keri Morris, a chef and Coach Light Cafe owner.
After Morris graduated, Shelvey continued to advise Morris and help her open her Cafe. Morris hired fellow classmate Jason Stroh as the Coach Light Cafe's executive chef. Success soon followed, and the restaurant reaped the benefits of a newly opened dining establishment, she said.
Just seven months after Coach Light Cafe opened, tragedy struck. Stroh was killed in a motorcycle accident. Morris, just recently graduated herself, was devastated, but she had to step in and manage the restaurant, cook, and search for another chef. She forged through for two years until she and Shelvey decided to transform the restaurant into a classic Italian Trattoria (a Trattoria is an Italian cafe, just as a French caf is known as a bistro).
Shelvey loved teaching, but his heart, ignited long ago in the Italian kitchens of New England, continued to beat for the restaurant life.
"For me, teaching was all about a sense of fulfillment -- I wanted to see my students succeed," Shelvey said. "But I missed the restaurant atmosphere and running through the kitchen with my hair on fire."
He taught his last class at SCC, and the kitchen called him home.
At the new Coach Light Trattoria, the menu is full of the Italian creations Shelvey fell in love with all those years ago in New England, Italy and along the Mediterranean, dishes from northern regions of Bologna and Rome, and the southern regions of Paloma and Sicily. Featured dishes will include linguini with white clam sauce, gnocchi bolognese, and veal, chicken and eggplant parmigiano.
Aside from a fresh menu that includes dishes rarely seen in Moore County restaurants, Coach Light Trattoria will offer other features unique to the restaurant. Shelvey's homemade sauces, including tomato gravy, garlic ketchup and pesto genevese. will be available for sale in the restaurant.
Other special features will include limoncello, an Italian drink made famous for its fresh lemons and taking two weeks to prepare.
Shelvey, a health-conscious chef, will also offer special bariatric dishes on the regular menu, and a cookbook is in the works. Morris says Stroh would be thrilled with how the restaurant has grown, and has established a scholarship in his name.
"Jason loved preparing dishes and learning from Chef all the nuances that make working in a restaurant so much work, but so much fun, too," Morris said. "I know he would love the chance to be here with us alongside his mentor, so he's definitely looking down on the restaurant with pride that we're growing in this way."
Stroh's starched chef's uniform hangs framed in the bar, a testament to his role in helping bring the Coach Light to life, and as proof that he will always be there in spirit, according to Morris.
The Coach Light Trattoria will be open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m., and for lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m.
Anyone needing more information can call the restaurant at 692-4449 or visit the Web site at CoachLightTrattoria.com.
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