By Julie Sarno
Located just across the street from the back gate of the racetrack, The Pamplemousse Grill attracts many horse owners, trainers and jockeys during racing season. The restaurant opened in June 1996, and it did not take long for Jeffrey Strauss, executive chef and owner of the restaurant, to become a big racing fan.
Jeffrey Strauss soon became friends with jockeys Alex Solis and Chris McCarron. Thirteen years ago, Jeffrey Strauss and his older brother Bill, part owner in the restaurant, decided to have a fundraiser for the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, which raises money for injured and disabled jockeys. McCarron and wife Judy founded the charity along with comedian Tim Conway.
"Alex suggested that the jockeys be the waiters," Jeffrey Strauss said. "The next day, Tim called and said he would be the bartender."
McCarron retired from race riding in 2002 and now runs a school for jockeys, the North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Ky. But the sold-out fundraiser continues each year. This year, the Jockey Waiter Dinner will be on Aug. 19. The evening of fun will feature Del Mar's top riders as waiters. Conway will entertain.
Watching friends' horses race was not enough for the Strauss brothers. So, urged on by Tom Lenner, in 2008 they bought their first horses in partnership. The group of horses they bought included a colt, bought for $150,000 in March 2008 at a 2-year-olds in training sale in Florida. Alex Solis II, son of the jockey, acted as agent for the group of partners that included Lenner, the Strauss brothers and others. The brothers named the gray 2-year-old The Pamplemousse — French for grapefruit — after the restaurant.
"We bought eight horses in the beginning, including 20 percent of The Pamplemousse," said the well-known local restaurateur. "If I'm going to lose my shirt in the horse business, I might as well get some advertising out of it."
Last year, at 3, The Pamplemousse impressed, winning some key West Coast prep races for the Kentucky Derby. The Pamplemousse won the San Rafael in January and repeated in the Sham Stakes in February, both at Santa Anita. The gray colt was one of the most exciting West Coast Derby prospects until he was sidelined with a tendon injury in April 2009. After surgery, the colt went to trainer Vladimir Cerin's Cerindipity Farm in Bradbury to rehabilitate.
After a year of recuperation, he is back in training with Julio Canani, who reports that the colt will begin galloping in July. The brothers look forward to seeing their horses train when racing returns to Del Mar, especially since their stable star is back in training.
"We're happy about it," said Jeffrey Strauss, while preparing for a busy night at the restaurant. "It is a dream, but we want the horse to run when he is ready. Julio says the horse will let him know."
Jeffrey Strauss is proud of what he has accomplished at The Pamplemousse Grill. The restaurant has garnered many coveted local and national awards, including "Best Restaurant," "Best Caterer," "San Diego's Best Chef" and top ratings from the Zagat Guide. Before opening the restaurant, Jeffrey Strauss worked for 15 years at Glorious Food, the premier caterer in New York City. He began as executive sous chef and by dint of his talent and hard work, became executive chef.
Jeffrey Strauss makes his home in Solana Beach. Bill Strauss lives in Del Mar with wife, Margie. They have two grown children, both living in Manhattan. Their son Steven is in college at Columbia and daughter Allison works in the city.
Bill Strauss' locally based business is Provide Commerce Inc., one of the nation's leading e-commerce companies. The best-known subsidiary of Provide Commerce is ProFlowers, a floral business in which consumers order direct from the growers. Another is Red Envelope.
Among the brothers' other runners is Lea the Punisher, a 3-year-old filly in training with Richard Mandella. Bill Strauss has bought more racehorses and currently is partner in 18 horses by his count. Some of Bill Strauss' horses that will be training at Del Mar include Sulution, a 4-year-old gelding, and Big Man Has a Sign, a 3-year-old gelding. Both are with trainer Canani. Big Man Has a Sign is named after saxophonist Clarence Clemons, one of the most visible members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. He is being pointed for the Oceanside Stakes on opening day.
"You know," Jeffrey Strauss reflected, "I've cooked for eight presidents, but nothing makes me happier than feeding a carrot to The Pamplemousse."
For information on the Jockey Waiter Dinner benefiting the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, call Jeffrey Strauss at The Pamplemousse Grill, (858) 792- 9090.