New restaurants seem to come and go at the speed of light in the Santa Clarita Valley. However, with two popular restaurants in Old Town Newhall — Egg Plantation and Newhall Refinery — and more than two decades of hospitality experience, Simon Mee seems to have discovered the recipe for success.
“Quality, consistency, good service and owner involvement are important,” he said. “Having your niche is also key.”
Finding a career
Mee was born in Nottinghamshire, England and grew up in the small village of Gunthorpe, two and a half hours north of London.
At age 15, Mee went to work at Tom Brown’s Brasserie, a French bistro along the River Trent, owned by Stuart Perkins, the father of a good friend.
“I started there washing dishes,” Mee said.
One night the restaurant was short of servers and asked Mee to fill in. It turned out Mee had a natural talent for “front of house.”
Perkins offered to pay for Mee’s college education, if he wanted a position in restaurant management.
Mee took him up on the offer and earned a National Diploma in Hotel Management and Catering.
Finding the SCV
In the late 1980s Mee traveled to the Santa Clarita Valley on a three-week trip with his family to visit his uncle, Chris Mee.
“Like everyone who visits California, I loved the weather, the lifestyle, everything,” he said.
Despite his job as manager at Tom Brown’s, Mee decided to move to the SCV.
“I just felt there was more opportunity here than in England,” he said. “After I told the owner I was going to give it a shot in the United States, he gave me his blessing.”
Mee was 21 when he moved to the SCV in 1994.
From server to manager
Mee became the first male server at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel lounge. Despite the good tips, the long commute took its toll, and Mee decided to work closer to home.
“I started to manage the Starbucks at Granary Square and another on The Old Road,” he said.
Starbucks took note of Mee’s talent and promoted him to a higher profile job managing locations in the San Fernando Valley.
“My next step was going to be as a Starbucks district manager,” he said.
Mee met his wife, Shannon, when he was managing Starbucks stores in Granada Hills (Chatsworth/Lindley) and Northridge (Devonshire/Reseda).
Shannon, a college student, would study at the Starbucks, patronizing both locations.
“We started as friends, playing pool, chatting,” said Mee. “Then we started a relationship.”
The couple married May, 15, 2001. They have three children, Riley, 11, Liam, 13, and Ella, 14.
“When I first visited Santa Clarita, my uncle took us to eat at the original Egg Plantation,” Mee said. “It just blew my mind. Breakfast isn’t a big thing in England. The idea of 101 omelets, are you kidding me? How amazing. And it was packed, it was so busy.”
In 1995, shortly after Mee moved to the SCV, the Egg Plantation closed. An Irish steakhouse, Gallagher’s, moved into the space.
In 2000 Gallagher’s closed. It was Mee’s chance to bring Egg Plantation back to life.
He contacted the Egg Plantation’s previous owners, Bettie Travis and Margerie Riberdy, who took over the restaurant in 1985. Originally opened by Maureen Anderson in the mid-70s as the “Egg Plant” with Anderson’s original 101-omelet menu, it was renamed Egg Plantation.
“I wanted to get permission from Bettie and Margerie, out of respect of the years they put into the original Egg Plantation,” Mee said. “I was able to get their blessing to put it back on the map.”
Through a “friend of a friend” Mee contacted a former longtime Egg Plantation server who provided him with an original menu and contact information of two former chefs.
In October 2000, Shannon and Simon Mee re-opened the landmark restaurant.
“I didn’t tell anyone we were opening. I had my truck parked on Lyons Avenue with a sandwich board in the back,” he said. “We opened on a Wednesday and served about 20 people. We were still trying to get the system down and get people trained. Word traveled like wildfire the Egg Plantation was back, and we served hundreds of people that weekend.”
Mee is still incredulous at how quickly the community responded to the Egg Plantation’s return.
“I knew it was popular, but this was absolutely mental,” he said.
The restaurant will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.
Mee said the restaurant’s best-selling omelet is #74, the Avocado, Bacon, Tomatoes, Green Onions and Jack Cheese.
“It always has been the bestseller according to a server who worked here in the 1980s,” he said.
The Mees often spend “date night” in the San Fernando Valley. When they saw the new trend of gastropubs gaining popularity Mee thought it might be time to bring the trend to the SCV.
“Always in the back of my mind I wanted to own a pub. At first, I thought I wanted a traditional British pub, but then I saw this gastropub movement,” he said.
Mee saw a location available on Main Street in Old Town Newhall and opened Newhall Refinery.
“It was a gamble. It was something that no one else in the SCV was doing,” he said. “Luckily, it was well received by the community.”
In May Newhall Refinery will celebrate its seven-year anniversary.
Mee said Executive Chef Dustin Boole is responsible for crafting “an amazing menu.”
“It’s a lot of hard work, especially the prep work and labor,” he said. “Newhall Refinery has many more moving parts than Egg Plantation.”
Mee credits Boole with being “ahead of the game culinarily.”
The gastropub celebrates seasonality with rotating menus, daily fresh fish deliveries and offering guests a different experience every day, such as Taco Tuesday, featured burger Thursdays and chef tasting menus on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Mees live in the Happy Valley neighborhood of Newhall.
“It is a great neighborhood, it is the SCV’s hidden secret,” Mee said. “It’s perfect, it is right by the restaurants and we have three kids going to the local schools.”
Mee said work-life balance is important.
“My wife and I are running two restaurants and we have three kids,” he said. “It can be kind of overwhelming at times.”
Mee usually can be found at Newhall Refinery, while Shannon oversees Egg Plantation.
“At the end of the day, it’s important to have that time with your family,” he said. The couple makes it a point to be home for dinner.
“It’s nice to sit down to a home-cooked dinner, phones off the table, talking to our children how the day went at school.”
The couple have long made it a point to assist schools and nonprofits.
“In the last 20 years we’ve tried to give a lot back to the community,” he said. “It’s full circle, we support the community that has supported us.”