There are two types of people in the world: those who dream and those who make their dreams come true. Recent Pismo Beach transplant Teresa Cordeiro, 56, is most definitely the latter type.
Having spent her entire adult life working in the medical field— Cordeiro is a surgical nurse practitioner, who specialized in head and neck cancers and post-cancer breast reconstruction—she and her business partner, John McCartney, recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of La Bodega Tapas, a small-plates eatery in the heart of Pismo Beach’s restaurant row.
Cordeiro and McCartney, a retired Intel hardware engineer, co-own La Bodega Tapas, 790 Price Street, which features live music on Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as a winemaker’s dinner on Tuesdays. The menu changes monthly and sharing with the table close by is encouraged.
“We are very happy and proud to have gotten to that point,” Cordeiro said about the April 25, 2019, milestone that marked not only La Bodega’s first anniversary but also a dream come true for the single mom, who has always wanted to own a restaurant.
Cordeiro has one daughter, Natalie, 22, who recently graduated from the University of Hawaii with a degree in biology. She wants to follow in her mom’s medical footsteps and plans to attend dental school to become a dentist.
Throughout her career in the medical field —Cordeiro still practices daily and has an office in Pismo Beach— and until La Bodega came to fruition, she had dreamed of opening her own restaurant.
So, when Cordeiro relocated from the Stanford area to the Central Coast about five years ago, she began scouting the area for space to realize her dream of serving others through food.
“When I came back, I was looking for a location,” she explained. “It took about a year to a year and a half to find. I was looking for the right location … a location where we could be the infrastructure for the community.”
Cordeiro acknowledged, with a laugh, that the medical field and hospitality industry may seem worlds away from one another, but might not be as far as some may think, noting she views both as service industries.
“I see lots and lots of patients. I love what I do, and I love this part of it, too. It’s two very different, dynamic worlds,” Cordeiro said about her day and night jobs. “I feel that when I practice medicine, I have done some good during the day. Here, I feel I provide a venue, an atmosphere (for) sharing food, sharing life. It’s a matter of gathering together, enjoying each other, enjoying the company of each other. To have that leisurely activity that we all need.”
Born in Lisbon, Portugal, to Portuguese parents, Cordeiro also spent time living in Toronto, Ontario in Canada, as well as Northern California, where she says she grew up. It was during her youth in California that Cordeiro learned to value the time spent with her family around the dinner table. Her mother, father, brother and she ate as a family every evening.
“It was about that event. It wasn’t that it (was) dinner. It was coming together at the end of the day to sort of share our lives … over food,”
Cordeiro explained, noting she has attempted to recreate those feelings at La Bodega, which has been dedicated to her mother, Helen Cordeiro, who always had a large garden and would create dishes for her family from the backyard bounty she harvested.
The elder Cordeiro passed away just before La Bodega Tapas opened and didn’t get to see her daughter realize her dream, but she knew about the restaurant, Cordeiro said, adding many of the recipes used by chef Fernando Rodriguez come from her mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens.
Rodriguez added his own touches to the handed-down, Portuguese-and-Spanish-influenced recipes that are now “beautiful dishes” served to diners, with all of the ingredients—from seafood to snow peas—sourced locally. La Bodega Tapas also only serves wines produced between Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.
“We provide for the community and the community provides for us,” Cordeiro said. “We use the seasonality of the time of the year and the Central Coast seasonality to be able to provide the best of the best. (We) change the menu every single month. It’s all about providing what is freshest and available, and that includes seafood, meats, produces, cheeses.”
Having a menu that changes monthly also provides for a surprise element to La Bodega, while also allowing for the chef to be creative.
“I think food brings people together,” Cordeiro added. “You can look at the research in medicine and if you take away someone’s ability to eat, it’s probably the worst thing that you can do to them. It’s very diminishing to the quality of life. And quality of life is important.”
When she sees individuals at separate tables sharing wine or bites of their food, as well as conversation, Cordeiro stands backs and smiles, knowing the type of exchange she is witnessing is exactly what La Bodega means and part of what she wants diners to take away from their experience inner dining room.
“I think, ‘Oh that’s it. That was the accomplishment. That was the goal,’” Cordeiro said.” And, yes, it’s happening and I watched it.
It’s delightful. It’s what draws the positive energy in me. To know that this is the fun part of life and you can make it fun. It’s an experience to dine here. It’s not just a meal.”
The best part of Cordeiro’s day is arriving at her gathering place—La Bodega means cellar, a place to gather—every night after treating patients, greeting her guests and employees, who she considers a family.
“I’m the same human,” she said about taking off her medical hat at the end of the day and exchanging it for restaurateur at night. “It’s a different taking care of, but it’s the same taking care of.”
Cordeiro believes she has always been a nurturer, a trait she learned from her mother, as well as someone who does more than just dream about the life she wants; she creates it.
“When I set (goals, dreams), I move forward,” she said. “Sometimes it’s harder and may take a little longer but I move in that direction. This project, La Bodega, is a mission. It needed to be completed.”
She smiled big and laughed when asked if as a little girl, she dreamt of being a doctor or restaurant owner.
“I think I wanted to do both—help people enjoy life and provide a vehicle for them to enjoy life. When you nurture through medicine or you nurture through food, you’re nurturing humanity and that’s how I feel about this (place).”