When Rutabegorz manager Vicki Comeau began working at the quaint restaurant 11 years ago, she expected decent tips and a steady job. She didn’t expect to discover a dusty, empty coffin hidden in the cellar and what she thinks are child ghosts.
The Rutabegorz restaurant in Old Towne Orange has been possessed with spirits, ghosts and spells dating back to the day it opened in 1970, Comeau said. Although no customers have experienced paranormal events, Comeau said she has witnessed items falling from walls and ghosts impersonating humans.
“There always seems to be an old lady who appears to be sitting in the back room,” Comeau said. “Then she’s gone in a minute.”
Rutabegorz was opened in 1915 by Daniel and Annie Crawford. They lived in the house with their children while citrus ranching during the day, which provided them with fruit to cook and sell. Rutabegorz was just a house then, but has evolved over the years into a full service health conscious restaurant with the owner’s ghosts supposedly closely watching over it.
Haunted Orange County Paranormal Tours and Events Co. will be touring guests through Rutabegorz on its annual Ghost Walk Oct. 25 to Oct. 31. Employee Ernie Alonzo said there are both intelligent and residual hauntings in Rutabegorz.
Intelligent hauntings are those in which the spirits can interact with humans in the establishment. Residual hauntings are events in which energy is trapped in a building and isn’t aware of human presence, Alonzo said. “The feelings you get when in a spirit presence might just be their energy imprinting in that place,” Alonzo said.
Comeau said the most recent paranormal event she experienced was when she was working last Sunday.
“I kept hearing people call my name,” Comeau said. “They are letting us know they are there.” Comeau said she heard about the restaurant’s haunted history from the prior owners.
“The previous owner and her two children and I talked a lot,” Comeau said. “Her kids always mentioned seeing a little boy walk out of the kitchen and through walls or even little kids playing ball.”
Employee Jose Guerrero was hired at Rutabegorz 11 years ago and said he often hears distant voices and faint chatter coming from the kitchen.
“I walk room to room and I see people, and the next second they are gone,” Guerrero said.
He said the figures are usually an old woman and an old man, whom the staff refers to as Danny and Annie after the original owners.
Comeau said she and Guerrero found a coffin in the cellar underneath the house when they first started working at Rutabegorz. The dark, hollow cellar extends underneath the entire restaurant. Both Comeau and Guerrero said they have been in the presence of something unexplainable in the cellar.
“There are definitely things down there that you can just feel,” Comeau said.
Waitress and daytime manager Victoria Gross has worked at Rutabegorz since 1976 and wrote the book “Ghosts of Orange County.” She said once a plate of dip and chips floated into the air and then slammed to the table below and shattered.
Gross also said she has had experiences with doppelgangers, which are supposedly spirits that resemble humans.
“There have been accounts of people seeing servers working, but that server has that shift off,” Gross said.
Employee Vince Balog, however, doesn’t believe in the strange phenomenon.
“I do not believe in ghosts or any of that, but other servers always talk about their experiences,” he said.
Elisa Becker, a senior sociology major, said she had no idea Rutabegorz was haunted. “I want to go eat there now,” Becker said. “I am going to be on the lookout.”
Gross said it is unknown as to why employees have experienced strange events, but that it has become part of the Rutabegorz environment.
“The spirits are friendly,” she said. “They are like a part of the family.”