A pirate's life for Pleadwell

BIG BURGERS: Elysha Gabutin rolls out two orders of the Jeff's Famous Homemade Hamburger ($15.50), left and center, and a Shrimp Burger ($18). Both are served with french fries. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

"When I was young on Guam, my parents brought me to Pirate's Cove, which was right here at this location. When I was going to high school, I would go to Talofofo Bay surfing and we would stop by here and try to get served and get kicked out," says Jeff Pleadwell, owner of Jeff's Pirates Cove in Talofofo. Pleadwell says he first came to Guam from Massachusetts at the age of 14 when his father got a civil service job at the Piti power plant in 1962.

"I was dumbfounded when they said we were coming here," he says. "I had a new girlfriend that I never even got to go out with. Everybody wanted to fight with me because I had a broken leg. I was going to Agat Junior High School, you know typical trip, everybody wants to prove themselves."

Pleadwell, of course, has long since proven himself on Guam. He's a hard-to-miss figure, looming above less statuesque tourists with his stark, white beard – the type you might find on, well, a pirate.

He says his teen years improved on Guam as his family settled in.

"I got really happy here. I went to George Washington High School and was president of the surf club. I loved it here."

After high school, he moved to Hawaii in 1967 and then back to the mainland, where he studied food and beverage accounting, eventually graduating from the University of Las Vegas.

"Vegas in 1970 was a little different," he says. "I drove a cab for three years. Almost got killed many times."

'I really just wanted to come back to Guam'

Pleadwell returned to Guam in 1970.

"I decided that after driving a cab there and all the crazy incidents that happened, I really just wanted to come back to Guam and live here," he says.

In 1973, Pleadwell says he started hanging out at the Pirate's Cove, a bar built in 1953 on the property where Jeff's Pirates Cove stands today.

"I drank here. I was much different then. It was old. It was kind of shabby," he says. "Some people to this day like it better then. What can you say?"

What you can say is Jeff's is a staple on Guam – but it was a long road getting there.

Pleadwell bought the property in 1979 after the former owner died. He started serving $1 beers and playing rock 'n' roll on Saturday nights.

"It wasn't a beach bar. It was facing the road and there was no road even to see. I was just a neighborhood bar, but I wanted to open it up and enjoy the beach side of it."

Changing things up at Jeff's

In 1985, Typhoon Bill wiped out the bar and Pleadwell was forced to rebuild. He made the establishment much bigger and open to the beach for unforgettable views from the 22-acre property.

"It made it more acceptable to more people," he says.

In 1997, Typhoon Paka hit and Pleadwell rebuilt again, this time adding an A-frame concrete multipurpose building adjacent to the restaurant and a residence for himself.

Three years later, he changed the hours of operation from night to day.

"At night there was a lot of problems. Lot of bad drinkers ..., drug addicts, they were all down here to take advantage of my customers and cause trouble. I kicked 'em out left and right," he says.

"We did much better when we opened up out here on the beach and we went to our daytime hours."

Pleadwell also worked to offer a menu that could draw the crowds.

"The food itself has brought so many people here," he says, adding that Jeff's cheeseburgers top the menu as their best-seller. "I spare no expense in making it the best."

Additions to the crew

Stop by Jeff's and you will likely see Pleadwell taking photos with tourists or checking on his guests, but as hands-on as he is, he recently brought in another pair of hands to help run the business.

His daughter Sarah now holds the title of general manager.

"It has a big warm spot in my heart because it's where I was born and raised," she says. "It's just a great environment."

She says she loves seeing customers' eyes light up when served one of the many menu items that come in generous portions.

"Then they eat it and you go back to the table and they say, 'Oh, that was awesome!' and it just makes you feel good," she says.

Sarah Pleadwell says "the teamwork of it, how everyone comes together to make everything run smoothly" is something she thrives on.

Part of that team is executive chef Jose Garcia, who joined the team late last year and brought his experience cooking Mexican fare from his home country.

"It's real Mexican food. It's nothing fake," he says.

But the mix of cultures is what really makes Jeff's hum.

"We get customers from all different countries, so it's the best," Garcia says. "We get people from South Korea, China, Japan, Philippines, Russia – we get people from all over the world."

Souvenir shop, onsite museum

And if great food, an unbeatable location and warm service aren't enough for you, Jeff's also boasts a souvenir shop packed with reasonably priced items for visitors to take home, including a must-have for many: a Jeff's Pirates Cove T-shirt.

"You come to Guam, you got to get a T-shirt from Guam. You come to Pirate's Cove and you like it, you got to get a T-shirt from here," Jeff says.

Still not satisfied? Stroll over to the onsite museum, which holds a wide array of artifacts found on Guam and includes 70 photos of Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese soldier who was discovered hiding out in the village nearly 30 years after the end of World War II.

Jeff's is a spot where locals and visitors alike can stop by and feel right at home. And the love goes both ways.

"A lot of people display a strong affection for the place, and me, and that's rewarding," Jeff says.


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