PICTURED: Chef Andres Fernandez at the Copa Cubana in Ventura Harbor. Photo submitted
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Few restaurateurs have as much on their plate as Andres Fernandez.
The owner and chef of both 805 Bar and Grilled Cheese and the Copa Cubana next door keeps busy running two distinctive menus — one famous for its hot, melty, decadent sandwiches; the other dedicated to authentic Cuban cuisine — out of the same kitchen at Ventura Harbor. He also operates nearby Ventura Harbor Comedy Club and, of late, has been splitting his time between his home in Ventura and Havana to work on a film project.
“I’m constantly working,” Fernandez says — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Fernandez loves his West Coast lifestyle — he’s been in California since 1994 — but is a proud native of New York City. He grew up in Brooklyn, where his Cuban-born father owned a bakery. The family lived in an apartment above it.
“I was always raised around it,” Fernandez says of the food industry. “I worked in a donut shop, restaurants, bartended . . .”
But in his 20s, he discovered another love: comedy. After making a name for himself doing standup on the East Coast, he started getting national attention and touring. One of his major venues was the Tropicana in Las Vegas. He also performed with Drew Carey, and entertained U.S. troops in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
He showed up in Southern California often, too, both at the comedy clubs and on film sets.
“I used to come here every year for pilot season and auditions,” Fernandez explains.
In 1995 he landed a starring role in a UPN/Paramount sitcom called An American Family. The show didn’t make it past the first season, but his standup career was booming. Fernandez eventually moved to Santa Clarita in 2000, and met Randy Lubas while performing at J.R.’s Comedy Club.
Around this time he also was getting acquainted with Ventura County clubs, like Hornblower’s at Ventura Harbor, where Fernandez frequently performed before it closed in 2006. (It would later become Brophy Bros.) Another space in the waterside location became a comedy club, which passed through a few different hands before being taken over by Fernandez and Lubas in 2007.
“A lot of great growth,” Fernandez recalls about those early days of the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club. “We got in right before the recession in 2008. We had 170 seats and expanded into a green room and a sound room. In our first six years, we did a lot of expanding.”
With Fernandez managing the club and Lubas handling the paperwork and talent booking, VHCC always had something going on. Drag, burlesque, dueling pianos, magic shows, the Ventura Comedy Festival and, of course, headliners from across the U.S. kept audiences in stitches. The space was also the home of the Ventura Improv Company for a time, and hosted the monthly Artist Spotlight Series by Focus on the Masters for three years.
He’s been running the show solo since Lubas retired at the end of 2019, but he takes pride in the foundation the two of them built together.
“Randy and I did a lot of work,” Fernandez says. “We were complete opposites and we complemented each other . . . We were both completely dedicated . . . I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”
Melts and Mojitos
Fernandez’s love of food and the restaurant industry was not diminished by the success and popularity of his comedy club. He owned Savory Cafe and Bakery in Downtown Ventura for three years and in 2008 opened a waterside cafe at the harbor called Andres Wine and Tapas Bar.
Not considering himself a sommelier, however, he decided to tweak the concept. In 2012 he sold the bakery, acquired a full liquor license, and started offering grilled cheese alongside cheese plates. Thus was 805 Bar and Grilled Cheese (“not a bar and grill — a bar and grilled cheese!”) born.
“From the get-go, it was a hit,” Fernandez states.
Maru Sushi was right next door and shared the patio with 805 Bar. Chef Andres realized that “if I take over the sushi restaurant, I could have the whole patio.” He did just that, and created one of the county’s first Cuban restaurants with the Copa Cubana. He had another hit on his hands, helped in no small part by a large outdoor dining area with a commanding view of the harbor.
Why would someone choose to operate two separate restaurants simultaneously?
“I fancy myself an artist more than an entrepreneur,” Fernandez says by way of explanation. “I don’t do this just for the money. The idea of making two different restaurants with one kitchen appeals to me.”
His strategy is to use a lot of the same ingredients, prepared differently (mint, for example, goes into both mojitos and a salad dressing). And he is careful to keep both menus manageable: just 10 sandwiches and 10 entrees, respectively. Bread heels leftover from 805 Bar sandwiches get turned into bread crumbs, croutons and other items used at the Copa.
“It’s a very efficient kitchen,” Fernandez confirms. “We have very little waste. I truly believe it’s the wave of the future for restaurants.”
During the pandemic lull, Fernandez embarked on yet another project: Discovering and celebrating his Cuban roots, inspired in part by CNN’s food and travel show Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. He spends one week out of every month in Cuba, recording his experiences with the help of one cousin that’s a cameraman, another that’s a chauffeur and a third that owns an Airbnb in Havana. His first trip was in February 2022.
When he’s in Cuba, he doesn’t just spend time with family. He visits the same bars, restaurants and grocery stores, getting to know the people and community month after month. He also shares bits of history and culture, discussing the local art, music and architecture. And, of course, the cuisine, seeing the exposure as contributing to his evolution as a chef.
“In Cuba, they call me Cubanisando, which means ‘becoming Cuban,’” he says. “When I go there, I’m Cuban.”
“I want the show to be about America, too,” Fernandez continues. “I want my country and my father’s country to be allies. I think we spend too much time fighting and finding the differences instead of the similarities.”
Fernandez has bee posting his videos on TikTok and Instagram, but he’s currently in talks with three different producers who are interested in possibly creating a television series. For a man who first moved to the West Coast to shoot a sitcom pilot, it’s an interesting way of coming full circle.
“I just go”
For most people, a career in comedy or food or film would be fulfilling (and demanding) enough. But not for Andres Fernandez, who loves nothing more than to jump feet first into a new project.
“I just go,” says the chef, comic, entrepreneur, Cubanophile and recent TikToker. “I’m not a procrastinator. I’m addicted to the newness of an idea. That’s just my M.O.”
He’ll have plenty of “new” to take on this summer. Fernandez has given up the space formerly occupied by the VHCC to move all comedy shows to the Copa Cubana. He’s also continuing to host live music acts.
“Doing the shows downstairs really feels good. It’s like a breath of fresh air and a brand new start.”
And for someone who spent most of his life in nightclubs — as a performer, server, bartender, manager or owner — the shift feels organic.
“I’ve just always loved the service industry and night clubs,” Fernandez says. “A place with jazz and blues and comedy and Latin music and dancing . . . you go to this club and you’ve got everything!”
“Everything” is a good way to describe the life of Chef Andres Fernandez. Having it all may not be easy, but he certainly makes it look appetizing.
805 Bar and Grilled Cheese, Copa Cubana and Ventura Harbor Comedy Club, 1575 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura Harbor, 805-642-9463, @the805copaclub.
Follow Andres “Andy” Fernandez on TikTok and Instagram @andresfernandez.