Henrich Brestowski, the eponymous owner of Chef Henry’s Cafe, a popular Eastern European restaurant, died January 9 at AdventHealth Winter Park Hospital. He was 69.
Brestowski and his wife, Estera, opened the restaurant on Howell Branch Road in Winter Park in 1999. He was chef de cuisine and she was the pastry chef, noted for her strudels. In my review of July 25, 1999, in the Orlando Sentinel, I wrote:
“I don't know what the residents near Howell Branch Road east of Semoran Boulevard in Winter Park did to deserve Chef Henry's Cafe, but it must have been something good.
“Chef Henry's Cafe is a rare find, and let me say from the outset that I didn't find it on my own. Several readers put me on to the place with passionate letters singing the praises of the little cafe run by former Slovakia residents Henrich and Estera Brestowski. They were the kind of letters that make me roll my cynical eyes and read between the lines.
“'Authentic European cuisine,’ they said. Bratwursts on a hot dog bun, I thought.
‘Made from scratch,’ they wrote. Scratch is probably the brand name for a frozen food company, I mused.
“But I decided to pay a visit. Heck, I like brats as much as the next guy.
“What I found was authentic European cuisine, made from scratch, prepared and served by a family dedicated to promoting the foods of their homeland. And they're winning converts one plate at a time.
“They had me with my first spoonful of leber dumpling soup[.]”
Prior to opening Chef Henry’s, they had Cafe Max at Lake Eola and Blue Danube I an II in Titusville. But their story started years before in what was then known as Czechoslovakia. Brestowski was born on March 12, 1953, in Sokolov and grew up in Lucenec in Slovakia. He met Estera Bilkova at a disco in 1972 and they were married a year later. They had three daughters, Evelina, Simona and Mimi. His wife and daughters survive him.
According to an obituary written by his family, Brestowski grew to resent living under the strictures of the communist party, and one day in 1987 under the pretense of making a shopping trip to Hungary, the family escaped, traveling to Romania and Yugoslavia and then to Austria, where they lived for two years.
The family immigrated to St. Louis in 1989 and Brestowki got a job as a prep cook at a Sheraton hotel. They moved to Central Florida in 1991.
Chef Henry’s Cafe operated until 2008 when the Brestowskis sold it, stating at the time a desire to return to Europe. The new owner changed the name to Chef Hans Cafe.
The couple also owned Chef Henry’s Tip-Top Bistro, which opened in 2001 just a few miles away on Howell Branch Road. It was meant to be a fine-dining Eastern European restaurant but it was short lived.
A new Chef Henry’s opened in early 2010 in the Longwood Village Shoppes in the space that had been Journeys. Although Henrich and Estera were involved – they had moved to Slovakia but returned to Central Florida – the restaurant was owned by their daughter Simona. It closed in 2014.
The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for burial costs.