Vojo Brasnovic

Vojo Brasnovic is the new general manager of the Old World Restaurant at the Old World Village. (SCOTT SMELTZER / HB Independent / May 8, 2014)

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According to the old saying, necessity is the mother of invention. And in the case of Vojo Brasnovic, the new general manager of Old World German Restaurant, it was his mother who prompted the necessity.

The Croatia native, who joined the restaurant in Huntington Beach's Old World Village last month, learned to cook when he was barely past kindergarten age. His parents worked until 6 or
7 p.m. most days, which left Brasnovic, the older son in the family, with the responsibility of setting food on the table.

“I would make breakfast,” Brasnovic recalled. “I would make lunch. My mom would tell me over the phone, ‘You have this, you have that. Can you make it and have it ready? I'm coming.'”

With a full kitchen at his disposal, the young chef learned to cure and smoke meat, make potato and rice dishes, stuff cabbages and more. And thanks to a bit of serendipity — which is a fancy way of saying Craigslist — he'll bring some of that childhood expertise to Old World as the restaurant seeks to overhaul its menu.

Among the creeds Brasnovic brought with him from his home country, which he left in 2007: no preservatives or coloring. Gluten-free sausages. Fresh, not frozen. And keep a special eye on seasonings, which can make all the difference.

For Cyndie Kasko, the marketing director of Old World German Restaurant, that cultural savvy proved hard to come by.

“We have been searching for a manager for over one year and have had zero luck in finding someone who would understand German culture and be able to bring Old World restaurant into its next phase,” Kasko wrote in an email. “I placed an ad on Craigslist and literally have interviewed over 30 people. Almost giving up hope, I decided to try one last time running an ad on Craigslist, and I received an interesting email with ‘LOOK NO FURTHER!!!' in the subject line.”

Brasnovic, it turned out, had recently stepped down as manager of King's Biergarten and Restaurant in Pearland, Texas, which was named Best German Restaurant in America in a 2012-13 poll by GermanDeli.com. He moved with his family to Arizona to take a hotel management position, but soon found himself having second thoughts about the job and the desert location. When he spotted Kasko's ad, he opted for Old World instead.

Now, he and Kasko are preparing a new menu to launch during or after the World Cup, which will take place this year in Brazil from mid-June to mid-July and typically draws a soccer-viewing crowd to Old World Village. Among other things, Brasnovic hopes to introduce more vegetarian options and cocktails to reach as many palettes as possible.

Does a Croatian background apply to German cuisine? Brasnovic, with a nod to history, said yes.

“It's a small country, but it has so many different influences, because Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I,” he said. “Today, we have Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia. This was all part of the one country, and food was shared.”


Lunch is a cabaret

Brasnovic won't be the only regular face new to Old World this summer. Bethany Owen, a celebrity impersonator who lives in Huntington Beach and has toured extensively in Las Vegas, Germany, the Caribbean and elsewhere, will bring her act to the Germanic shopping center's Festival Hall from May to August.

Owen, who performed as Liza Minnelli on the first day of Oktoberfest last year, has never done an extended engagement in her hometown until now. Her two summer shows — “One Voice,” which features an eclectic array of impressions, and “Country Queens,” which focuses on country music — will take place during lunch hours on select Wednesdays and Thursdays, starting May 21.

Given that time slot, Owen expects to draw a largely older crowd, which means Dolly Parton and Judy Garland will take precedence over Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani.

“When I constructed the act, I used to, I should say, audition pieces for my mom, and if it made my mom smile and laugh and enjoy it, I knew it was something that was going to work for the audience I was ultimately going to perform for,” she said. “So I think, dipping back into history, most seniors are going to know almost every character that I do.”   

If You Go

What: “One Voice” with Bethany Owen

Where: Festival Hall, Old World Village, 7561 Center Ave., Huntington Beach

When: Lunch at 11:30 a.m., show at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday

Cost: $34 general, $28 seniors, $25 per person for groups of 10 or more

Information: (714) 475-9678 or www.bethanyowen.net/calendar