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Rowe wowed diners worldwide before cooking back home

Community Portrait
By: Michael Kirby
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Ty Rowe is one of Auburn’s own and he hasn’t forgotten where he grew up and how the Auburn community helped him develop into the man he is today. Rowe came to Auburn when he was a second grader. He was educated locally and graduated from Placer High School in 1983. Rowe played football for Placer High, proudly wearing the green and gold Hillman uniform, and was part of the Bill Miller/Tom Johnson dynasty of winning football teams of the ’70s and ’80s. While in high school, Rowe started working at the 160 Club as a freshman cleaning the club before school. Rowe also took jobs in Auburn working in food service, beginning with washing dishes at the Country Boy Inn, which is where the Tio Pepe Mexican Restaurant near Lou La Bonte’s is now. Jobs at Jim Otto’s Burger King and other area kitchens followed in Rowe’s teen years. “Jim was one of our coaches and I think he employed half the team at one time or another,” said Rowe. Two weeks after high school ended in 1983, Rowe, just 18, took a job in Cold Bay, Alaska, working in a café for the Flying Tigers Air Freight Company as a cook feeding hungry employees at a remote airport as they distributed freight from their northern hub. Before the winter cold set in, Rowe made his way home for a year or so, again working in restaurants but got it in his mind that being a chef was going to be his calling. Rowe enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He completed the two-year intensive program immersed in food prep, sanitation and many different styles of cooking. “Asian and Italian cooking, beer, wines, learning to mix drinks, we learned it all. There are five restaurants on campus,” said Rowe. He also served an internship with Marriott’s before graduation, learning banquet-style food preparation in their hotel chains. In 1989 Rowe moved to the Netherlands to work and learn still more styles of cooking. Taking a job at the bottom as a dishwasher, Rowe learned the language and applied for better jobs, eventually landing a good one with a restaurant group cooking in a fine dining restaurant called Café Floor in Rotterdam. “I went from serving thousands of meals at Marriott’s to serving maybe 60 on a busy night,” said Rowe. “In Europe people enjoy eating, they really dine, and they take their time.” Rowe stayed in Europe until 1992, working and learning. Rowe then returned to Auburn and after working for a few establishments, came upon a chance to finally open his own restaurant. So Bootlegger’s in Old Town Auburn was born. Rowe struck a deal to take over the building that currently houses Bootlegger’s and in late 1993 signed the lease and was open for business in May 1994. Bootlegger’s is a combination of the skills he learned along the way with a little bit of Auburn-style eating. “We polled everybody before we opened and they all said we want something like Champs, (a popular longtime Auburn restaurant closed years ago): down-home enough to come often, but upscale a little for special occasions,” said Rowe. “That pretty much describes our clientele.” Bootleggers has become an institution in Auburn dining with many people doing just that – having a great meal in a very comfortable atmosphere. Rowe feels honored to be a part of the community that he grew up in and lives here with wife Catherine and their three children.