by Jim Bulls
Info on this year’s Taste of the Town & a coupon for one of Reedley’s Taste of The Town regulars, Valentino’s Italian Restaurant at the end of this article!
The Reedley Downtown Association’s gala event is fast approaching, touting fine cuisine from 30 food providers that call Reedley home. As the hysterical historian, I have been thinking back over my 65 years as a Reedleyite and of the 50-odd restaurants, cafes, diners, hotdog and frosty stands, drive-ins, bars and dives that came before.
When was the last time you could get two fresh abalone steaks at the Bear Club for $6.95? Or remember when Me-N-Ed’s came to town and everyone said they were crazy to try and compete with Valentino’s?
Before I get to my picks, there are some former eating establishments that deserve an honorable mention: Arrowood’s, Punch & Judy, The Palm Cafe, Anthony’s Drugs, Valley Inn, Goody-Good Drive-In, New China Cafe, Schultz’ Frosty Stand, Foster’s Freeze, Dari Delight, Jim’s Broiler, and the little hotdog stand at Cricket Hollow.
I ATE REEDLEY
Restaurant: The House of Chung
Reedley has had its share of restaurants known throughout the Valley as worth a trip to town, and the House of Chung was at the top of the list. Chinatown had not yet lost its identity and was still thriving as well as G Street. People came from all over to eat there and the banquet room was always filled with some large group or another. The food must have been good, but sadly the only Chinese food I would eat were “Chinese hamburgers.” I can attest from personal experience, that all “Chinese hamburgers” taste exactly the same from Reedley, Hanford or San Francisco. The fries, on the other hand, are excellent-there is something about being cooked in that well-seasoned wok.
House of Chung had a giant aquarium in the main dining room and this was probably the first time most people ever saw exotic tropical fish.
Diner: Doc’s Fountain
Also found in Chinatown, was a little clapboard diner known as Doc’s Fountain (right next to the olive oil plant). This was a good ole greasy spoon, but they specialized in the snow-cone. Kids and adults stood around the ornate cast iron ice-shaving machine, watching the five pound block of ice turn into “snow.” Doc would use two paper cones to scoop and shape the ice, while the customer decided what flavor to choose. (Make mine root beer!) Unfortunately for the kids of Reedley, the fire whistle went off one night and the next day I found out that Doc’s Fountain had gone up in smoke. The snow-cone machine survived, but I don’t know when it was last used.
Cafe: Sun King
I believe that anyone who remembers eating at Sun King will tell you that it was the best place in Reedley to eat period!! Sun King was next to J.C. Penney’s on 11th Street and this was one place where I would eat something other than a cheeseburger. They made a chicken-fried steak to die for, and the best liver and onions with spinach on the side. (I ate liver and cooked spinach, but I wouldn’t try Chinese food??) On Friday there were halibut steaks and sometimes Mom or Dad would order abalone. Bozo Aalto’s wife hand-painted over 100 coffee mugs with the names and businesses of regular customers. A big silver ice cream making machine sat in the front window, and Walt would make his own ice cream for the cafe.
Ruby’s was in the building that St. Anthony’s uses for a food distribution center today. It was originally own by Ray Schultz, but caused concern because Schultz already owned a frosty stand across town on I Street. The City made him sell, claiming a monopoly; Ruby Hess bought the business and kept the same good quality food that Schultz had sold.
Drive-In: A&W Root Beer
In every small town, close to the Southern Pacific Railroad station, there seemed to be an A&W Root Beer Stand. During high school, just like the T.V. show “Happy Days,” I would cruise into A&W hoping for a parking place where I could watch Mr. Grey prepare the burgers and fries and keep my eyes on the car hops.
This was the home of the Papa Burger, a double-decker with cheese; Mama Burger, same great taste only with one patty; the Teen Burger, the regular sized cheeseburger; and the Baby Burger, similar to today’s slider. The French fries were made from a mashed potato mix, kept in a vat above the fry oil. Mr. Grey pulled a handle that forced the potato mix through the grid, forming the fries. A blade sliced them off and when they dropped into the hot oil, they solidified and puffed up, turning golden brown. The fries were different from everyone else’s. To top off your order, there was that giant, frosted mug of ice-cold root beer.
Why A&W ever got rid of this menu, I will never know.
As a child, I was in Jadoon’s once: Herb Smith smuggled his son Jack and me in to see the electric trains and railroad collectibles. Those were all gone by the time I reached legal age. I joined the shuffleboard team, where we sported yellow shirts saying “Jadoon’s, Where Drinks Are Best!” Had it not been for the microwave oven and frozen submarine sandwiches, Jadoon’s would only qualify for “I Drank Reedley.” Those hotly contested shuffleboard games built up quite an appetite and it took a few screwdrivers to wash down the sub sandwiches. By the time I got home one night, the room was going one way and the bed the other. I went in the bathroom to lie on the nice, cold floor. My mom found me there and asked, “Jim, are you sick?” All I could think of to say was it must have been a bad sub sandwich.
Dive: The Optimo Club
One of Reedley’s two pool halls–this was the one where mothers of nice girls warned their daughters to stay away from the boys who hung out there. I learned to play 9-ball at The Optimo. It wins, hands down, for the best dive food. There was a pass-through to the kitchen of Arrowoods and they served Arrowood’s menu, but there was another guilty pleasure at the Optimo besides good food and pool: the luxury of a shoe shine! The art of the shoe shine has been lost since the advent of the canvas, plastic and rubber shoes sold these days. Before trips to a mental health professional were common, if you got up on the wrong side of the bed or were down in the dumps, a shoe shine was just what you needed. All you had to do was step up to the booth, sit down, pick up a newspaper or magazine, or strike up a conversation with the shine man (they were walking encyclopedias). Your feet get a great massage as the shine man rubbed the wax into the shoe leather. The aroma was pleasing and as the wax set up, the shine man applied the sweet-smelling leather dye to the soles and heels of your shoes. He then took up his brushes and began the rhythm of his favorite song. With syncopated strokes the soft bristles of the brushes tickled the arches of your feet as they smoothed out the wax on the supple shoe leather. Then the shine man took up his shoe shine rag and began to whistle or hum in time with the snap of the shine rag. When you climbed off the stand, you had a song in your heart, a positive attitude and even if there was only one dollar in your pocket, you felt like a million bucks!
Roach Coach: The Galloping Gourmet
Lincoln School Principal, Bob King, was looking for a summer job and came up with the idea for a hot dog stand on wheels. He and Bill Belknap bought an old Fresno Transit bus and converted it to Reedley’s first lunch wagon. Bob could usually be found at Reedley Beach, the swimming pool, or the Little League games at Washington School.
Buffet: The Parlier Inn
It was Sunday, and if Mom didn’t have a pot roast simmering in the oven it was off to the Parlier Inn after church. In fact, there was usually a mass exodus from Reedley at 12:05 p.m., as Mennonites (First and MBs), Baptists, Nazarenes, Lutherans, Full Gospel, Episcopalians, and Methodists made the weekly pilgrimage to Parlier. There was plenty of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, veggies, Jell-O salads and dinner rolls. Then you could add a slice of apple or pumpkin pie (or any other kind from the huge assortment offered) to complete your meal at a cost of just above cheap. The Parlier Inn brought many denominations together under one non-denominational roof with all of us pigging out on some of the best fried chicken ever.
Woo-hoo! Bring out the antacid!!