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Celebrating a Delicious Anniversary
With gift to a community
There's an auspicious anniversary in the small town of Pollock Pines – it involves history, the dreams of many people, and a commitment to community that's no longer common. The 50 Grand Restaurant celebrates 80 years of being part of California's logging legacy in the Sierra, just an hour from storied Lake Tahoe.
There is one main route through the town of about 7000 people. It's called Pony Express Trail because that's what it once was … the dirt road from the high country to the Sacramento Valley and on to San Francisco. Among the first settlers in the early 1900s was the Hiram Pollock family, who opened a lumber mill – thus the town name. People settled, and a handful of businesses opened – among the first was a café and store which eventually morphed into the 50 Grand – the '50' for the highway that borders town and 'Grand' because that's how locals feel about their home in the Sierra.
Throughout the decades, the restaurant has been the sole 'dining' place within several miles, much unchanged save for the names of owners and weekend specials. The biggest transformation took place in 2018, when Jim and Kim McCarthy bought the restaurant and then, during the pandemic shut-down, gave it a facelift inside and out. They thoughtfully remodeled, preserving the original feeling of the landmark building while renovating the kitchen and upscaling the menu. They hired talented locals – many of whom are still members of core staff.
"We toured the restaurant when it was for sale," says Kim. "We knew it was important to several generations, and we decided we wanted to revitalize it for the community." Kim and Jim (a former systems and software engineer) lived in the area for 25 years and volunteered in numerous activities as their two boys (Logan and Quinlan) attended school and became part of the 50 Grand crew as the restaurant transformed. The entire crew was (and is) committed to community and honoring history.
But that brief summary barely begins to cover what the five-year journey has been like for the McCarthy family. My husband and I have been regulars at the 50 Grand and privy to challenges that would have defeated less determined people. Caring for elders in illness and death, enduring their own health challenges, learning the ins and outs of the quixotic restaurant trade, navigating family dynamics, saying goodbye to their best friend – a German Shorthair Pointer who brought the calming 'love of dog' to their noisy life. And then, there was the pandemic. A solid two years of expense with no income from the 50 Grand.
Amid the chaos and uncertainty, the resilient Jim and Kim partnership did not retreat. Instead, they dove head first into a renovation that transformed the aging restaurant inside and out – with a sparkling new kitchen, dining room, and bar. I'd drop by and see restaurant plans laid out on one table – Kim managing locals they'd hired to help, and Jim hunched over his computer doing his high-tech job while fielding questions about construction throughout the building. They were not alone in their dedication. Staff members, like their popular and multi-talented bartender, Jimmy Voelker, stayed around to work on tasks completely unrelated to running a restaurant. The new-old 50 Grand – all dressed up for the future - reopened as a destination for locals and visitors, with Chef Patrick Leavell commanding the kitchen.
But fate was not yet done with the McCarthys. This past spring, as the crew prepared for the evening dinner, there was a loud commotion of screams and cries from Pony Express Trail just yards from the front of the building. Kim and Jim rushed outside to find elementary school children huddled in the street and on the curb by the restaurant – crying, screaming, and scared. A few lay injured on the blacktop, and a pick-up truck sat idle in the road. Emergency responders were gathering. One of the injured children – four-year-old Jupiter - was not responding to life-saving efforts. Jim rushed to her side and started intense efforts to resuscitate her. He felt her heart stop and performed CPR until she started breathing again. In the meantime, Kim hustled the rest of the children and their caretakers into the restaurant, where the whole crew flew into action – snacks and drinks for the kids, color crayons and paper, hugs all around. Ambulances came and went; law enforcement did their job in the street. Four children were airlifted to the hospital, another by ambulance. The young male driver of the truck sat shocked, frightened and surprised under the watch of law enforcement. The 50 Grand became ‘safe ground’ for the kids and panicked parents who rushed to the scene.
Kim and Jim – at the vortex of the emergency - felt the trauma of that day for many weeks as they handled inquiries and tried to deal with their own shock. Physical injuries to the children were treated, but the emotional toll continues to this day. Jupiter had a rough road in the hospital but eventually improved, though she has physical and emotional impacts that will last a lifetime. Most everyone involved felt emotional backlash for many weeks.
All this and more fold into the history of the 50 Grand at 80 years old. Kim and Jim remain at the helm, guiding it forward while preserving its long tradition as a community resource. And that it is - with friends huddling around the bar, catching up and spreading local news. Sharing laughter and tears. Becoming the cultural heartbeat of a small town and fulfilling the promise made by the McCarthy family. "We wanted to revitalize the restaurant for the community," says Kim, "and create a positive, employee-valued environment. A place to create 'Grand' memories."
All those intentions harmonize with a philosophy that’s central to the McCarthy family. "Our goal is to make our little section of the world better than when we got here," says Kim. "It's the best anyone can do."
Thanks for being with me - especially as I’m adjusting to a new home in a sweet mountain town while wondering which storage shed is hiding all my important possessions. I’m feeling a little lost and scattered. Moving is … overwhelming!
If you like my writing, please check out my ‘cozy’ mystery novel - The Song of Jackass Creek. And if you read my mountain mystery, kindly write a review on Amazon - it's one of few ways for indie publishers like me to succeed. I'm excited to have fabulous reviews averaging 4.6 stars!