Small Town Values, Big Time Grit
The 50 Grand Facelift
Life delivers plenty of extremes – from the catastrophic and global to daily and personal challenges. Recently, we've all suffered with Syria and Turkey - a disaster bigger than our imagination, and we feel helpless to help.
Events in our own lives may seem trivial compared to the enormity of global disasters, but they can be nonetheless daunting enough to send us into a spiral of despair, even surrender. But some folks rise above such trials. I want to tell you about just one of those families I've watched endure and conquer challenges that would lead others to douse their dreams in a river of tears.
The California town of Pollock Pines is a pitstop for vacationers on their way to the High Sierra and home to about 4000 residents. It includes several smaller communities tucked away in neighborhoods scattered across thousands of pine-studded acres for folks who prefer quiet and elbow room to convenience and amenities. Its claim to fame? The main road that runs through Pollock Pines once carried Pony Express riders across the Sierra Nevada and into California in the 1800s.
Today it has a few essential shops – a supermarket, drugstore, hardware store, gas station, and a scattering of smaller businesses. Among them is a historic restaurant that's been part of the community since 1930. The 50 Grand started out as a modest grocery store to serve local lumbering families and later expanded to include a café and other services. The name reflects the restaurant's proximity to Highway 50 and "Grand" because the owners felt their little town was 'A grand place to live.'
Almost 80 years later, the 50 Grand was still serving up dinners and entertaining locals at the bar – but the years had taken a toll. In 2018, Jim and Kim McCarthy picked up the reins of the landmark dining house, perked up the decades-old menu, and infused it with new life. They planned to make gradual changes to remodel and upgrades as time allowed.
"Jim and I looked at the building and thought it would be nice to give the old gal a facelift," says Kim. "There are several generations that have 50 Grand as part of every memory, happy to sad. We wanted to give the town new memories." A new menu, some tidying up, and plans for other changes brought folks in and started a new chapter for the old landmark.
And then came the pandemic. As relatively new owners of the restaurant, it might have been natural to think of the sudden, long-term closure as a dark omen. But the McCarthy family chose to focus on the opportunity that an empty 50 Grand and lots of time (and investment) would offer. They kicked their remodel plans into high gear. Here's a short list from Kim of upgrades and changes accomplished over the long COVID haul:
"We tore the inside flooring down to the dirt ….. There is all new plumbing, electrical, and ventilation … The dining room has new windows, lights, paint, decorations, tables … The bar has new floors, new lights, new back bar (made from the pillars of the old Camino Mich Mill) … The kitchen is huge and new head to toe, front to back - from new equipment to new flooring."
This impressive partial list would be remarkable under the best of circumstances – but the McCarthy family wasn't about to have it easy. I followed Kim's reports on social media and with personal chats. Here, in a list that's inadequate to express the gravity of events that rained down on her family, is what life inside the pandemic delivered: Kim nursed her mother through a cruel disease that claimed her life. Kim's treasured aunt passed away shortly after. The family's beloved dog (a German Shorthair Pointer) died. Most of the staff (along with Kim) got COVID, and their chef had a heart attack. If that wasn't enough bad karma, the McCarthy family was evacuated during the Caldor Fire and camped in a travel trailer in the parking lot of a local church, watching the trajectory of the 225,000-acre fire threaten both their home and the 50 Grand.
Still, throughout the pandemic closure and the year that followed, the family, their construction crew (largely comprised of former restaurant staff) remained committed. Jim McCarthy, a systems engineer by profession, brought extensive knowledge of remodeling, management, and leadership to the effort. Their sons, Quinn and Logan, learned on-the-job construction skills and worked at whatever was needed. Bar manager and mixologist Jimmy Voekler clocked in daily to do so much remodeling that Kim says he could now get his contractor’s license. It was a virtual village of helpers, believers, families, and fans who, in the fall of 2022, opened the doors and invited the community back in to dine, drink and celebrate.
Remodeled and shining like a new silver dollar, the 50 Grand is back in business, despite many formidable roadblocks. The exterior got a gentle facelift that preserved its historic façade. Inside, changes are apparent but respectful to the origins of the 50 Grand. Photos of the mountain environment (taken by a talented local photographer) hang on the dining room walls, and memorabilia from the restaurant's long history are polished up and proudly on display. The original neon sign glows bright in the bar. Former staff is again employed, and new employees are on board.
"Jim and I look at the 50 Grand family … as family. Though technically staff, we're all on this journey together. We wanted a place that gave local residents a chance to get a job that paid well, a job that could provide benefits. This is unheard of in the service industry." Says Kim. "As we grow, the 50-G family will grow with us. "
What brought the McCarthy personal and professional family through events that would crush the resolve of most people? I think it's the family's uncommon resilience and commitment. The ability to endure pain and yet believe in a better future for the place they call home. And then there's the family's sense of responsibility to the community they serve.
"Jim and I both felt that in the modernization of buildings, people don't take into account the sensory attachment people have with walking into a familiar building and 'remembering when." Explains Kim. "We wanted to keep that for our small town, and for that matter, for people who have adopted this restaurant as their own as they travel through with their families, just as their parents and grandparents did."
When the McCarthys look back at two years in which they endured great personal loss and pain, the memory is counter-balanced by accomplishment and a purpose fulfilled. Kim explains it this way, "We wake up every day knowing how lucky we are … There is a belief that when we leave this earth (not anytime soon), we are leaving something behind that is better than when we got here. Leaning on each other, and building each other up, is the only option for true success. Together, we make a difference.
This month marks the 80th anniversary of the 50 Grand. It 's all dressed up for the occasion and ready to serve the community for decades to come. Best of all, it's in the hands of people who endure, overcome and keep their promises.
Thanks for being with me. I value and appreciate your time. I love to hear from my readers, so please send your thoughts, reactions, ideas to me - firstname.lastname@example.org . I hope you have many people in your community with the dedication of the McCarthy’s!
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Your kindness and support has been unwavering. We can't thank you enough for taking the time to write such a beautiful article on our journey. We're so glad you've been a part of it, because you've made it worth it. Love Jim & Kim www.50grandrestaurant.com