Jacuzzi tubs and milkshakes

A bustling business village and the sale of Big Al’s

When Gay and Bob James first decided to purchase a business investment on north Esplanade, their three children—and their bank—thought they were crazy.

“No one would lend us a dime because it was in such bad shape,” Bob James said. The couple ignored the warnings, refinanced their mini-storage business and took on the risk of purchasing a troubled property with 11 buildings. Starting with John Bidwell’s old hog barn, over the past four years, they have renovated eight of the buildings and moved in businesses, including the flagship, Wine Time, which is owned by the Jameses and run by their daughter Jasmine. Five by Five Tonics, Roots Catering, RhythMix Dance Studio and Artisans Galleria now make Lost Dutchman Drive a bustling village within north Chico.

Recently, the family wrapped up construction on Hotel James, a boutique lodging option that is utterly unique to Chico. The small hotel has five individual suites, locked by an electronic key pad, and a shared kitchen and common area, complete with laundry facilities. High-end luxury finishes, like the crystal chandelier that Gay’s dad had stored away for almost three decades, greet guests, who are treated to a bed-and-breakfast feel, almost directly off Highway 99.

The couple’s other daughter, Efima, is managing the hotel, which opened mid-May. Room rates range from $110 on the weekdays to $220 on the weekends. Go to www.hoteljameschico.com to check it out.

The James family believes the hotel rounds out the property, which is now a destination location, rather than a nondescript eyesore. Guests can eat dinner and enjoy wine, view some art, taste cocktail bitters and sit in a private Jacuzzi before sleeping, all within a few steps.

With the final large project on the property complete, the Jameses’ vision for the once-dilapidated property is complete.

“We wanted to create quality where there wasn’t any,” Bob said.

Farther south on The Esplanade: I heard troubling buzz last week that Big Al’s could be shutting its doors. I received an email from a friend about the possibility of a closure and another friend called me up about it two days later when she overheard someone in the nail salon lamenting the potential loss.

After talking with Matt Bell, Big Al’s day manager and son of owners Bill and Pat Bell, I was relieved to find out that the local landmark has no plans to shut its doors.

Bell confirmed that his parents will be retiring at the end of July, but the intention is to sell the Chico fixture before then. The Bells have owned and operated the drive-in eatery since 1985, Bell said, after purchasing the restaurant from founder Al Regier. Bell said there are a few parties interested in taking over the business, but the details are still being ironed out. Let’s hope that the triple-thick milkshakes are here to stay.