RIP Kramore Inn

More than a place to eat

BACK IN THE DAY<br>The Kramore Inn’s original menu, dating to 1976, features 11 dinner crepes starting at $1.40.

The Kramore Inn’s original menu, dating to 1976, features 11 dinner crepes starting at $1.40.

When friends Steven Catterall and David Guzzetti started selling homemade crepes in the mid-1970s, customers responded favorably and convinced the two, who had no knowledge of the food industry, to open a restaurant. On May 14, 1976, Kramore Inn, then at 1919 Park Avenue (in a building that was once a bunkhouse alongside the railroad track), opened its doors, and for 31 years it withstood the precariousness of the restaurant business while earning local fame and even notoriety as a hotspot for political causes and benefits.

Guzzetti and Catterall don’t know how Kramore Inn managed to keep afloat for so long. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Guzzetti said. “We were just … I’m not afraid of the word: young hippies.”

For one thing, Guzzetti said, Kramore offered the first champagne brunch in Chico. “For $3.50 you got champagne, orange juice, fruit, coffee and a crepe. After the first year, we did a cost analysis and realized we weren’t marking up the prices enough.”

They were even losing money on some items, including a chicken-artichoke crepe that Catterall said went “for 50 cents wholesale.”

They had no air conditioning, Catterall said, so “whenever the temperature was over 100 degrees, we just closed the doors, went up to the creek, took our clothes off, and went swimming. Then we opened back up again at 5:00 for dinner. I don’t know how it ever survived the first year.”

After a few months, Catterall, who now owns Olde Gold Estate Jewelry, sold the business to Guzzetti, who in 1981 was elected to the Chico City Council. Soon, Kramore began hosting a variety of benefits, mainly for progressive political causes such as the Butte Environmental Council, Chico Peace & Justice Center and the Feminist Women’s Health Center.

In the 14 years that Guzzetti owned it, Kramore hosted Holly Near, Rodney Crowell, U.S. Senator Alan Cranston and many others. When Jane Fonda came through town for the local premiere of On Golden Pond, Kramore hosted her benefit for the Campaign for Economic Democracy. “We suffered slings and arrows for that one,” Guzzetti recalled.

Kramore’s crepes and chutzpah attracted crowds of patrons in the 1970s and ‘80s. “We only had nine tables,” Guzzetti said, “and if you didn’t want to sit at a table with other people, you were going to wait in line all night.”

But Kramore’s association with politics rubbed some locals the wrong way. Guzzetti recalled that, after a benefit to raise money for medical supplies for people in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the Chico Enterprise-Record ran an editorial “castigating” Guzzetti and calling Kramore “a virtual communist waystation.”

All this attention only served to make Guzzetti a household name; he calls Kramore the “jumping off point” for his 16-year career as a councilman. In 1990, as he became more involved in local politics, he sold Kramore to childhood buddy Bill Thellar. Though Kramore ceased to be a stomping ground for progressive politics, it continued to hold an important place in the community under Thellar’s ownership for the next 17 years.

Pam Robinson, mother of former Kramore employees Jack Mead and Aaron Neilsen, credits Thellar with giving her sons a chance in life. “He hired them when they were 16 or 17. They had no work experience; they were young. He hired people who might not otherwise have found a job. He taught them to cook, he taught them work ethics, to be responsible—he gave them a trade.”

Mead went on to become executive chef at Morton’s in Honolulu and was so successful in his career that, at 35, he is now retired and building a house in Hawaii.

“Bill has been a real asset to the community,” Robinson said. “Even when the kids screwed up, he put up with them and didn’t fire them. … I just want him to know he hasn’t been forgotten and that he was appreciated over all these years. He’s a personal hero to me.”

On April 2, Thellar closed the Kramore Inn’s doors. Jim Williams, another childhood friend of Guzzetti’s who as manager served as the “face of Kramore” during Thellar’s term, said competition finally shut them down.

“When Kramore opened, there was no Red Tavern, no Black Crow, no Tres Hombres,” he explained. In the end, Kramore just “couldn’t pay the PG&E bill. And PG&E isn’t very forgiving.”

Rare is the restaurant that becomes a notable part of local history. The Kramore was such a place, and it served delicious, healthful food, as well. Its closing is a loss.