While Leah Fowler may be the new owner of Perko's Cafe in Grass Valley, she's hardly new to the restaurant business. In fact, it's practically in her DNA. At the age of 16, she began working less than a mile away at the Humpty Dumpty Kitchen, which was owned by her great grandparents, Foye and L.C. Hodges. It's now owned by her cousins, Randy and Robby Hodges. Her mother, Debra Hultman, worked there too - and to top it off, Fowler's grandparents owned restaurants in Gridley and Paradise. After 14 years at the Humpty Dumpty, Fowler was ready to try something outside of the family business and spent 10 years selling real estate. But when the bottom fell out of the market, she found herself going back to familiar territory.
"I started waittressing at Perko's on Sundays," she said. "Then one day the previous owner, Paul Jun, approached me about buying the business."
By January of this year, Fowler had the keys to Perko's in her hand, and was ready to make some changes.
"Over the years I've developed an eye for food service, portions, quality and customer service," she said. "I was able to bring that knowledge here and upgrade service. Our volume has doubled since January. There is so much competition out there that we have to make sure we're good."
Fowler opted to keep the entire staff, add Wi-Fi, upgrade the quality of ingredients, bring in a chef from Humpty Dumpty, offer "tons" of daily specials and pay closer attention to customers' broad range of dietary preferences. Erica Robison, who has extensive corporate experience in the food industry, was brought on board as the general manager.
"I'm excited to come here just as Leah is taking over," said Robison. "We both have a lot of new ideas. We fit together like a puzzle."
"I want to rebuild the name," Fowler added. "The food, ambiance and morale have all improved, yet we're still economically friendly."
Shooting for a grand opening in July, plans to remodel this summer include new carpeting, reupholstering booths, remodeling the restrooms and painting the outside.
In the meantime, Fowler is putting in 12 to 16-hour days while her mother watches the kids, Siena, 6 and C.J., 4. Her husband, Gary Fowler, works in landscaping.
"We've been getting a lot of compliments on the food lately," she said. "One of my grandfather's old friends came in the other day and said, 'Your grandfather would have been so proud of you if he was still alive.' That made me smile."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4203.