One of the most entrenched dining establishments in Grass Valley, the Humpty Dumpty Kitchen will officially reopen its doors Friday — more than a year after a fire ravaged the diner.
While the fire and subsequent renovation kept the diner closed for 14 months, the results are an upgraded facility, which will be run by many of the same people.
“Actually getting back to what I know how to do instead of overseeing a project is a relief,” said owner Randy Hodges.
He isn’t the only one. Most of Humpty Dumpty’s workers have been receiving paychecks from Hodges’ insurance policy during the rebuild and awaiting its reopening.
The restaurant, located at 1711 E. Main St., caught fire Jan. 7 when rags used to clean the grill, that were tossed into an area at the back of the building, spontaneously combusted in a not-uncommon oxidation process. The Grass Valley Fire Department ruled the incident an accident.
“We’ve been hanging around and helping out for the last six months,” said server Shelly Stagg. “I learned to sand (wood) and put the new booths together.”
Part of Humpty Dumpty’s loyal customer base can be attributed to the staff who interacted with diners, such as Denise Chan, who was a server at the diner before it burned, along with her daughter Rochelle Chan.
“It’s like a family here,” said Denise Chan, whose youngest daughter Nicole Chan will join her sister and mother in working at the diner when it reopens.
Humpty Dumpty’s roots in the community go back more than five decade to when Hodges’ grandfather, L.C. Hodges, started a hamburger and ice cream stand in downtown Grass Valley. In 1970, Hodges’s children, Burney and Geanine Hodges, bought the downtown shop from their father and eventually moved it to its current location in 1979.
Shortly thereafter, Randy Hodges and now-deceased brother Allyn took over Humpty Dumpty in 1979, awaiting their brother, Robert, to graduate from high school and join them.
Shirley Tellam, who started working for Hodges’ grandfather five decades ago and has been serving food to diners ever since, will also return to the bigger, renovated Humpty Dumpty at its soft opening today.
“It’s exciting and kind of scary at the same time,” Tellam said.
One of the most obvious changes, besides the general upgrade of the facility, is the addition of an upstairs dining area. The fire decimated much of the structure’s roof, so when Hodges rebuilt, he increased the second story to allow for large parties to make use of it, such as breakfast clubs, lunch-time commissions, birthday parties and other special events.
Hodges credited contractors Ron and Don Nunnink, project manager Mike Neufeld, Orchard Springs’ Stan Jennings and Youngs Carpet One for their roles in the revamped diner.
“They basically built it from the ground up,” Hodges said. “They did a great job.”
The menu also will likely offer some new items, thanks to the restaurant’s new slow-cook oven. Some of those items will include tri-tip and chicken concoctions. The restaurant will also feature an added salad menu, Hodges said.
While some aspects have changed, Hodges said many things will remain constant, such as the diner’s drive through, which remains open an hour past the rest of the establishment’s 3 p.m. closure.
“Our customers are excited,” Hodges said. “We have had people coming by for the last few months.”
The servers said they, too, have been peppered with questions during the restaurant’s hiatus, especially in recent months.
“You can’t even go to the grocery store,” Denise Chan laughed. “They recognize you and ask us when we are opening.”
While today will represent a “practice run” for the diner, Friday is billed as its official grand re-opening, Hodges said.
“It will be a full house for sure,” Stagg said. “I think the whole weekend will be slammed.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.