Home-cookin’ rules at Paulette’s
Children may know something about Paulette’s Country Kitchen that adults don’t: Behind the cash register, just at the right height for a kid, is a huge drawer full of candy.
“They really dig into it,” said owner Paulette Rickard, “going way into the back of the drawer looking for just the right treat.”
Yes, there really is a Paulette, a mother of three and grandmother of three more (despite still being in her 40s), and she is the heart and soul of one of the county’s most popular restaurants.
“People sometimes come in, don’t see her at the cash register, and think she is slacking off,” said husband John Rickard. “But she comes in at 5:30 in the morning, does all the baking and the hot specials, comes out front about 11:30 for the lunch crowd, and doesn’t leave till everything is cashed out.”
Paulette’s only day off is Tuesday, when ex-husband Randy Cassel (who remains part-owner) takes over.
She first came to Grass Valley 23 years ago from her hometown of Bakersfield for the same reason as many people: a better place to raise a family.
She has three boys. Christian, 17, is finishing up high school. Brent, 23, works for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and is the guy who looks like a football linebacker waiting tables. And Coleman, 29, runs a Grass Valley business, Startovertoday. com.
“I got started in the business early,” Paulette recalled. “I was painfully shy when I was 16. If somebody talked to me, I would turn 40 shades of red, and my voice could barely squeak ‘hello.’ My mother was a waitress, and figured waiting tables would cure me of that. She was right. Guys would tell me dirty jokes just to see me blush, and I lost my shyness really quick!”
In Nevada County, she first worked for Gerina’s Italian restaurant in Grass Valley, then at the Sugar Loaf restaurant near the main Lake Wildwood gate. After working for a succession of owners, one of them asked her to teach him everything about running the place – then let her go.
By then, however, Paulette had a huge fan club. One of them, retired DelMonte CEO Richard Landis, bankrolled her in opening her own place – at the site of Gerina’s, next to Long’s drug store in the Brunswick Basin.
She opened her doors on June 1, 1989, “and we were slammed from day one. We still have loyal customers from Lake Wildwood to this day.”
The first place was 1,800 square feet. “We outgrew it within the first year,” said Paulette, “but we were there 6 1/2 years before buying this place.”
What is now Paulette’s Country Kitchen, near the original site, was a bank that became excess property after Sacramento Savings merged with First Interstate.
“We were up against some big bidders for this building,” she said. “But our customers got a letter-writing campaign going until First Interstate said, ‘No more letters! We get the message that people love you.”
Paulette won the bid over a higher bidder – a competitive bank – and has been in her location almost nine years. (The only hint that it used to be a bank is the vault, which is used to serve large parties.)
“Country kitchen” is an apt description of Paulette’s place, with a welcoming fireplace, its “home-cookin'” menu, and a decor featuring local artists, handmade quilts and country crafts and jewelry, all for sale.
“People say it’s a bit like the Cracker Barrel chain back east, with the crafts for sale,” she said.
Paulette’s has a large breakfast and lunch menu, from omelettes to BLTs. Popular items include chicken-fried steak and the home-made pies, especially French silk pecan. (Paulette’s pies are so popular that she does a land-office takeout business on holidays. “Last Thanksgiving, I baked 109 pies, all different kinds,” she said.)
But the daily hot lunch specials are especially anticipated, so much so that the restaurant provides a monthly take-home calendar so folks can plan their visits around such favorites as chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, and Swedish meatballs. Some specials, such as turkey with stuffing, are recipes from Paulette’s grandmother.
Although claims of “catering to the customer” sometimes are more slogan than philosophy, Paulette really believes in it. For instance, even though the menu includes an extensive section of low-fat items, the wait staff will honor special needs of, say, Atkins dieters.
“I once worked at a place that wouldn’t split orders or do any special requests, and I just couldn’t stay there,” she said. “If we have any way to give a customer what they want, we’ll do it.”
At a glance:
Paulette’s Country Kitchen
11875 Sutton Way, Grass Valley
Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
$5-10 (not including wine)
Beer and house wines
Parking, daily specials, takeout, groups up to 18 (in the “Vault”), private evening dinners, children’s menu, vegetarian dishes
We hear that Charlie’s Angels cafe in Grass Valley is the first of several restaurants to have developed special menu items to assist diners taking part in the Nevada County Meltdown Challenge. . . . Steve Burch of Burch Hall Winery, who lives in Grass Valley, is joining up with Robert Perez of Nevada City’s Citronee restaurant for a series of wine-tasting education courses. They’ll show beginners the right way to taste wines, and offer a range of varietal and regional tastings. For more information, call Citronee at 265-5697 . . . Tips on area restaurant news are always welcome at email@example.com.
Richard Somerville is a restaurant fan and the editor of The Union. Conversations in Table for Two! are based on the whims of the writer and on reader suggestions, not on ads or freebies. To suggest a conversation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945.
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With under a week before fall starts, Grass Valley is experiencing much cooler weather, the National Weather Service said.