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Penn Valley Pundit: Penn Valley deli a dream come true

If downtown is a sense of spirit as well as place, then Penn Valley’s “downtown” is thriving among the knickknacks, warm baked scones and bottomless coffee pots of June’s Café & Deli in the Holiday Shopping Center.

On any given morning, you can walk into June’s for your fix of her Dark House Roast and find a few tables of the retired gents from Lake Wildwood and environs drinking their coffee and solving the world’s problems. You can also find what I like to call “the parade of the hunks,” the construction guys who come in for an early lunch order of robust sandwiches and drinks. Add to that the tourists in the summer, the local Realtors and bankers, and you pretty much have a “downtown” cross section of Penn Valley.

To the untrained eye it often looks like complete chaos, with needy coffee addicts waiting for the next pot to fill up and a lengthening queue at the cold case, but over all this, a petite spitfire, June Okada, presides with an unfailing sense of humor and calm. Indeed, one of the main attractions of June’s is the proprietor, who has a ready quip for everyone and has managed to memorize an amazing number of names in her seven years as owner.



“This is my dream job, to have a café. I love working the kitchen and I love the people,” says Okada as she somehow simultaneously works a pot of soup in her small, crowded kitchen, pulls out a pan of freshly baked scones and gives motherly advice to a young Holiday Market employee who wanders into the kitchen to get a hug.

Korean born, Okada began cooking at the age of 6. Her father died when she was just 4, and someone had to cook for her sister and two brothers while her mom went out to make a living. “I became the kitchen manager,” says Okada.




She came to the U.S. while in her 20s and held a series of jobs, all involving customers. She sold Gucci handbags at the Rodeo Drive store in Beverly Hills in the early ’90s, and Mel Gibson was a customer. “He kissed me on the cheek,” she recalls, “and he had the prettiest deep blue eyes. He was very nice.” Okada also worked the front desk at a Hilton in Palos Verdes.

Along the way she had two children and decided she wanted to raise them in a more natural environment than the hustle and bustle of Southern California. She purchased a 37-acre homestead in Penn Valley and is happily living there with her two sons, 19 and 6.

“After work I enjoy peace and quiet and don’t talk that much,” says Okada, whose café is open seven days a week. “I work in my vegetable garden.”

One of the secrets to her high energy is that she stays in shape. She loves to hike five miles at a time and her mom, who is now in her mid-70s, hikes right along with her. “She is my best friend,” says Okada. “Right now she is traveling in China.”

Okada plans on eventually retiring to her Penn Valley homestead. She has a part-time staff to give her some respite, especially when her 6-year-old has a school vacation day and mom needs to take him to the zoo. The deli’s former owner, Marlene Hackett, who ran it as M’s Sandwich & Coffee House, still works in the deli one day a week.

Out of curiosity, we asked Okada how many of those many knickknacks in the deli she actually sells.

“Not that much,” she answers, but she doesn’t care. “They make me happy,” she says. That is June Okada, with a dream job, doing what makes her heart sing.

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Note to readers: Penn Valley Pundit is going on vacation. The column will return Nov. 13.

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Outgoing Supervisor Robin Sutherland is conducting a farewell meeting tonight from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Penn Valley Fire Station, 10514 Spenceville Road. The general topic is “What District 4 Can Expect for the Future.” Sutherland will be giving an update on roads, water, recreation and public safety issues. Hank Weston is the new District 4 supervisor-elect and takes office in January. For more information, call the Penn Valley Area Chamber of Commerce at 432-1802.

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Jean Deitz Sexton’s column appears every other Monday. Her column covers the Penn Valley, Rough and Ready and Smartville areas. Contact her at jeans@theunion.com via e-mail.


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