Our Origin Story
The Eel River Café
Before 1910, the Redwood Highway that hugs the West Coast of California was yet to become the adventure that many of us have come to know and love. Stretching along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington, the famous highway had to be relocated inland during development in sections of Northern Sonoma County, California to Grants Pass, Oregon. The relocation of the highway was due to the tectonic plates junction in this region. The highway would be far too expensive to continue through this region giving it a new name, the Lost Coast.
The photo below depicts the the corner of Maple and Redwood Highway. The barn where it says "Feedstock" is our present day location. As infrastructure started to be a focus in the North Coast, multiple towns thrived, among them, Garberville. In 1927, a man by the name of Jessie Vanderwoord decided to open a diner. He initially established the Eel River Café across the street from our current location, where Calico's Café stands today.
This location would become the heart of Garberville, providing standard breakfasts and lunches for a quickly growing town. Garberville would soon become a hub for several communities: Redway, Whitethorn, Alderpoint, Miranda, Benbow, Piercy, and Shelter Cove - the gem of the Lost Coast.
In the 1950's, a man by the name of Clark Hodge decided to venture up the famous 101 highway...
Clark Hodge was the twin of Lark Hodge. They operated the Hodge Bros Cafe located at 372 North State Street, Ukiah, California. Around this time, Hodge had recently married his wife Mary Lou and honeymooned in the Redwoods. It was during this trip that Clark and Mary Lou decided to take ownership of the Eel River Café.
By 1952, our classic sign was added to the facade, this time adding pancakes to the charm of Garberville's main dine-in. Locals loved their open-faced Hot Turkey Sandwich so much, the owners decided to open the restaurant 24/7 to provide local customers affordable and savory delights.
In 1935, the building where we are currently are located was built. People flocked to the Eel River for the fresh biscuits, savory gravy, country fried steaks, pies, and all the diner classics. In our present day prep-room, we provided a fully functioning butchery, bakery, and used all local produce.
The demand for the beautiful redwood lumber was highly sought after in San Francisco, Portland, and other parts of the country. This ushered in the paving of the Redwood Highway and soon more industries boomed in the region such as cattle farming, fishing, and tourism, which caused the local economy in Garberville to flourish. The local school located on Sprowl Creek Rd. was thriving, Garberville opened a Chevy dealership; even branches like Bank of America and AT&T were in business at the time. An abundance of salmon in the winter season brought in fishermen from all over the coast! Additionally, the back to the land movement which arose in San Francisco would soon bring a cultural shift to Southern Humboldt.
Through the years the Eel River Café has gone through many owners. So we'd like to give a shout out to some of the names that have helped maintain and develop our brand: Deck Nickelson, Ed & Leona Prindle, John Roy Richard, Connie & Nadine Basquez, Carolyn & John Phillips Jordan, Don & Mary Orazem, Martin & Laura Eldridge, and our current owners Moises and Alicia Lopez.
The Eel River Café would have not survived all these years without these owners dedication, along with our many crews, to wake up early so we could become the earliest go to breakfast place in Garberville.
Some of you may remember the days when we had a cigarette machine where our table 0 is located, the soda fountain and the pie refrigerator that sat behind the counter for that 2pm treat, the mini jukeboxes that lined each table, the addition of our classic checker floor, and the change from our plastic booths into the comfy red cushions that are here today. Where one can relax on our comfy red booths and watch Garberville come to life from our giant windows.
All these changes and additions have helped keep us in the hearts of many for over 90 years! Not only for Garberville but for the many people that would venture on the 101. Some of our clients have kept us on their yearly pitstop on trips for decades! This can be seen in the culmination of all of our cows!
Don & Mary Orazem can be attributed to this tradition that shows our clients love. One day the couple found a picture of a round cow, thought it was cute, and hung it up on our walls. It was such a cute photo that clients started bringing us cows! We even have cows mailed to us from the England & Ireland!
To the left you can see a newspaper clipping from 2001 one of our past crews.
Eel River Cafe crew from 2006 - 2013
Martin Eldridge, Lindsey Eldridge, Jesse Eldridge, Shirley Rumfelt, Chelsea Hebard, and David Lasbury.
Eel River Café Crew -2001
Steve, Shirley Rumfelt, Mary Orazem, Carolyn, Moises Lopez, and Carolee.
Photo by Darrel Brown of flooding on Main Street Garberville
The Eel River Café currently going through a much needed exterior remodel! Thank your construction crew!!
Our Christmas Crew in 2017!
Huge shout out for the photographers that were able to capture our history so we can display it for you today. Some photos I was not able to find the proper owners, if you see your photo. Please let us know!
Darrel Brown, Dareena Sisk, Don & Mary Orazem, Jesse Martin Eldridge, Paul Turner, Terry Finigan, and screenshots from the Humboldt County Historical Society footage.