The end of The Beginning
For Joe and Pat Wood, the last week of their 26 years running The Beginning steakhouse comes with bittersweetness. In a cleared out restaurant dining room, the couple rehashed the memories that will begin to fade when the business that doubled as their home is demolished to accommodate a Taco Bell restaurant.”It’s going to be funny to see this old building go. It’s kind of a landmark,” said Joe Wood, of his two-story restaurant tucked behind the Donner Gate Chevron on Deerfield Drive. But the recollections turn to relief when the couple speaks about the conclusion of two years of negotiations with Taco Bell. Those dealings ended in October when the franchise owner’s plans were approved by the Truckee Planning Commission. Joe Wood said the location in a largely commercial cluster will be perfect for fast food. The Woods’ “semi-retirement” that began when they sold off their Bay Area flower shops to purchase The Beginning in 1978 will finally turn to full retirement 26 years later. It all started with a conversation over dinner at The Beginning during a Wood family vacation to Truckee. The owners said they wanted to sell the restaurant, and two weeks later the Woods became proprietors rather than patrons.
“It had a good reputation for good food, so we continued the same name,” said Joe Wood.Over the years the restaurant built upon its loyal clientele base. It became the type of place where diners were known by their first names and orders were seldom placed because each person’s favorite dishes were already known.”The service was always good,” said Colleen Williams. “You felt like you were in someone’s house.”Williams started going to The Beginning when she moved to Truckee in 1987, and marked many family celebrations at the restaurant. The grilled lamb chops with mint jelly, and fried shrimp and fillet mignon were some of the notable menu items at the diner. But the friendly atmosphere was what made the place truly special, she said.”They called us by name when we came in,” said Williams. “They watched our son grow up.”The Woods hired employees at times, but always did the cooking themselves. Using family recipes, the couple made everything from salad dressings to sauces from scratch.
“We did well. We had a very good, loyal clientele,” said Joe Wood. “When we first started we had the original Truckee-ites. Then we had their children and finally their children’s children. So it was kind of a loyalty thing.”The restaurant held wedding ceremonies, anniversaries and many birthday celebrations over the years. And it was traditional for patrons to leave a business card tacked to the wall when they left. As the Woods packed to leave the place, they filled three cardboard boxes with the business cards they had collected over the years.One of the most unusual patrons they ever had, left the eatery in sheriff’s handcuffs, charged with bank robbery, said Pat Wood. But before he was hauled to jail, he reached into his car and paid his bill from a sizable stack of money in the back seat of his vehicle.”He got money to pay for dinner. I don’t know if it was robbery money or not,” said Pat Wood.Over the years the Woods saw changes in their patronage that reflected the greater changes throughout town.
“Our type of food, I think, is phasing itself out,” said Joe Wood. “Our clientele has changed over the years.”Operations at The Beginning has also changed over time. Six years ago the restaurant dropped its lunch menu and became a dinner-only outfit. And then, six months ago, a second-story water hose split, causing The Beginning to close because of water damage. During that time period negotiations on the property finalized with Taco Bell, and The Beginning was at its end. But some longtime clients came in one last time to claim a favorite chair, and one even sawed off a countertop he will put in his home for its utility as well as its sentimental value. All the extra dishes and silverware are being donated to the Truckee Senior Center, the couple said.Joe and Pat said they are grateful for all the customers who dined at the restaurant over the years.They plan to stay at a friend’s house in Truckee for the winter. In the future they plan to spend their summers in their trailer near Hobart Mills and winters near their children and grandchildren in the Bay Area. “It’s going to be a shame to see this old building be torn down,” Joe Wood said. “But progress goes on.”
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