Dotty's Corner Kitchen in Etna
By Gary VanDeWalker
A Tasty BusinessApril 2015
By Gary Vandewalker
Photos: Taryn Burkleo
As Christy Bartneck grew up on her father’s ranch in the Scott Valley, like many other children, she could glance toward a field and watch an elephant enjoying an afternoon snack. Lumbering between a barn and small restaurant, the animal called the old gold mining town of Etna home. The pachyderm’s name was Akili. The restaurant was Dotty’s. Bartneck, the daughter of a fifth-generation cattle rancher, was seeing her future.
Many of the children of Siskiyou County venture beyond its borders to new lives. Bartneck graduated from Chico State University with a degree in sociology and found her dreams as a marketing manager for a development company in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2007, she married Robert Bartneck and their dreams began to revolve around their daughter Peyton, born two years later. “We were living a fast-paced, corporate life,” Bartneck says. “We wanted to raise Peyton in Etna. The problem was finding work, so we began a two-year search looking at buildings and businesses.”
Dotty Olson came to Etna in 1970. Along with her husband Ralph, she opened Dotty’s Jolly Cone, making soft-served ice cream and burgers a part of life for the Scott Valley. In 1979, Ralph took her on a trip to the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore. Since her ninth birthday in 1930, when her mother gave her five ceramic elephants, Olson had been in love with the creatures. Discovering one up for adoption at the Wildlife Safari, she now fulfilled a childhood wish to own one. In 1981, Akili moved to her new home.
Olson expanded Akili’s space into Dotty’s Game Safari, which featured a train. The town hosted the elephant, a camel, a llama, peacocks, goats and a lion cub. Television appearances, parades and visits to schools filled Olson and Akili’s lives. In her later years, Olson realized she could no longer keep Akili and sold her to an animal talent agency. Today, a mural on the barn next to Dotty’s gives homage to the menagerie.
Bartneck’s search focused on Dotty’s. Her experience as a waitress and a marketer gave her some insight into the restaurant industry, so the family purchased it. “I knew the history here,” Bartneck says. “The warmth and memories of my childhood were at that restaurant.”
The building was renovated, a large grassy area created to have a place for children to play, for events to be hosted and for blankets to be laid out while lunch was enjoyed. The menu grew with new food as well as beer and wine. “At first, people would just peer into the lot from their cars,” Bartneck says. “Then they began to come in. Now things get crowded, and in our fourth year, things are just getting busier as we’ve gotten more comfortable and confident.”
The business serves gourmet burgers, with a special sauce created by a professional chef. From the Foghorn Leghorn Sando to the Pastrami Reuben Dog, specialty foods fill the menu. Shakes, cones, fries and onion rings continue the past into the present. “I grew up a Jenner girl with Jenner Family Beef,” Bartneck says. “I convinced my dad that with the best beef in Siskiyou County, there had to be a way to serve it.” Dotty’s features Jenner Beef.
The restaurant is a center of community activity, hosting small and large events. Weekends find weddings, reunions and birthday parties filling the grassy space. Every month a live music event is held, alongside a weekly farmer’s market. June 3 will kick off a Wednesday $1 beer and cornhole (a game involving corn-filled bean bags) night. On May 2, Dotty’s will host a rodeo tri-tip dinner from 5 to 7 pm, with a rodeo dance following from 7 to 10 pm. “We purchased a ginormous barbecue from Texas,” Bartneck says. “So now we can bring and cater Dotty’s anywhere.”
The spirit of Dotty Olson and Akili are still here. “It’s wonderful to be able to provide a living for my family in Scott Valley. It’s really fun; my kids can be a part of what we are doing,” Bartneck says. “It’s a way of life, a family venture. We get to be together.”
404 N. Highway 3, Etna • www.dottysburger.com