Eating & Drinking at Lulu's Establishment
By Jon Lewis
Breakfast for DinnerNovember 2015
By Jon Lewis
Photos: Jeannine Hendrickson
She left San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast and her checkered past behind, determined to exchange the city’s bright lights and bordellos for the quieter climes of the North State. Her route, similar to other fortune-seeking ’49ers, brought her to Redding, where she discovered the need for a business that could dispense good food and drink.
Such is the story of a woman known only as Lulu and the origin of Lulu’s Eating & Drinking Establishment at the foot of Pine Street in downtown Redding. Maybe.
Lulu’s proprietor, Rich Paulson, loves the story and is in no hurry to dispute it, in part because he himself hails from San Francisco and also made the trek north at a young age. Frankly, the longer one stays in the colorfully decorated and comfortable confines of Lulu’s, the more plausible the story sounds.
It’s no wonder the place is a local institution. It’s unpretentious and fun, open every day of the year except for Christmas, can comfortably accommodate customers of all ages, offers up a rock-solid menu, and has an inviting lounge and a banquet room that has hosted thousands of receptions, parties and family events.
It’s got such a down-home feel that country music legend (and Palo Cedro resident) Merle Haggard makes Lulu’s his go-to breakfast spot when he’s not on tour. He’s such a low-key regular that most customers hardly bat an eye when he settles into a corner booth for brunch with family members and band mates.
“There is always going to be somebody here you know,” says Marci Biancalana, the longtime manager who started waiting tables at Lulu’s when she was 18. “I love to meet new people and make people happy. I look forward to seeing a lot of our regulars. It’s good to know we have a good following and that we can take care of people.”
Nicole Mook, 28, has been a Lulu’s fan her whole life. For her, the restaurant and lounge can be summed up as friends, family and fun. “My brother and I went in as kids and now we go in there as adults. My dad’s been friends with Richie for a long time. It’s a place you can go with your friends and hang out or take your family.
“I like to go for brunch. The food is amazing. You can order breakfast for dinner and Richie is always there. The patrons are always friendly. It’s very dynamic: families with children, 21-year-olds at the bar, 80-year-olds … you can go in there and sit down and leave with a bunch of new friends,” Mook says.
Rose Gandy, the retired Mt. Shasta Mall marketing manager, is another longtime Lulu’s customer and friend of Paulson’s who also knew his parents, Dick and Pat, when they operated Pat Paulson’s Prime Rib House on Eureka Way.
“He’s a hard worker and he knows the restaurant industry inside and out,” Gandy says. “There is not one part of that business he doesn’t know about and that he hasn’t done himself. His customers love him and his employees stay a long time. He’s just a wonderful boss.”
Gandy might have a slight bias since her daughter, Biancalana, has worked with Paulson for more than 30 years. Biancalana, though, backs up mom’s assessment. “A lot of waitresses have worked here a long time. I’ve worked with some of the same people for 20 years. I just love this industry and I can work really hard for him. I just enjoy being here.”
The restaurant started in 1961 as a Sambo’s and was later renamed The Bonanza Restaurant. The cocktail lounge was named The Blue Ox. It became Lulu’s in the early 1980s when Steve Gaines owned it.
Lulu’s entered the family not long after, when Gaines sold the restaurant to Joe Paulson, Rich’s uncle. Paulson, who already had the food and beverage catering contract for the Redding Convention Center, purchased Lulu’s in 1987.
The restaurant business was simpler back then, he says, before franchise operations discovered Redding. But consistency and quality are the hallmarks of any successful restaurant and they are traits that keep Lulu’s a North State favorite.
“We still do breakfast, lunch and dinner and we have a broad menu,” Paulson says. “We have prime rib seven nights a week and breakfast is still pretty good. We do a Monte Cristo and not many places do that. We try not to buy a lot of product out of a box. We bread our own food, make gravies from stock and make our own dressings.
“It’s a little wooly,” Paulson says with a smile. “It’s not quite a fine dining place and the coffee shop is not quite a Starbucks, but we use choice cuts in all our meats and we use fresh fish. We have everything from waffles to steak Diane.”
Paulson has been a member of the Asphalt Cowboys for 22 years and he again put his food service background to the test in September for the cowboys’ annual barbecue in Lake Redding Park, helping the civic-minded urban wranglers grill 4,000 pounds of tri-tip and 2,000 pounds of chicken.
“When he took over Lulu’s from his uncle, he jumped in with both feet,” Gandy says. “He’s been wonderful for the community; people really don’t know how generous and kind he is to the community.”
Lulu’s Eating & Drinking Establishment
2230 Pine St., Redding
Open daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily