Not many restaurants run by a nonprofit board and staffed with volunteers enjoy a 46-year run. With just five paid employees and a volunteer crew of 200-plus, the restaurant and garden complex offered lunches, dinners for business associations and special events. Not to mention delicious, seasonal menus.
Since 1974, proceeds from Casa Garden raised about $3.4 million for the Sacramento Children’s Home across Sutterville Road from Curtis Park. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, Casa Garden’s board of directors, Los Niños Service League, made the difficult decision to cease operations effective Feb. 1.
“While we would love for them to stay open, we respect their decision,” said Todd Koolakian, the Children’s Home director of philanthropy.
Many Curtis Park neighbors volunteered at Casa Garden over the years – working in the kitchen, serving meals, cashiering, staffing special events and maintaining the garden outside the restaurant.
Before Fran Coletti of 26th Street became a volunteer, she enjoyed lunches at Casa Garden with friends. Her favorite dish was the turkey enchilada. She recalls the lemon chicken was everyone’s favorite, also dill shrimp pasta salad in summer and apple cake in the fall.
Starting in 2013, Fran volunteered as a cashier during the lunch shifts, two to four times a month.
“There was a great group of hardworking, committed volunteers,” Fran said. “The organization was so committed to helping kids. I will miss it; I have to give back in some way.”
Ricki Bergado of Castro Way also started volunteering in 2013, averaging two serving shifts a month. During the December holidays, Ricki worked two or three times a week. “Servers and kitchen people were workhorses,” Ricki said. “There were a gazillion different ways to volunteer.”
Ricki also served on the restaurant’s board. Drawing on her prior retail career, she organized two rummage sales that raised more than $20,000 for the Children’s Home. “The opportunities were limitless,” Ricki recalled.
A favorite memory was the “Bling Fling,” a luncheon to honor volunteers with milestone service hours. A volunteer rewrote classic songs for the “Casa Choir” to reflect the worlds of the kitchen and garden crews, and the customers.
Ricki’s favorite menu item was the chocolate mint sin dessert, but her personal favorite was only available to volunteers. Prior to the lunch shift meeting to review details before service, volunteers would enjoy bran muffins warm from the oven. “I can just taste it.”
Ricki said events in 2019 raised $10,000 more than the previous year. “When the pandemic hit, Casa was on an upswing; I saw myself there for 10 more years.”
As for the future, Todd said Children’s Home board members and leadership are discussing how to repurpose the space. “Our hope is some sort of revenue-generating new purpose for the restaurant space,” he said.
“We appreciate the Curtis Park community and restaurant support over the years. We’re sad to see the place go and hope to find an adequate replacement, ” Todd said. “There is still a generosity in the Sacramento community that is encouraging. We’re still here and essential.”