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CRESCENT CITY'S CHART ROOM OWNERS LEAVING AFTER 20 YEARS

By Kelley Atherton

Wescom News Service

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. – After 20 years of owning the Chart Room Restaurant, Mike and Debbie Chasteen plan to say goodbye to their business.

They'll close the restaurant's doors at 130 Anchor Way like always on Dec. 23, but pending finalization, it will reopen with a new owner in late February.

The Chasteens received offers only weeks after they announced they were selling the Chart Room in August. Jennifer Wellman of Sacramento, has made an offer for the restaurant, but the property will be in escrow until Jan. 2.

"We thought it would take a couple of years to sell," Debbie said of their decision. "It's ready to blossom again with someone with the skills to do that. We have good food for a reasonable price – the prices bring them back."

Wellman said that she and her partner Pat Rideout previously owned two coffee drive-throughs and a coffeehouse in California. She said they want to keep the Chart Room exactly how it is with minor improvements such as a credit/debit card machine.

"The beauty is it's pretty perfect the way it is," Wellman said. "We'll add a few odds and ends, some of our antiques."

The Chasteens' collections over the years already adorn the interior of the Chart Room and they plan on keeping them there. The large building, which was a marina in 1988, proved to be a great place to store their collectibles.

"We bought it to store some of our stuff," Debbie said, laughing.

Some of their treasures are world maps from 1880 hanging from the ceiling, a lifejacket from one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's boats and a red engine from 1903.

Chart Room's beginnings

Mike's journey in the restaurant business began when he bought the first Chart Room in Sacramento in 1970, where he sold his signature cheeseburgers.

"Everybody liked my cheeseburgers," he said. "So I started selling them on a floating barge. Then I got a bigger place and put in a bigger kitchen."

As the menu grew, the Chart Room got a mention in the New York Times for the best salmon in Sacramento. Lee Marvin of "The Dirty Dozen" fame and even some of the San Francisco 49ers would stop by.

Mike is a self-taught cook; he gets in at about 4 a.m. to start the soups and sauces for the day. Debbie said the best way to sum up her husband is a sign that hangs in the kitchen: "I've been a miner, mucker, engineer and trucker, but sometimes they call me a good cook." He's been most of those things at one time or another since 1957 when he left the carnival where he worked as a roustabout.

"He ran away and joined the circus when he was 12," Debbie said, laughing.

The Chasteens met appropriately enough in the Chart Room, and were married in 1984. Wanting to get away from the city, Mike found the marina for sale in Crescent City and promptly bought it.

"He called me and said, ‘how'd you like a marina? Well, I just bought one,'" Debbie said. "(In the beginning) we'd split our time between the two restaurants, a month up here, a month down there. It took a while to relocate."

The locale was the deal maker.

"It's amazing – you've got the redwoods and the ocean," Debbie said.

Location, location, location

Being in the harbor, the Chart Room was a local fisherman hangout, but has since become a well-known tourist stop. The guestbook lists names and names of people from across the country and globe, including Australia, South America, Germany, Norway and so on.

"I've had relatives that live in different parts of the country see each other here," Debbie said. "You never know who you're going to meet.

Random famous people stop by too, like Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine, but they can't remember most of them.

They've watched Crescent City grow and expand with their business. After Pelican Bay State Prison was built they saw more business, but now it's mainly tourists.

"It went from a fishing town to more of a tourist town," Debbie said. "We're just a little town trying to make a living."

They noted that there used to be more than 500 boats in the harbor that would stay for six months. Now there are only about 75 to 80. Mike said the quotas the fishermen have have been hard on them.

Their business has gone up every year, but he expects it to go down a little for 2007, which is true for most business, with high gas prices, bad housing market and the dollar's falling worth. However, Mike and Debbie have survived on a simple philosophy: Something's always going to be wrong that needs to be fixed.

"My personal philosophy is, if something's not going wrong then something's not right," Debbie said.

"It has to be maintained – it's like a machine," Mike added.

Being the first in line for storms that bombard the harbor, the Chart Room has survived. During last year's tsunami the Chasteens didn't even know there was one – they just kept on working.

"I looked out the window and said wow the water's kind of high," Debbie remembered.

New beginnings

After 20 years of support from the community, it's time to move on, the Chasteens agree. They want to do some traveling, but not before Jennifer and Pat have a handle on things.

"We'll make sure they know the recipes," Mike said. "We don't want this to fail. They're nice people. We want them to have it."

"I want to come be a customer," Debbie said. "I've probably sat a table three times in the last 20 years."

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