Historic Delta Business Looks to Withstand Changing Times

C.A. Giacoma
Staff Writer
January 6, 2016

River News-Herald

When the Kennedy family, Michael and Janet Kennedy and their son and daughter-in-law Cary Kennedy USN and Kristin Kennedy USAF sat down in 2005 and made the decision to purchase Walnut Grove’s historic Tony’s Place, it was more than a simple business venture, it was much more personal than that. In fact, you could rightly say they were like family, so closely had the generations of the Enos, Kennedy and Charlesworth families grown up together.

Michael Kennedy’s maternal grandfather, Charles Johnson, and Tony Enos Sr. were contemporaries. Charles, his wife Myrtle, daughter Joan and son Charlie Jr. owned and operated the original Cliffhouse Restaurant on highway 160 near Isleton, so you can see that the hospitality business was in the blood of these families from the start.

85 years ago, Tony Enos Sr. opened Tony’s Place in Walnut Grove. This was the era of prohibition but enforcement had not yet reached the establishments of the Delta. The river was lined with speakeasys and restaurants catering to the residents of the region, North to Sacramento and as far as San Francisco, to the South.

Tony Sr. operated it until Tony Jr. took it over after returning from the Navy in WWll. Tony Jr., Hugh Kennedy and Bill Charlesworth were friends that shared a love of baseball throughout the years in the Delta. Today, Hugh’s son, Michael, and his family are the current owners of Tony’s Place.

When Tony Jr.’s wife, Mary, died in 2003 he was devastated and his spirit was crushed. Tony could no longer carry on the longtime business as it had been when he and Mary ran Tony’s Place together. Tony did not want the family’s restaurant and bar to close and his employees had been with him for many years.

They were regarded as part of his family, but there was no one who could take over the day-to-day operations for him. That’s when the Enos and Kennedy families joined forces to preserve the historic establishment. In 2005 the Kennedy’s were able to secure a loan and, counting in part on a Federal Historic Restoration Grant, and moved forward to save Tony’s Place and keep it going for the next generation. Part of Mike’s promise to Tony was also that he would keep all of Tony’s employees until their retirement, a promise he has made good on. When the restoration work was completed they applied for reimbursement from the Grant and Mike was told that the money was no longer available – that it was gone. In accord with their promise to Tony, the Kennedy’s have restored and maintained Tony’s Place and continued to operate it as a community minded, family oriented establishment where a promise is kept and a name is valued because it represents people and families who have and continue to work together for something that really matters. Mike is deeply grateful to the Morais family, owners of Guisti’s, and to Jim and Vicky Baumann, former operators of The Point, crediting their help and mentoring with making Tony’s Place a continued success.

In the wake of the financial crisis of the past few years, combined with the challenges of operating a small business in these times that seem to be skewed more in favor of corporate food chains, the Kennedy family worries for the survival of their own as well as all of the struggling historic establishments along the river that once made the communities of the Delta prosperous.

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