The old adage that looks can be deceiving is never truer than in the case of Jack’s Grill. Walking into this unassuming restaurant is in many ways like walking into the 1930s. The retro atmosphere is one of its draws, but people come to Jack’s for one very good reason: its choice steaks. Locally owned from the beginning, the restaurant has justifiably become a Redding institution.
The history of Jack’s Grill is a colorful one. Built in 1935 by Bill Morrison, the two-story structure on California Street originally housed a second-hand store. In 1938 Morrison leased the downstairs to Jack Young, a World War I flying ace, who opened a bar and grill. The last thing the town needed at that time was another bar, but Jack’s was successful nonetheless. In the years just prior to World War II, Redding was a boomtown filled with thousands of men who had come to work on the railroads, the construction of Shasta Dam or in the mines. In the best Old West tradition, it was also a raucous, wide-open town, and California Street was an infamous strip of bars, hotels, restaurants and several houses of prostitution (including the upstairs of Jack’s Grill for a brief time in the early 1940s). Of the numerous bars that sprang up during that era, Jack’s is the only one to survive.
Sticking around barely long enough to give the business his name, Jack Young sold the bar to Fats Woolf in the 1940s. Upon Woolf’s death in 1951, Jack’s was purchased by Joe Stanley and his wife, June, who happened to be the daughter of the property’s original builder. Up to that point, Jack’s had been primarily a bar; June Stanley was the first to emphasize the restaurant instead, and she began building the reputation it still enjoys today. Joe became the bar’s piano player and performed regularly at Jack’s until his death in 1962. June continued to manage the business until 1977 when Don Conley became the manager. Eventually, he bought the grill.
Under Conley’s ownership, Jack’s Grill has held fast to the traditions that made it successful. Believing that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Conley has resisted the temptation to modernize the restaurant. The building still sports the façade and décor of its early days, including two original Old West-style paintings by a down-on-his-luck artist who was befriended by the original bar owner. Given to Jack Young in appreciation for his help, one of the paintings depicts an old-time sheriff sitting in a chair. One night, an inebriated customer, fresh from an overnight stint in jail, was so infuriated by the sight of the badge-wearing lawman in the painting that he pulled out a pistol and shot the painting five times. All five bullets hit within four inches of the badge and left holes in the wall behind the painting that were not discovered until 40 years later.