Dr. Bill Atwood

Goodbye Erna

Pfiat di. That is the way they say goodbye in Austria. It was announced this past week that Erna’s Elderberry House and Chateau du Sereau have been sold. At long last Miss Erna will be able to take her well earned retirement and enjoy life without the day-to-day concerns of running a world-class operation.

At this time of year when the calendars change it is common for people to reflect back on what they have done during the past 365 days or the past decades of their lives. Erna is a prime example of what is great about this wonderful country. Erna and her mother, Maria, came from war torn Europe to the United States seeking what all refugees seek - a better life. Freedom gives you that opportunity. There was a great deal of sacrifice made as these two stalwart folks battled the tough problems of the day. Language, the economy, sexism, no money and being from another culture makes life very challenging.

Erna studied and worked hard and opened a restaurant in the Southern California area. Fortunately for us she decided many years ago to open a delightful place in Wawona called “The Redwoods.” I first met Erna in April of 1981 and fell in love with that style of food and level of service.

Trust me, The Redwoods was nothing compared to the current Elderberry House. There were evenings when Erna was the chef, the waitress, and the dishwasher. I can imagine her running the vacuum after the guests had departed for the evening. There was a charm at the Redwoods and there was a bear that would hang around the outside which made for enjoyable viewing from one’s table safe behind the glass.

The lease on the Redwoods was to expire and the Curry Company had decided to cash in on the amount of business Erna had developed so they refused to extend the lease, kept the name and learned that without Erna’s talent they just had an empty restaurant.

Erna was determined to create her vision of a great place for people to dine and she found a piece of property in Oakhurst. While looking for a name for her new restaurant a staff member commented on all the Elderberry vines growing there. Hence; Elderberry House.

Showing her strong determination, inherited from Maria, Erna gambled and risked everything. Imagine getting the financing for the style of restaurant she envisioned in a town without a traffic light. She pulled it together and over the years established a reputation for the quality we all know.

One evening they received a call from a person who had a reservation to dine there and stay at the Chateau but he was in Sequoia National Park by mistake. They promised to remain open and to serve him. They did and he was impressed. He enjoyed another meal the following day and then they discovered that he was Craig Claiborne, the renowned food critic. He shared with his readers the greatness of Elderberry House and the world has beaten a path to Oakhurst because of that review.

This year Elderberry House was rated as the No. 2 restaurant in California and in the Top 10 in the entire United States. We take for granted the treasures of this area - the gold that the 49ers sought, the timber, Yosemite, but there is another treasure and her name is Erna.

Now we have to close this final chapter and wish her well as she retires and moves to her beloved Austria to live out her life with her devoted husband, Dr. Rene.

Thank you Erna for bringing gracious dining to this area, and we wish you a very long, healthy, and happy retirement. We will certainly miss you.

Pfiat di.

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