Dr. Bill Atwood

Erna epitomizes the ‘American Dream’

A Lifetime Achievement Award - let that phrase roll off your tongue and understand how much greater it tastes when it is presented to you by your peers. On March 9, one of our neighbors received that honor from the Fresno Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.

Erna Kubin-Clanin was honored by more than 600 in attendance at the awards dinner at the Double Tree Hotel in Fresno. Erna was praised for her efforts as an entrepreneur, a role model for women, as well as being recognized for her contributions to the hospitality industry.

Beyond her talents in maintaining both a Five Diamond and Five Star rating for the Elderberry House Restaurant, she also has earned that level of recognition with her Chateau du Sureau. It is one of fewer than 50 such prestigious designations around the globe for two such ratings to exist at one location.

The annual event salutes many members of the restaurant association throughout the Central Valley. Miss Erna was joined at the banquet by her husband, Dr. Rene Clanin, her daughter, Renee-Nicole, and members of her staff whom she gave much of the credit to for the honor that was bestowed upon her.

What wasn’t mentioned by those bestowing the award was that Erna epitomizes the ‘American Dream.’ During her gracious acceptance speech Erna told of her mother bringing young Erna to America and the beginning of their life in this country as immigrants.

Through hard work, determination, passion, attention to details, and never giving up, Erna was able to take her skills to a higher level in a country that allows one the opportunities to soar.

She worked in the restaurant industry in the Westwood area of Los Angeles and a friend introduced her to this area. Erna leased a restaurant property in Wawona and we were introduced to ‘fine dining’ at The Redwoods.

Eight years later the powers that be in the Yosemite decided that they wanted to take over the Redwoods and Erna found herself without a lease. She settled on a few acres in Oakhurst and convinced the bankers that people in the area along with the thousands that drive to Yosemite would be interested in stopping here for a great dining experience. Because there were Elderberry plants on that property it seemed like a natural fit.

Over the years many of us have enjoyed fine meals, great wine, fabulous service, and those gracious touches that I describe as “sooo Erna.” Carol and I honeymooned there, celebrated wedding anniversaries, Christmas Eve’s, my university graduations, graduations of niece and nephew from high school and university.

We have enjoyed a Harry Potter party, and strolled through the grounds following many wonderful Sunday brunches. There have been evenings at Erna’s for Carol and I to just enjoy one another and we have also introduced many friends to the elegance that special place offers. So have many of you.

New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne discovered in 1987 what many of us already knew, and once he shared the secret with the rest of the world it changed Erna’s life forever. The phone started ringing off the hook and people traveled from New York and Europe to try this delightful place.

During Erna’s special evening I was also thinking about her mother, Maria, whom I had the pleasure to meet years ago. While I am sure that Maria would be delighted that Erna was honored with such an award Maria would be happier that her daughter has lived up to her expectations and dreams. Maria gave Erna an upbringing that emphasized the concepts of gracious, polite living. A desire to enjoy the best and to do your best.

She raised her daughter to be an honest, hardworking woman who would be trusted and respected by all who would meet her. Maria would have expected that whenever her daughter’s name was mentioned, it would be linked to traits that are noble and delightful. Maria would be delighted that her daughter is seen in such a positive manner.

Erna spoke that evening of her daughter Renee-Nicole, and how proud she is of her. She also spoke of her loving husband, Dr. Rene. He is a fine gentleman with a successful career and yet up here he takes a step back and understands that most people see him only in the shadows.

But there he is for her and he has stood by her during the tough times and the good. Years ago he climbed a ladder multiple times in the dining room to hang roses from the ceiling for Valentine’s Day.

It was so popular that he has had to repeat that huge task every year.

There he was on stage as Erna accepted the award and Dr. Rene holding it for her as she addressed the crowd. How emblematic that her supportive husband was on stage in a supporting role. His quiet demeanor speaks volumes of his love for her.

This Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates Erna’s hard work and dedication to her craft, her profession, and to her standards of excellence. It also celebrates what her mother knew was here in America for two Austrians trying to make a better life for themselves.

In the musical, “Auntie Mame,” Mame Dennis tells her nephew Patrick that, “Life is a banquet …” Maria and Erna knew that to be true and they set out to enjoy the zest of life.

Erna has shared that zest for life with the tens of thousands who have opened the doors into the world of Elderberry House. What a banquet she has prepared for us.

Congratulations Miss Erna.