“He persevered, and he made it successful,” says his daughter Paula Boisclair Ericson, who started working at the restaurant once she was tall enough to see over the front counter.
Nearly 60 years later, the old-fashioned Whitey’s Jolly Kone —which looks much as it did in the beginning — serves affordable hamburgers, milkshakes and Mexican food to crowds of hungry construction workers, state employees and generations of local families.
“It’s the best place to eat in West Sacramento,” says 85-year-old Joe Virga. “I started coming here back when Mr. Whitey was running it. I stop by once or twice a week on my way home and get a hamburger and a strawberry shake, always a strawberry shake.”
The best-selling hamburger is the Whitey’s Special: two patties with cheese, bacon and a bit of mayo, for $3.10. There are 18 flavors of milkshakes, and in late summer, the faithful flock for the fresh peach milkshakes.
The recipe is simple: soft-serve vanilla ice cream blended with fruit. “We don’t add sugar or milk,” says Paula Ericson, who now owns Whitey’s with her husband, Steve. “The peaches have to be a certain ripeness, or we don’t buy them. That’s why it takes so long for our season to start. We just twist the peaches, take out the pit and squeeze the fruit out of the skin. The juice is enough to thin the shake, so you get the color and the sweetness from that peach.”
Last summer, they went through 10 cases of peaches a week.
Whitey’s Jolly Kone has no indoor seating, no drive-through, no public restrooms and it’ll cost you 85 cents to pay with an ATM card. But who needs plastic when pocket change ($5.35, plus tax) gets you a grilled cheese, small fries and a shake?
Place your order at the window for take-out, or “dine in” at an outdoor picnic table.
Whitey’s is 400 square feet of rusting sheet metal atop a concrete foundation. Now, as in Bosclair’s day, the exterior painted is yellow and white. A signpost at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and 13th Street holds up the original Whitey’s Jolly Kone sign and, overhead, a neon arrow points the way.
Paula Ericson went to work with her dad every morning once she turned 13. She also met 16-year-old Steve Ericson on that first summer, and they’ve been together ever since. They’ve raised four children and will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary in May.
“I was a butcher when we got married,” Steve says. “Whitey asked me to come into the business when I was in my 20s because he felt I was willing to do the time. We were like father and son. And when he couldn’t be here anymore, he asked me to keep it going.”
After Bosclair retired, and as long as his health allowed, he came in to fry up bacon for the egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos and his namesake burger, and to take lunch orders over the phone. He died in 2003, at age 83. The city of West Sacramento named a park on Lake Washington Boulevard in his honor.
“It’s the pride of my life,” his daughter says. “He was so devoted to this community.”
Like the building itself, little about the menu has changed since 1963. The Ericsons have added a few items but taken nothing away. They now put a dollop of sour cream on the tacos, which was unheard of in the early days. The bacon-and-egg sandwich was introduced in the 1980s, after a milkman making his delivery to Whitey’s asked Bosclair to fry up some eggs he had in his truck and make him a sandwich. It caught on with customers and comes on a bun with cheese and homemade salsa.
Adela Alonzo, who worked for Bosclair, introduced her family’s Mexican recipes to the menu.
Everything is cooked to order. Meat and bread are delivered fresh daily.
“There’s nothing that’s ready when you walk up to the window, sitting in a warmer, waiting to hand out,” Steve says. “If you want a hot dog, we have to grill the bun first.”
He works 12-hour shifts Monday through Friday when the restaurant is open and spends his Saturdays food shopping and prepping. He underwent a five-way heart bypass a few years ago. Paula is a breast cancer survivor. She works Wednesdays at the restaurant and spends the rest of the week doing the books and babysitting their grandchildren.
None of their kids are interested in taking over Whitey’s.
“They’ve gone on to other things, and we respect that,” Paula says.
The recession has taken its toll, despite the reasonably priced food, and business always dips 20 to 30 percent in the winter, when chilly and sometimes rainy weather discourages outdoor dining.
“Thank goodness our overhead is low,” says Steve, 58. “It’s just a little tin building. We’re not paying for fancy lighting and waterfalls.”
“Are we happy that our four kids are raised at this time in our life, with the economy the way it is? Yes,” says Paula, who is 55. “We’re just making it. We hope this passes in a time frame that we can catch up. That will determine when we can retire.”
They’re happy that Whitey’s Jolly Kone can serve up a bit of nostalgia along with the burgers and shakes.
“Everybody has that special place they went to growing up,” Steve says. “That’s the way it is for our customers and their kids and grandkids. Whitey poured the concrete for the pillars when he added the awning, and there are people who still come here who carved their initials in them when they were in high school.
“This is Whitey’s place, not Steve’s. I try to keep things just the way Whitey would have wanted,” he says.
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