Casa de Fruta, an American success story

The Cherry Corral was one of seven stands owned and operated by Clara Bisceglia Cribari Zanger and her family in the 1940s.

In the early years following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, California experienced a time of creativity, hard work and entrepreneurship.  With the Gold Rush long past, people looked for other ways to succeed—and some succeeded spectacularly!
Clara Bisceglia Cribari was two years old when she and her parents left a small town in the Calabria region of Italy to come to the United States in search of a better life, according to grandson Gene H. Zanger. She is one of the success stories.
Her older brothers, already in America, had been working laying track on the Canadian Pacific Railroad and on Northern California railroads. They saved their money and eventually settled in Santa Clara County where their uncle, Benjamino Cribari, was establishing himself in the vineyard business.
The family grew tomatoes and had a tomato cannery and, at age 18, Maria was working in the cannery.  Before long she was running it.  When she fell in love with her brother’s college friend, Dr. George Henry Zanger, they married and started a partnership that produced three sons, George H. Zanger, Jr., Joseph A. Zanger and Eugene H. Zanger, and several business ventures.
Clara was a woman ahead of her time. While her husband practiced medicine, Clara, not the typical doctor’s wife, established three pharmacies and the first ambulance service in south Santa Clara County. 
In 1907, with the help of a loan from family friend, A.P. Giannini, Clara and her brothers bought 210 acres off Highway 152 and started an orchard.  Giannini, owner of the Bank of Italy, operated from a table in the street after the 1906 earthquake when all other banks were closed, taking deposits and lending money to people so they could repair and rebuild.  The Bank of Italy is known today as the Bank of America.
The brothers and Clara Bisceglia Cribari Zanger worked the orchard and farmland. As soon as they were old enough, her three young sons, George, Jr., Joseph and Eugene worked, too. For many years, the orchard grew cherries, walnuts, apricots, pears, prunes and grapes. At one time in the 1940s, the family operated seven cherry stands throughout the area. One of them was located underneath what is now the Joseph A. Zanger overpass above highways 152 and 156.
Right after World War II, the country experienced a time of prosperity.  People started buying cars and traveling on vacations and on weekends. It soon became obvious that when people stop at a farmstand they sometimes need a restroom.  And sometimes they need a cup of coffee. And so, in 1967, Casa de Coffee, a 24-hour restaurant, was opened.
And thereby hangs a tale. In the 108 years since the family purchased the land, this 210 acre farm and orchard has seen the creation of many enterprises in the “find a need and fill it” style associated with the farming operation: Casa de Fruta, Casa de Wine, Casa de Sweets, Casa de Burrito, etc. Of course, it helped that the Pacheco Pass location was the perfect spot for travelers from the Bay Area to the Central Valley or Los Angeles to stop, rest, have a meal or stay overnight.
Eugene, Sr., 84, the only son of Clara and George still living, is now retired but he made quite a name for himself with his cup-flipping routine when he was the co-owner and restaurant manager.  When people ordered coffee, he would take the cup and saucer in one hand and flip the cup upside down so that it landed upright back on the saucer and then he would pour the coffee into the cup for the customer.  It was quite a fun feat for those who were lucky to see him perform this clever trick. In 1987, when he was 57, he was a guest on the “David Letterman Show” demonstrating this skill.  However, cup flipping was not his only talent. 
He also attended hotel management classes at Monterrey Peninsula College. When he hired staff, he developed a unique method of determining whether or not the person would be a fit for the job. In the early 1990s, before Highway 152 was rebuilt into the four-lane highway it is today, the restaurant was on the old two-lane highway that is now the frontage road. In his role as the restaurant manager, Eugene would interview prospective employees. After the interview he would watch the person leave and get in the car. If they were able to navigate quickly onto the busy highway traffic, they would be hired. 
Grandson Gene H. Zanger, one of the six grandchildren now running the privately-owned operation, said the family never rushed into any new venture. They discussed the matter thoroughly, weighed the pros and cons, and eventually made a decision so that the business grew in a way that made sense. The current partners are the six grandchildren of George Henry and Clara:  Joe Zanger, Chuck Zanger, Mike Zanger, Gene H. Zanger, Gretchen Blatter and Susan Slater. Each is responsible for a different facet of the operation and they meet weekly as a board reviewing the overall direction of the business, according to Gene H. Zanger. Continuing their grandmother’s and parents’ tradition, they discuss and decide what needs to be done.  The enterprise employs approximately 150 people—the number varying with the seasons.
After finishing the best Reuben sandwich I’ve eaten in a very long time, I was able to chat with Casa de Fruta’s Director of Food and Beverage, Ron Thornton, who has been there eight years. He is a veteran of the restaurant business having worked at Bob’s Big Boy franchises in various Bay Area locations. His latest project is training the wait-staff to use the NCR Aloha Orderman, an electronic ordering system that our server, Debra, was learning. She seemed to have caught on quickly because our order arrived in about 10 minutes.
Besides a good meal reasonably priced and served promptly, Casa de Fruta has many attractions to offer visitors young and old.  Take a look at its website calendar for special events throughout the year.  There is something for everyone. You will not be disappointed.  www.Casadefruta.com                     

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