Casa de Fruta eatery celebrates 50 years

Roadside landmark

Gene Zanger stands in front of a painting of his father in Casa de Restaurant. The 24-hour restaurant is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.

In between the mighty waves of the Central Coast and the majestic heights of Yosemite, is Casa de Fruta in the Pacheco Valley, a roadside oasis along Highway 152 that has been offering commuters and holidaymakers a chance to rest, fill-up and make merry for more than 100 years.

This week, the compound’s signature restaurant, the 24-hour Casa de Restaurant, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. On Tuesday, customers enjoyed 15-cent coffees and $2 beers alongside their omelets and prime rib dip – a way for the family-owned operation to say thank-you to the generations of families that have passed through its welcoming doors over the years.

“We’ve been married thirty-four years and the day we got married we had dinner here at the restaurant. So we will always have a fond place in our heart for Casa de Fruta,” said Joyce Henke, 57, as she sat outside the fruit stand in the late morning sun while inside her husband, Dan, shopped.

Casa de Fruta started as a fruit stand in the 1940s by brothers George, Joseph and Eugene Zanger on land their great-uncles settled decades before. The landmark restaurant serves up American-style fare twenty-four hours a day.

“The prime rib, ribeye steak and Kobe steak burger are restaurant specialties. Breakfasts are also very popular with people who are going out to start their day,” said Gene Zanger, who runs Casa de Fruta alongside brothers Mike and Chuck Zanger, sister Sue Slater, and cousins Joe Zanger and Gretchen Blatter.

Zanger, 55, is also the son of Eugene, who was thrust into the national spotlight in 1987 when he appeared on the David Letterman Show to display his famous coffee cup-flipping trick, which he had been regaling restaurant guests with since 1973.

“The potential for breakage was part of the fun,” said Zanger. “He had a lot of fun with it and for the families, especially the kids, it was magic.”

Zanger’s sister Suzan said it is the devoted staff that keep guests smiling and coming back to Casa de Fruta year-after-year. “It’s not the buildings that do it, it’s the staff.”

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