Hi-Lo in Weed moving to a third generation of family

Sarabecca Barnett
Three generations of the Hi-Lo Cafe. Margaret Dean, right, and daughter Tracy Grafton hold pictures of the original owners of the Hi-Lo, Frank and Gene Rizzo, Dean's parents.

The Hi-Lo Cafe will stay in the family as the third generation begins managing the business, with a plan to take ownership down the road, according to owner Margaret Dean.

Dean is the daughter of the original owners, Frank and Gene Rizzo, who bought the property in 1951 when she was a little girl, she recounted.

Dean’s daughter, Tracy (Slabaugh) Grafton, is starting as assistant manager, running the front of the house with a plan to take ownership in the future, Grafton explained.

Grafton, her husband Derek, and their children have lived in Eugene, Ore. for the last two decades where he is a fire captain. The family is moving back, though husband Derek will continue to be a fire captain for five years, according to Grafton.

“This to me is my baby, my family,” said Grafton of the restaurant.

She said she has worked every job in the business growing up and living in the adjacent hotel as a child.

“I’m really happy that she’s coming here,” said Dean who has run the business for 45 years. “My family is back.”

Dean, who has also been on the Weed Chamber of Commerce for 45 years and on the College of the Siskiyous Foundation board for 20 years, said her daughter has the same personality as she does and will also be active in the community.

“The general public won’t see any changes really,” said Dean, “just improvements.”

The mother and daughter duo explained that the whole family has worked at the Hi Lo, including the fourth generation of children who have started helping.

Grafton said her grandfather Rizzo, who was born in Italy and immigrated at the age of nine, had a “strong work ethic” that he passed on to her, and she is passing on to her children.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees” is an idea that Grafton said came from her grandparents and which she wants her children to understand.

Both of the women said how important the longtime employees of the restaurant are to them and to the customers.

LaVerne, one of the waitresses, has been at the Hi-Lo for 44 years, said Grafton:

“That’s why people come: great service, great food, awesome employees. They make it special for people.”

Dean said they hold an annual picnic for the employees and their families at Carrick Park with prizes for everyone, a duck derby, and a bouncy house for the kids.

“I love it,” said Lillian (Faris) Collins, about the Hi-Lo as she sat at the counter having a coffee.

“I’ve gone here since I was a little girl living in Yreka,” she said.

Collins said she comes because of Bonnie, another one of the waitresses who wore a big smile and her name on her apron.

Grafton said many customers come in just to enjoy the atmosphere.

Dean said she was two years old when her parents bought the building that used to be called Ford’s Grocery before it was the Pilgrim’s Rest Motor Court. The restaurant building was at the time a house in the back and a lobby up front for the motel.

The motel had “very old fashioned cottages” which her father gradually tore down and built anew with just an occasional assistant, as well as creating the restaurant.

In 1971 Dean bought the restaurant and hotel and has run it ever since.

The name of the iconic restaurant and motel came because “money was tight, the longer the name the more the sign cost,” Dean said, so her father came up with a short name.

Since the rooms higher on the hill were newer and higher in price while the lower rooms were older, he came up with Hi-Lo, according to Dean.

Grafton said many people stop to take their picture with the original Hi-Lo sign, which has been retrofitted and rewired over time.

The restaurant’s menu is a result of Dean’s travels over the years, picking up ideas as she went places. The idea of the menu’s newspaper format came from one of her sojourns as did the big burger with a knife in it and the lava flow cakes.

Dean and her ex-husband started the first Black Bear Diner, patterning it after the Hi-Lo with a similar menu.

When the couple divorced, Dean gave up the Black Bear “and of course, he exploded it,” she explained, referring to Black Bear’s success. She said they have a good and cooperative business and personal relationship.

She is looking forward to working less and enjoying her grandchildren more.

The restaurant can be found online at thehilocafe.com or on Facebook.