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Media Life: Legendary Colfax roadhouse reborn as Auburn eatery

By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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A legend in Interstate 80 corridor dining and a business with an oh-so-catchy name, Dingus McGee’s eatery is back and Auburn has it. Located for almost 30 years in Colfax, Dingus McGee’s exploded on the dining scene in 1974 at just the right time for a big, brash steak place with plenty of sizzle. At one point, the business was taking in $2 million a year. A high-visibility location along I-80 made McGee’s not only a prime spot for locals but the promise of a good meal and maybe even a taste of alligator drew more than a handful of celebrities traveling between the Bay Area and the stages of Reno and Tahoe. David Crosby dropped in quite a few times, recalled Dingus McGee’s co-owner Dave Nelson. Sammy Hagar was another rock star who found time for a meal at the restaurant. Carlos Santana was spotted one time. And the members of Metallica were guests another evening. Football’s Raiders and 49ers were known to drop in, including Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Joe Montana. Nelson, who is partnering with his wife, Danielle Nelson, in the resurrection of Dingus McGee’s Road House and Event Center, said the timing was right to bring the restaurant back and the location at the former Headquarter House was a perfect match for the eatery. It’s just off the eastbound I-80 exit at Bell Road. Big Salad success The nine years between the closure of the old McGee’s and the new one have been busy ones for the hardworking Nelsons. Most recently, they’ve opened Big Salad Shops in Sacramento, Folsom and Auburn, while keeping an eye out for an opportunity to bring back Dingus McGee’s. After Mike Reese took over ownership in March of the 29-acre Raspberry Hill golf course, the former home of Headquarter House, he heard the Nelsons were on the lookout for a location. Meeting Reese, Nelson said he knew the restaurant would be a perfect fit. Two months of work has gone into sprucing up the old restaurant building and it now has room to easily seat more than 100. Nelson said diners can expect Big Salads featured on the menu, as well steak and seafood offerings. And exotic meats like alligator could also find their way back too, he said. Headquarter history The Headquarter House building has its own unique history. The restaurant and golf course were opened by the Jack Parnell ranching family and served beef raised on its rural Auburn ranch. Parnell Ranch beef was also sold from a shop located on the property. While Headquarter House became a power-lunch spot for Sacramento power brokers, Parnell was rising from director of the state Department of Fish and Game to state director of Food and Agriculture. In 1989, Parnell rose even further in government, being selected by President George Bush as U.S. deputy secretary of agriculture. He would hold that post through 1991. The Dingus McGee name is more about myth than history. “As the story goes” – and it’s told with a wink of an eye – McGee was a bit of a rascal but knew how to cook as he made his way from New Orleans to San Francisco to Gold Country, developing his own signature seafood sauce, barbecue sauce and Cajun ketchup. The real McGee story continues after nearly a decade’s absence. No date has yet been established for the restaurant’s re-opening but it is imminent, according to Nelson. Antsy promoter Forgive Scott Holbrook for perhaps not smiling as much as normal. The man with the aptly named Keep Smilin’ Promotions is concerned about the Friday, Nov. 11 concert he’s putting on featuring Great American Taxi. The easy-going Americana band from Colorado will be playing the Auburn Events Center after a well-received gig last June at Auburn’s Party in the Park. But Holbrook was wondering Thursday where the concert-goers went. Holbrook shared with Media Life a ticket sales count as of mid-Wednesday that showed nine tickets sold at local stores and just 24 online. With the need for at least 130 tickets in a hall that holds 300 to break even, Holbrook is sweating this one out before showtime. “Great American Taxi is big – they’re touring all over the world – not to mention we have Achilles Wheel opening and Pete Grant – all for only $15 (in advance),” Holbrook said. “I’m hoping for a big last-minute rush.” The Event Center is at 145 Elm for what is being billed as an 11-11-11 celebration. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets at the door are $20. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at (530) 852-0232 or gust@goldcountrymedia.com.