Mill Creek Cattle Co. Smokehouse & Saloon – Rich in Family History

Jim and Maribeth Lotito opened the Mill Creek Cattle Co. Smokehouse and Saloon in Mentone, California on Mother’s Day 2000. The western-style restaurant is located on the site of the old Wirth’s Mentone Inn built in 1927 located on Mentone Boulevard (Hwy-138) on the way up to the mountain communities of Big Bear Lake.

“Specializing in Chicken Dinners & Corn Fritters with Maple Syrup – We Raise Our Own Poultry”

 

 

 

Maribeth parents owned the Wirth’s Mentone Inn, and changed the name to Mentone Inn in the 1960’s. Later the Mentone Beach Yacht Club was at the site, and when the property came up for sale, the Lotito’s jumped on the opportunity to continue their family’s heritage, and purchased it to build what is today’s iconic Old West smokehouse and saloon.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lotito’s have been in the restaurant and catering business in California for over 50 years. Jim opened his first restaurant, Jim’s Water Wheel Inn, in West Covina in 1960. The couple also owned Mill Creek Catering Company for 20 years, and was an ownership partner for Carlos O’Brien’s Restaurant in Riverside. Next they owned a popular eatery in Redlands, Brewsters Steakhouse. Later they ran the Creekside Kitchen in the apple orchards of Oak Glen  just prior to opening Mill Creek Cattle Co. & Saloon.

 

From the moment you enter, it’s the aroma of barbecued ribs, chicken and steak and the feel of an old 1800s Western town that makes Mill Creek Cattle Co. & Saloon a rustic, country roadhouse dining experience. From spurs, harnesses, bull horns and vintage cowboy photos, to an authentic western saloon, the place exudes an aura of the Old West. The site has since expanded into nearly 13,000 square feet with indoor and outdoor dining and a large event hall. Lotito said his family built the restaurant with materials and artifacts collected from around the Inland region, from old chicken coops to bed posts to a former airplane hangar.

 

Not only is the current site of Mill Creek Cattle Co. & Saloon rich in history, but the town of Mentone, California does, too. Check out this article written by the local newspaper, The Redlands Daily Facts to learn more:

Mentone Has Roots as a Resort Colony
An Article by The Redlands Daily Facts

After completion of the California Southern and the Southern Pacific railroads in the 1880s, a rate war broke out between the competing companies, kicking off one of the great land booms in history.

Travelers could go from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean for as little as $5. At those prices, thousands of settlers flocked to the West Coast. And in San Bernardino County, opportunity-seeking land speculators found the perfect magnet for attracting frustrated Easterners fed up with the cold winters and humid summers back home.

They promoted the “land of sunshine, orange blossoms and healthful living.”

One opportunistic group was a corporation called the Mentone Co., formed in 1886 with W.H. Drew as president and N.K. Fairbanks as vice president. The company purchased 3,000 acres of land north of what was then known as Crafton and south of the Santa Ana River. By the following year, the town plat was surveyed and recorded under the supervision of W.P. McIntosh, one of the investors.

As the late Martha G. Stoebe and Barbara Bristow noted in their manuscript titled “Mentone, California: A History” (1996), the moniker “Mentone” was selected for the new town because of touted similarity to the resort of that name on the Italian-French frontier on the Mediterranean Sea. The climate and vegetation are about the same. But the similarity between the two “resorts” ends there. In order to lure naive Easterners, a bit of exaggeration was dished out.

Doctored postcards were printed and mailed, one showing the beautiful Santa Ana River with boats sailing on it. Another featured green hills with what appeared to be sheep grazing but was really rocks from what is today proudly known as Mentone Beach.

McIntosh was a real estate agent in Los Angeles and he bought much of the land himself. He planted the first orange grove in Mentone in 1888 on Mentone Boulevard. Keeping acreage for himself on the corner of Crafton and Mentone Boulevard, he sold the rest of his land to people who wanted to build a home and settle in Mentone.

The Los Angeles Times raved about how San Bernardino County was evolving into the largest and most famous fruit-growing county in California on
Sept. 5, 1891:

Vintage photo of Greenspot Market, which still stands today.

“At the extreme upper end of the San Bernardino valley is the foothill fruit colony of Mentone. It contains 2000 acres, which are practically above the frost and fog line. Over 200 acres were planted last spring, two-thirds of this acreage being oranges and one-third olives.”

The future of Mentone certainly looked promising. The Mentone Post Office opened on May 15, 1891, and one of the new town’s chief employers – The Mentone Sandstone Co. – was busy preparing stonework for the new San Bernardino County jail.

The Times reported on March 14, 1892, that a man named G.S. Gray was in the process of erecting a $4,000 residence, while 10 acres of olive groves were being planted by a Mr. Miller and a large number of lots were purchased by Lorin Hall, who recently arrived from Oil City, Pennsylvania.

Best of all, a beautiful tourist hotel was built in Mentone at a cost of $30,000. Three stories high, with a basement and spacious veranda, the Hotel Mentone had its grand opening on April 9, 1892. The hotel – located on Opal Avenue south of Mentone Boulevard – was luxuriously furnished and surrounded by beautiful landscaping, a tennis court and what was said to be the finest croquet court in Southern California.

Despite being widely advertised by McIntosh, the hotel never did prosper. Due to financial issues and the simple fact that not enough tourists were arriving in Mentone as was initially hoped, Hotel Mentone was soon converted into a sanitarium for tubercular and asthmatic patients.

The Los Angeles Times of Sept. 19, 1900, announced under the headlines “NEW HEALTH RESORT” and “Local and Other Physicians and Hotel Men to Build a Large Sanitarium Near Redlands”: “The Mentone Sanitarium Association has secured a large tract at Mentone about two miles from Redlands to be the most complete and up to date institution of this kind in this part of the country.”

Unfortunately, this new vision for Mentone turned out to be another financial bust. The sanitarium changed hands several times and the beautiful structure finally was torn down in 1917.

Mentone civic leaders made the most of a rather short-lived (1939-1943) newspaper – known as the Mentone News – published by Harold Y. Reynolds, to promote the attraction of their quaint community. The Mentone Chamber of Commerce boasted of Mentone being a mecca for “sunshine, health and opportunity” in the Mentone News on March 14, 1940: “The Mentone area is nationally recognized as a health center. One of the leading citrus sections of California, Mentone ships around one thousand cars of oranges annually. … One of the fastest growing communities in Southern California, new homes and population have increased during the past five years, at rates far above the average town.”

Today’s Mentone is a quaint unincorporated community of around 10,000 people. And despite never having become a big-time tourist destination, for many of its residents who value the peace and quiet that comes with a rural lifestyle, their little “resort” is just fine the way it is.