Eat, Buy, Connect, and Listen
by Esther Liner
While travelling, it’s best to remain open to signs. Remember, the journey is the destination. Speed limits or skittish looking deer about to cross the road may actually be fate’s way of telling you to slow your roll and take a break. If, while traversing the redwood corridor on the 101 just north of Leggett, you read a sign that says “The Peg House,” whose motto is “Never Don’t Stop,” you best never not stop (the phrase was coined by current owners Diana Ballard-Doll and Gary Ballard). As teens in the late 60s they worked at the Northspur concession stand, located at the halfway point on the Skunk Train line between Willits and Fort Bragg. When the stand lost its land rights in 2001, the couple went on a soul searching road trip to see what was next for their family. That’s when they saw a For Sale sign in the Peg House window. Had they been speeding, they’d have rolled right past it. It took a major leap of faith and a tremendous amount of ongoing hard work to make the purchase, but the business and the couple look all the better for it. They radiate an openness and vivaciousness indicative of two people who clearly love each other and their work.
Located across the street from Standish Hickey State Park, there’s been a concession here since the 1920s. In 1961 a Danish road engineer by the name of Hans Hauer completed the Peg House, so named for the mortis and tenon (or peg and hole) style of joinery that was used to construct it. “Not a single nail was used to build this store,” says Gary.
Part gas station, gift shop, deli, and general store, with a gorgeous back patio canopied by a parachute and a grill turning out delicious fare, if the Peg House doesn’t have it, then you probably don’t need it. Want a Yerba Maté or espresso for the long drive ahead? Need a First-Aid Kit? Perhaps a souvenir Abalone Spoon Chime made by a local artisan? They’ve got you. What about a White Swan and a Black Swan floatie each, to reenact a ballet on the Eel River across the way with your screwball friends? Or a sixer of local brews, books on Northern California’s history, or citronella candles for your campsite? Come on in. Tents, home made Rice Krispy Treats the size of bricks, bundles of firewood—you name it, it’s in here somewhere.
Standish Hickey State Park is located directly across the road. There is nothing quite so rewarding after a hot summer day spent swimming in the Eel River as traversing the steep series of switchbacks up to the top (hint: wear sandals with grip, not flip flops) and across the road to place your order in the caring hands of co-owner Diana Ballard on the back patio grill. While you wait, sip a shandy (Half Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, Half Local Brew) in the shade of the parachute until you hear your name called. Here you can dig into Humboldt Bay Oysters grilled with garlic butter, grass-fed burgers with the works (named the best in the west by Sunset Magazine), organic vegan and vegetarian sandwiches, ice cold potato salad, and for dessert a sundae bursting with local sun ripened wild blackberries. On holiday weekends like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, you can catch live music on their patio stage. For the past several years, they’ve hosted Hickeyfest each June, a small psych-folk festival featuring many Bay Area artists and psychedelic light shows.
In the ten years this writer’s been making the pilgrimage here to warm her bones from the coastal summer fog, friendly conversations with strangers have led to lasting friendships. “Never Don’t Stop” is a call to listen to one’s intuition, to take the time to look around, and pay attention to the signs.
The Peg House
69501 US 101, Leggett, CA 95585
Open 7:30am – 8:00pm daily