Chargins’ changes hands. New owners say the bar-grill will stay (pretty much) the same

Marion Chargin behind the bar at Chargin's Bar and Grill in Sacramento in March 2010. After 35 years as owners he and his brother, Bobby, are selling the business to Nick and Chrissy White.
Marion Chargin behind the bar at Chargin's Bar and Grill in Sacramento in March 2010. After 35 years as owners he and his brother, Bobby, are selling the business to Nick and Chrissy White.

For 35 years, the neon martini glass above the faded green awning has shined like a beacon over Chargins’ Bar & Grill at the corner of 49th and J streets, drawing two generations of loyal customers through its swinging double doors.

Now the East Sacramento landmark is days away from changing hands as brothers Marion and Bobby Chargin pass the business that has defined them to former bartender Nick White and his wife, Krissy, who are half-owners of Foundation restaurant in downtown Sacramento.

“This business is a younger person’s game,” said Marion Chargin, sitting at a table beneath one of the big-screen TVs, tuned to sporting events. “I know it’s time, and I feel good about it. Nick and Krissy live in the neighborhood, and they know everybody who comes in. It’s a great fit.”

“I’ve really felt attached to the place, and the only reason I left (after 12 years) is because of Foundation,” Nick White said. “We’re in the restaurant business, and we thought this was a good opportunity to carry on a great establishment. It’ll be a little different, but it’s still going to be Chargins’.”

Their under-the-radar business deal was months in the making, but something unexpected happened as the closing date approached. Brothers Alan and Frankie Lau, who ran the bar’s uber-popular breakfast-lunch program for 30 years, suddenly announced they were retiring. The final breakfast service was Sunday.

Weekend breakfast was a party-like, standing-room-only tradition at Chargins’, where camaraderie ruled and almost everybody knew your name – or soon would.

On a typical Sunday, the bar would be two-deep and the dining room packed with groups and couples – everyone shouting to be heard over the din – as bartenders rushed to mix bloody Marys, Frankie Lau flipped pancakes and french toast on the sizzling kitchen grill, and Alan Lau weaved through the crowd to deliver plates of steak ’n’ eggs, biscuits ’n’ gravy and hefty omelets.

“Alan would take everybody’s order without writing down a thing, even with a full house,” Chargin said.

The go-to menu item was the legendary Frank’s Special, a daunting foothill of fried rice, linguica, bacon, sausage, diced ham, shrimp, red onion, green peppers and mushrooms, topped with two eggs and served with toast or an English muffin, bargain-priced at $10. The legion of regulars knew it as a sure-fire hangover cure.

What will Chargins’ 2.0 be serving up?

“I’m 90 percent positive that Foundation will be running the kitchen,” White said. “It will have a lot of the same kind of food, with (extended hours).”

“This place was originally called the Achilles Heel when Bobby and I got involved,” Marion Chargin said. “It was empty and all torn up, with nothing in it but the remnants of an old bar. We fixed it up and started Chargins’. I’ve seen everything over the years. I don’t think anything could shock me.”

Chargins’ has been more of a neighborhood pub than a party place (St. Patrick’s Day excepted) and has long played a role in helping enrich East Sacramento’s reputation for community closeness. It has sponsored many golf tournaments and special dinners as fundraisers and has publicized dozens of other worthy causes, for instance.

“We’ve tried to run a reputable bar and restaurant,” Chargin said. “We tried to stop people from overindulging and did everything we could to make sure they got home safely. We gave them cab fare or rides home (when necessary). One of our best compliments is when women customers say they can come in here and feel safe. They know we won’t let anybody bug them.”

What was the best part of the ride? “The reason this has been so good is because Bobby and I met so many great people over the years,” Chargin said. “We lost a lot of great ones, too, just through time.”

Chargin will miss “all the people, no doubt, but I like the joint and I’ll still come in as a customer,” he said. “If Nick needs a hand, I’ll jump in and help. I want everybody to be happy, that’s all.”

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe