“She is a beacon of light and source of comfort to so many people, and she has always persevered.” Cierra Stempeck, Inez Stempeck’s granddaughter
There is a running joke in Reno that everyone is connected in some way or another, a sort of small town fable that rings true to many in our city. But we’ve put a different spin on that old tale and think you’ll find that everyone in Reno is connected in some way or another to a woman named Inez Stempeck.
Inez turned 90 this month and celebrated her ninth decade around the sun at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in the Rose Ballroom. Over 500 people came to pay their respect and honor her remarkable life.
If you aren’t familiar with Inez, you are likely familiar with Casale’s Halfway Club, named for it’s location between Reno and Sparks. A fan favorite Italian restaurant, Casale’s has the charm only an 80 year old eatery can claim — powder blue walls, decades old patron signatures lining most surfaces inside, a quirky mix of Italian art mixed with Nevadan memorabilia and a staff made up of mostly family (front and back of house).
The restaurant has a cult following and any given night you can find old timers who have been frequenting the family joint for most their lives alongside Reno’s young up and comers, sitting at tables cloaked in white and red checkered tablecloths, ordering spaghetti and meatballs.
Inez’ parents, both Italian immigrants, met for the first time in Sparks when her father, John Casale, picked up his future wife, Elvira, at the train station after paying for her travel fees to the United States. Soon they were wed and eventually opened Casale’s Market in 1937 with young Inez and her brother, Jerry, as their first employees.
The market became Casale’s Halfway Club after the family found a demand for their ravioli and has endured through war, recessions and personal loss. We can thank Mama Inez for that.
In 1969, when Inez’ youngest child was just 18 months old, her husband, Casmir “Steamboat” Stempeck, passed away unexpectedly — leaving his wife to operate the restaurant and raise their six children on her own. Fifty years later, you can still find Inez in the kitchen making pasta alongside her grandchildren.
In February, we celebrate Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark day for romance. We send sweet notes to our sweethearts, enjoy delicate chocolates and maybe even get some roses from an admirer. Rather than talking about the hottest prix fixe menus for this year’s holiday, we figured it was more fitting to tell Inez’ unconventional love story with Reno and of our love for her.
Casale’s Halfway Club has stood the test of time, and we could write a book about Inez Stempeck’s life. Let’s just say that her grit, gumption and love is the reason why we can all enjoy a Picon and play the jukebox at their family restaurant today.
At Reno Food Tours, we are obviously passionate about food (some would call it an obsession) — but more importantly, we’re about the people who make it happen behind the scenes. To the chefs, line cooks, servers, bussers, dishwashers and entrepreneurs who put in the back breaking work of running a restaurant, we salute you!
– The Reno Food Tours Team