The business life of a busy restaurateur can be detail-oriented and all-consuming, and family life can sometimes suffer as a result.

But Milton Huggs, who would open the iconic Milt's Coffee Shop in 1964, and follow up with the Ranch Inn and Iron Horse Restaurant, found ways to keep connected to his wife, Doris, and their three children — even while running businesses that demanded his attention. 

"We would go have dinner with our dad at Milt's," remembered Huggs' daughter Cheryl Saiki. "He had a really good sense of how to combine work with pleasure."

Huggs, a graduate of East Bakersfield High School who would go on to serve in the U.S. Navy, teach elementary school, and ultimately find his niche serving everything from eggs and bacon to escargot to thousands of loyal customers, died March 26 at his southwest Bakersfield home. He was 88.

"We teased each other continuously," said Dwight Byrum, Huggs' friend of 25 years. "I would tell him the meatloaf at Milt's was the worst I ever tasted."

And Huggs would counter with a roasting wisecrack about Byrum.

"We knew inside what we were doing," said Byrum, who is just four months older than his friend. "We made fun of each other, but we loved each other."

Born Nov. 29, 1929 in Little Rock, Ark., Huggs came with his family to Bakersfield when he was 15. He lettered in football and track at EBHS, and more importantly, he met classmate Doris O’Dell, the girl who would later become his wife.

After marriage in 1948, Huggs taught school at Roosevelt and College Heights. Doris was also a teacher, and they thought sharing the same schedules and vacations would be beneficial.

"I actually think he loved it," Saiki said of her dad's affection for the teaching profession.

But after gaining experience helping his mother in her Greenfield restaurant, the Travelers Inn, Huggs couldn't say no when an opportunity came along to open Milt's Coffee Shop to support a truck stop in northwest Bakersfield.

His business acumen turned out to be sharp. But he always had a creative side as well.

"He designed the upside down fork on his 'Milt's' logo," his daughter said.

But it was the trust of vendors that saw him through those first critical months. Thanks to handshake agreements likely not seen much anymore, Dale Bros. Coffee, Golden Crust Bread and purveyors of Carnation dairy products allowed him to operate on credit until the business profits began to outweigh the overhead costs.

"He was also a perfectionist. His attention to detail sometimes drove us all crazy," his daughter said, laughing at the recollection.

Longtime friend John Pryor remembered Huggs as a modest, yet insightful person. He knew what people enjoyed eating, and his customer-focused menus were a testament to that.

"His customers have been remarkably loyal," Prior said in an email.

At his coffee shop, he often seemed to prefer simplicity over fancy.

"Just really good food," Pryor said. "That was Milt's forte."

Huggs loved to travel and both he and Doris obtained their pilot's licenses in an attempt to make long distances that much closer.

Later in life, husband and wife shared their love of travel with their seven grandchildren.

"They went on several around-the-world trips with their grandkids," Saiki said. Her father's one regret was that he didn’t have the chance to do the same with his four great-grandchildren.

Byrum said he is scheduled to speak at Huggs' memorial service, set for 10:30 a.m. Friday, at Hillcrest Memorial Park.

Huggs is survived by Doris, his wife of 70 years; his children, Gayle Stevenson, Cheryl Saiki and Mark Huggs; seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and many other relatives and close friends.

"I was very fortunate to have Milt as a friend," Byrum said. "A wonderful, wonderful friend.

"He had a lot to be thankful for, and he knew it. He made it really clear to me when we would talk how happy he was that the family had turned out like it had."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(1) comment

Stephen

The the sign with its eye catching upside down fork is a design masterpiece. It would have been nice if the interior fixtures in the restaurant could have been more sympathetic to the midcentury modern character of the sign and the building.

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