Juanita Musson owned Juanita’s Galley in Sausalito during the Fifties and Sixties. It was a greasy spoon housed within the broken down carcass of the Charles Van Damme Ferry, still docked in the Sausalito mud.
Juanita was known for running a wild establishment. The 300+ pound muumuu-wearing restaurateur carried a one-eyed rooster atop her shoulder and an orphaned fawn followed at her heels everywhere she’d go. Juanita was well-known for screaming at her customers to bus their own dishes and for punching out those who complained about their orders — even if they were wearing a badge! For obvious reasons, she was a fixture at the local jail.
When I learned Juanita was still alive and living in a retirement home in Sonoma, I phoned to meet her.
“You sound cute,” she said in a Southern drawl, “Why don’cha come visit me? I like cute men.” This wasn’t the gruff and angry voice I was expecting. She sounded more like the energetic Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies.
I quickly checked out her biography Juanita! The Madcap Adventures of a Legendary Restaurateur by Sally Hayton-Keeva from the library to learn more about her. It was a bit unnerving to suddenly read anecdote after anecdote of her bludgeoning people with a rolling pin. Just don’t make her angry, I thought, definitely don’t make her angry.
When I arrived at the retirement home and finally met her in person, I was not confronted by the mammoth bruiser as depicted in the book. Today’s Juanita is nowhere near 300 pounds — although she was dressed in a muumuu and a silver tiara. At 85, she was frail and I could see the bones of her face. She had kind eyes and a big smile and laughed when she saw I had brought the Juanita! book.
She laughed even harder when I said to her, “Have you read this book??? It’s just page after page of you hitting people!” She continued laughing heartily as she casually flipped the pages, obviously amused at how she’s portrayed in print.
“Is there any topic in particular I should stay away from so you don’t hit me?” I said.
“I won’t hit’cha, I promise,” she said, still chuckling.
“Is all this stuff true?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she laughed.