THOMAS J. MILLER
One of Portola’s best known citizens, who have truly earned the success which is now his, is Thomas J. (“Tom”) Miller, the owner of “Tom’s Kitchen,” the leading restaurant of this locality. Born at Wiota, Lafayette County, Wisconsin, on the 25th of January, 1876, he is a son of Edgar and Abbie (DeSatterley) Miller, and also a first cousin of the late Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, their mothers having been sisters. Abbie DeSatterley was descended from the early French settlers of northwestern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin, pioneers of that district, some of whom took part in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Edgar Miller, who was a farmer in Wisconsin, was a son of Captain Thomas Jesse Miller, one of the early Mississippi River steamboat captains, and a man of great determination and force of character, who finally retired to a farm at Wiota, Wisconsin, where he died at the age of ninety years.
Thomas J. Miller grew to manhood at Edgewood, Clayton County, Iowa, where his parents had a hotel, and he there became familiar with that business, becoming an expert at cooking. For a number of years he held important positions in leading hotels in Iowa. He came to be known as an unusually good chef and was employed in that capacity at the Iowa Hotel, at Des Moines, which at that time was owned by Captain Head. Soon after his marriage, in 1898, he went to Kalispell, Montana, where he became a brakeman on the Great Northern Railroad. He was promoted to passenger conductor, which position he resigned in 1905 to go to Tonopah, Nevada, where he engaged in the restaurant and saloon business, which in those palmy days was a very profitable enterprise. While in Nevada he and Captain Henry, of Boer War fame, laid out the mining town of Belle Helen, named in honor of their wives. There Mr. Miller experienced the common fate of Nevada boomers, having made and lost one hundred thousand dollars. From there he went to San Francisco, landing there just after the great earthquake and fire of April, 1906, with a cash capital of three dollars. He went to work on the coast division of the Southern Pacific Railroad, becoming a freight conductor. In 1915 he was employed by the Western Pacific Railroad and established his home in Portola, where he has resided continuously since. He was a steady worker, being employed as conductor of a regular freight train and as extra passenger conductor. On June 11, 1925, he met with a very serious accident. On that night, which was very dark, he stepped off his caboose while on the O’Mira Bridge, and fell twenty-seven feet, breaking his backbone and both pelvic bones. For twenty-two days he hovered between life and death, and then was placed in a cast, in which he remained for a year. When finally he was able to move himself, his money was all gone and he was unable to follow railroading. His knowledge of cooking now stood him in good stead. In 1927 in a small room, sixteen by twenty feet in size, on Commercial Street, in Portola, he opened a restaurant, under the name of “Tom’s Kitchen.” Through the persuasive powers of his excellent cooking, his careful attention to the sanitary condition of his place and his square dealing, he has built up a fine business, commanding the largest restaurant patronage in this city. He has been compelled to enlarge the place twice and it is now an attractively and well arranged restaurant, to which come some of the best people in the community. He has also opened up “Tom’s Kitchen No. 2,” which is conducted in “Jack’s Place,” a pool hall in Portola. In his work here Mr. Miller has been greatly assisted by his wife and daughter. Mrs. Miller is a painstaking and tireless worker, seeing that the restaurant is kept in an attractive and sanitary condition. Mr. Miller uses only the best meats and groceries in his restaurant and understands the secret of pleasing his patrons. His prices are reasonable, the service is prompt and every effort is made to satisfy every patron. In 1898 Mr. Miller was united in marriage to Miss Belle Dougherty, who has been a helpmate to him in the truest sense of the term. They are the parents of a daughter, Isolda, who is a talented violinist. While a mere child she attracted much attention as a prodigy and was engaged by the Sherman Clay Music Company, at a salary of fifty dollars a week, and has since appeared on many concert and recital programs. She is now very attentive to her father’s business and is a very valuable assistant in the restaurant. Nine people are employed in Kitchen No. 1 and two in Kitchen No. 2. Mr. Miller is agreeable and cordial, and deserves much credit for what he has accomplished in the face of great odds. Because of his success, his excellent qualities and the service which he is rendering the public he is held in high regard throughout the community.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.