The American West has long been a crossroads for immigrants from across the globe. Historian Alicia Barber highlights one of these cultures in this segment of Time and Place.
The Basque Country hugs the North Atlantic coast at the border of northern Spain and southwest France. Basque immigrants began to arrive in the western U.S. in large numbers after 1900. Many of those who found work tending sheep or in other industries boarded at one of the region’s Basque hotels, where meals were served at a long table with dishes passed around family-style.
Many Basque American restaurants continue that age-old tradition. Louis and Lorraine Erreguible opened Louis’ Basque Corner on Reno’s East 4th Street in 1967. Louis had arrived from the Basque Country almost twenty years earlier, and Lorraine moved to Reno from her native California around the same time.
Their restaurant quickly became a local favorite, known for its Basque specialties and for their version of a signature Basque American aperitif, the Picon Punch. Interviewed in 2011, Louis and Lorraine recalled helping out bartenders who weren’t quite as familiar with the concoction.
“We got a phone call one time from Miami, Florida, and they said, ‘Someone’s here asking for a Picon Punch and we don’t know how to make it. Would you please tell us?’”
The effects have been known to creep up pretty quickly and Lorraine and Louis always offered their customers the same caution.
“Of course, we say, two are the Picon and the third is the punch," Lorraine said.
Their food brought rave reviews, but Louis and Lorraine were equally proud of their hospitality.
“I think we extended warmth and friendship," Lorraine reflected, "as well as good food. And I always said, ‘You come in as a stranger and you leave as a friend.’”
The couple sold the business to its current owners and retired in 2011. Lorraine passed away two years later, and Louis in July of 2017. Their love for their families, for their customers, and for the Basque tradition will long be remembered by all who knew them. For Reno Public Radio, I’m Alicia Barber.
You can learn more about Louis’ Basque Corner and hear Louis and Lorraine explain how to make a picon punch at RenoHistorical.org. Oral history audio provided by Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.