Long before Sonoma County drew fame for pairing locally grown farm bounty with complementary wines, Jack Ingram filled the seats in his family's north-of-Santa Rosa diner by burying everything beneath his homemade chili.
Ingram's Chili Bowl on Old Redwood Highway was a nothin'-fancy, nobody-leaves-hungry grub stop from the day in 1951 that Ingram helped open it until 2000, when his son, Robert, accepted that the joint had run its course.
Kaiser-Permanente buildings occupy the space today.
Jack Ingram died Sept. 4 in Billings, Mont. He'd moved there in retirement almost 30 years ago and drove his grandkids around in a car with personalized Montana plates identifying him as the chili king. He was 90.
"He had heart issues for a long time and they finally caught up with him," said his daughter, Donna Geney of Huntley, Mont.
Jack Harlan Ingram was born in Arizona and grew up in Oakland, where his father, Clarence, ran several truck stops specializing in chili. Jack Ingram learned the trade from his dad.
He went into the Army Air Corps in World War II and served with the 460th Bomb Group. After his honorable discharge in fall of 1945 he returned home to Oakland and to his family's diners.
In 1947 he met and married the woman who'd share his life for nearly 63 years, Janice.
They hadn't been together long when Jack Ingram's father decided he'd worked a stove long enough, sold his diners and moved from the East Bay to a ranch in Kelseyville. Jack Ingram, then in his mid-20s, moved his young family to Lake County, too.
"I think they left the Bay Area to find themselves, and they found themselves back in the restaurant business," said Geney, born in Kelseyville in 1948.