Golden Era owner Steve Giardina, 67, died Friday after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
In honor of his life, characterized by his commitment to his community and its collective health, Nevada County’s Center for the Arts premiered a documentary Sunday on Steve’s search for alternative cancer treatments.
One of Steve’s big goals was opening Golden Era in November 2015, according to widow Cindy Giardina. She said her husband operated the business with three priorities in mind — hospitality, ambiance and product.
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Ricky Beaty, longtime customer and friend of Steve Giardina, said he co-produced the documentary “Hill Witches of Nevada County” alongside Steve to dispel “reefer madness” stereotypes and explore how the medical benefits of cannabis improved the quality of life for an unlikely patient.
Beaty said Giardina was resistant to alternative treatment options recommended by friends and locals until his first round of chemotherapy.
“At the lounge after 10 p.m., more than half the clientele are growers and cultivators in the cannabis industry,” Beaty said. “They would come in and say you need to take Turkey Tail (a mushroom) or Rick Simpson oil.”
Beaty said Giardina self-identified as “a Western medicine guy” who stuck with what the doctors told him to do “until that just about killed him.”
“He was against cannabis, but after his first chemo treatment he thought ’What do I have to lose?’” Beaty said. “He started taking cannabis and his quality of life was so much better, but he had to argue with doctors about whether or not he should do it.”
Giardina’s daughter, Jessica, and wife, Cindy, said they believe Steve not only managed his cancer’s serious side effects with the help of cannabis, but that it also prolonged his life.
“He is a brilliant man,” widow Cindy Giardina said. “He encouraged others to be their own advocate, to think outside the box and to keep finding another way.”
Beaty said Steve Giardina hoped the documentary would shed light on the stereotypes that discredit alternative treatment options and show a proactive approach to wellness in the face of a reactionary health system.
Beaty said he was grateful for the opportunity to share Steve Giardina’s struggle with cancer and traditional treatment options because of the bar owner’s dynamism and eternal optimism.
“I love his energy, his personality, his drive — ” Beaty said, adding, “we used to have very open and sometimes tear-jerking conversations about life.”
Beaty said he and his wife Jody began frequenting Golden Era right after the bar first opened over five years ago.
“We remember going by there, walking in and there was Cindy in her magnificence and we started chatting,” Beaty said. “We were fast friends and ever since, we’d go over there and unwind. It turned into our own private ’Cheers.’”
Daughter Jessica Giardina said she found some relief in her father’s time of death — 2 a.m. — given the nature of the family business.
“It was fitting because we own a bar,” daughter Jessica Giardina said.
Steve Giardina, from left, wife Cindy Giardina, daughter Jessica Giardina and son Eric Giardina stand inside Golden Era.
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Jessica said the optimism and solution-oriented attitude found in her father’s struggle with pancreatic cancer was also how he operated his business — pre- and post-pandemic.
“When COVID hit, we wanted to to stay open,” Jessica Giardina said. “We bought the other part of the parking lot and said we could make this work.”
Jessica said her father valued science and community, two totems inextricably linked but at times pitted against each other in the current political climate.
“He believes in science and keeping everybody happy and healthy,” Jessica explained, adding that social interaction amid the current public health crises felt mutually healing.
Jessica said her family has made hundreds of friends through Golden Era, some who offered advice and some who sought it, throughout her father’s treatment.
“He was always around talking, even if he had chemo the day before,“ Jessica said. ”His heart was with the community at Golden Era.“
Cindy Giardina devised an inclusive mission statement that was mounted on the wall of Golden Era when it first opened on Broad Street.
“I think we have the most diverse group of customers at our business than anywhere in Nevada County,” Cindy Giardina said. “We care about everybody — all walks of life, all different views. He was just that kind of person.”
Cindy Giardina, Steve’s partner for over 51 years, said she and her husband met when they were 15 and 16 years old, respectively, growing up in Whittier, California.
Cindy Giardina said her husband’s outdoor enthusiasm was just part of the appeal of Nevada County when they first moved north in September 1975.
“The first year we were married, we were driving home to LA and we were like, ’Why are we going back there?’” Cindy Giardina said. “We were just kids then, so I turned my notice in to work and we picked up and moved.”
Cindy Giardina said she went to work for Bank of America while Steve Giardina finished up a microbiology degree at Sacramento State.
Cindy said between nuclear medicine positions in Roseville, Steve racked up certifications and licenses in contracting and real estate in both Hawaii and California before opening up Golden Era.
Jessica Giardina said she expects Golden Era to host a “Beetlejuice” themed Halloween in honor of her father’s favorite film.
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Steve is survived by his wife Cindy, daughter Jessica, son Eric and three grandchildren — Lincoln, Dallas and Addi.
Jessica said the family is hosting a luau-themed Celebration of Life at Golden Era on May 2. The bar also anticipates a “Beetlejuice” themed Halloween night in October in honor of her father’s favorite film.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.