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San Clemente Journal

The DeNault Family, Here to Stay

Mar 07, 2024 03:11PM ● By Mary Colarik

The four sons; Don, Steve, Bob and Tom with their Mother Ruth DeNault.

by Mary Colarik

People from other places initially arriving in San Clemente for a visit quickly become intrigued by the meandering streets that lead straight down the hill to the pier, the beach, train station, many surf breaks and boasts, “the best climate in the world.” The main drag, Avenida Del Mar, is always bustling with people in and out of the small businesses and restaurants that line both sides of the streets. The economy of the town doesn’t only rely on the tourist trade, but also happily caters to local families with a variety of goods and friendly service. The residents of San Clemente are more than happy to shop local, supporting the hardworking families that have lived, worked and raised their families here, keeping Ole Hanson’s vision alive from all those years ago when he planned his “Spanish Village by the Sea.” 

DeNaults Hardware can be seen on the left in this 1950s postcard.


One such family that landed rather unexpectedly in San Clemente in the early 1950s is the DeNault family. I had the pleasure of speaking with Steve DeNault, one of the four sons of Jim and Ruth DeNault, about their family’s longevity in the Hardware Store business. I also spoke with the gracious family matriarch, 93-year-old Ruth DeNault who is a dynamo still working in the family business while serving once again as President of Casa Romantica. A property very important to both her and the city. 


Ruth and her husband, Jim grew up in the great Midwest. Ruth’s family owned a hardware store while Jim’s parents were in the insurance business. The two met at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota. Jim was two years older than Ruth; they married while Ruth was still working on her degree at the University. In 1951, Jim was drafted in the United States Army. His basic training was at Fort Ord in Northern California, so since they were married, Ruth left the University to go to California with her husband, (later in her ‘70s, after Jim died, she finished her undergrad at Concordia University and then went on to get her master’s in business.) After the war, back in North Dakota Jim knew he was interested in a career in the retail business, not the insurance field. So, he took a low-paying job at a small brand-new hardware store in Jamestown. 
Meanwhile Jim’s parents retired to Southern California. Ruth and Jim had been discussing relocating to Northern California as the Golden State was thriving with many opportunities. However, life intervened, redirecting their path before they settled there. Jim’s parents invited the young couple to the sleepy little beach town of San Clemente for a visit at Christmastime, wanting their son and daughter-in-law to stay in town a bit longer, they found them jobs at the local hardware store. Jim began working in the store while Ruth took on a part-time accounting position with the owners, and they decided to stay. 

Within a few years they bought the hardware store and moved it to the corner of Del Mar and Ola Vista where The Surfer’s Outlet is located today, renaming it San Clemente Hardware Store. This was just the beginning of the DeNault story. Raising four boys in the Southwest section of town they began their family’s legacy, growing their hardware retail business and serving the community for 70 years. Like so many others here, they never left this little slice of paradise. 
Steve DeNault is the second oldest son. He has an older brother, Bob, and two younger brothers, Don and Tom. All four still work in the family business. Steve gave me some insight about growing up in the sparsely populated town in the 1960s and ‘70s. The family home was located on Esplanade on the same street as the Griffins, another long-established San Clemente family. While their competitors, the Gordon family who owned the other hardware store on Del Mar lived just a few blocks away. All the families socialized while the offspring grew up playing together. Steve said that they often played in the big trees that lined the street pretending to be army snipers. All the boys spent many days at T-street beach with their boogie boards; hours riding their taco mini bikes down the street to the undeveloped land above the beach trail; snorkeling in the ocean at Dana Point; completing the Jr. Lifeguard program; and going to Disney movies at the old Miramar Theatre. He especially remembers standing in line to see the movie, “Flubber.” 
The Denault brothers spent many days playing on Little League baseball teams, (both parents were involved with the teams and even started a league for 13–15-year-old teens.) The boys also participated in Scouts. (Ruth was Cub Scout Den Mom, “Den 8 and we were great!”). Oldest brother Bob became an Eagle Scout. However, before the other three siblings made it all the way through Boy Scouts the whole family and many of the boys’ friends were involved in another great adventure … off-road racing in Baja. There were two big races, the Baja 500—a loop course starting and ending in Ensenada. And the 1000-mile course following the Pacific Coast all the way down the peninsula to La Paz. DeNault’s sponsored many cars in all different classes graduating from their taco minibike days to bigger, faster dune buggies and cars. Ruth was the statistician, keeping track of 25-30 different racers daily. 

The whole family participated in Off-Road Racing, all four brothers raced at different times, mom kept the stat’s, dad ran the pits.


When the boys were college-age Steve remembers he and his friends driving pickup trucks thru the tunnel to Cotton’s Point and jet skiing there. Ruth mentioned to me, with all this activity, “San Clemente was an ideal place to raise four boys.” 

The DeNault boys and several of their friends in between all the fun and games at the beach and in the surrounding hills, began working in the family business at a young age learning the business literally from the ground up by sweeping the floors and doing other odd jobs. Ruth and Jim wanted their sons to have a vested interest in the family’s livelihood. 

As the boys grew up so did DeNault’s Hardware Store as it was renamed in 2001 when they moved the store to the larger location on El Camino Real. This location had a huge asset as Steve and Ruth both said, “a large space for a parking lot!”  This helped their customers and the business tremendously as we all know parking has never been easy for businesses on Del Mar.
The store has also expanded to several locations around Orange County. Each of the DeNault sons oversees a specific store and have divided the responsibilities of running different aspects of the operation. Oldest sibling Bob manages the inventory and the family’s Real Estate holdings. (Dad Jim formed a Real Estate Entity to rent back to themselves.) Two of Bob’s children also work at the San Clemente location, son Brian is the General Manager and daughter Kimberly works alongside her brother and dad. Don is the full-time manager at the San Juan Capistrano store while younger brother, Tom formed a company within a company, DeNault Commercial.  This enterprise buys products in bulk for apartment managers in Orange and LA counties. The distribution center is in Santa Margarita. Steve, who handles the Human Resources for the organization and mom, Ruth work from the corporate offices also in Santa Margarita. Steve’s daughter, Cambria is the General Manager at the Mission Viejo store. Don’s son, Mike, is the General Manager at the Laguna Niguel store while Tom’s teenage son, Chase is also already involved in the business when not in school. It’s fabulous to see the third generation continuing the hard work in the town where their grandparents first found a business opportunity to flourish.    

The day I spoke with Steve and Ruth, Ruth had been at Casa Romantica for a board meeting, then she was in a buying meeting for housewares and gifts for the store, and finally agreeing to chat with me. Ruth mentioned that in the early years San Clemente did not have very many specialized retail outlets for fine China and other more elegant gifts for weddings and special occasions, so they offered a Gift Registry. They also carried toys in the early days before all the larger stores came to the area. Pat Nixon bought her kitchen pots and pans from DeNault’s back in the days of the Western White House. Customers have always been pleasantly surprised to find a gift item section contained inside of a hardware store-quite unique and unusual. 
Steve attended Saddleback and then San Diego State graduating with a degree in Business Management. Besides being one of the Vice Presidents of DeNault’s Hardware he had another job for about 10 years that he really enjoyed. He was asked to be on the board of American Hardware and Lumberyards, a company that provides insurance for Hardware Stores and Lumberyards. He said it was a “fun gig!” The management company was based in Bermuda, so the board members met in different offshore spots. While he was Chairman of the Board, he and his wife were able to travel to many interesting places around the world for the meetings. 
One reason Steve feels that the family’s hardware store with humble beginnings has been able to stay in business and expand even with the rise of big box stores is their outstanding customer service. Plus, their stores provide a variety of different products from paint brushes, to nails and screws to PVC pipes, offering parts that are specialized and not easily found at one of the larger stores. Customers can buy “bits and pieces” of products they need to start or finish a project. Employees are trained to have great product knowledge. Additionally, the DeNault family has many years of experience in the hardware industry. As Steve tells new employees when he trains them, “we sell everything, but the kitchen sink.” 

Although the town has grown from a population of 3,500 to 66,000 in the last 70 years and youngsters no longer have the freedom to roam freely or ride dirt bikes in vacant lots near the beach or in the hills. Or hear the “deep sound” of the diesel fishing boats at the end of the pier or the “big roar” of the rocket engines from the TRW rocket plant formerly located at the end of Pico where Talega is now, Steve feels that this “old fashioned town” is still an incredible place to live and work. As he says, “people have the option of living close to the water or having a magnificent view of the coastline, and even with the very expensive home trend many of the quaint cottages and smaller homes remain.” Also, adding a bit of unique charm to the town are the original Ole Hanson Homes and buildings that were “saved” by the dedicated energy and focus of the late Lois Divel and her son. 

Jim and Ruth DeNault worked hard to establish a business that would be viable for years to come, happily passing on the spirit of hard work and fun to their offspring in this unique place they all continue to call home.