It’s undeniable that Chico State plays a big role in the vibrancy and success of downtown Chico. As the campus seamlessly transitions into the historic downtown—which is rich with restaurants, retail shops, cafes, and other businesses—the University’s students not only serve as customers, employees, and interns, but many go on to lead businesses downtown for their careers. Whether they opened their store shortly after graduation, took over a longstanding business, or brought something new to the area mid-career, the owners of four downtown businesses share here what makes the Chico State connections special to them.

Brandon Keith (Business Administration, ’09) and Jamie Keith (Journalism, ’06) | Owners | Tres Hombres

Brandon and Jamie Keith stand in front of Tres Hombres restaurant in downtown Chico.
Photo courtesy of Jamie Keith

Why did you locate your business in downtown Chico?

Tres Hombres has been in business for 34 years in the same beautiful downtown location. We purchased the business in June 2022 partially because of the proximity to campus and other downtown establishments we love to visit ourselves. We love Chico and the fact that you can walk to grab coffee, visit a retail shop, and also grab a bite to eat all within a few blocks. A strong downtown commerce helps make for a strong community. We all work together to provide a clean, safe, and inviting area for our customers, and part of that special atmosphere is being located downtown within a close network of products and services provided to the community by all different types of businesses. 

What role do students play in your business?

Whether current students who work for us, alumni who have decided to stay in town and continue to work a few shifts, or our customers who include students, alumni, professors, and staff, students play a huge role in our business. We proudly employ Chico State and Butte College students. During the summer, we also are proud that students who grew up in Chico and are attending college elsewhere return home and work for us while on breaks. Back when we were both students, we would meet for lunch between classes at Tres. As we graduated and began careers, we would meet friends on the weekends for dinner and drinks. It is nice to see that tradition still alive!

What did you learn at Chico State that helps you in your business today?

Chico State definitely taught us how to be well-rounded. We both worked two jobs while in school. It wasn’t easy, but it allowed us to grow and learn how to succeed in life. We met 17 years ago in a business management course one summer. After we started dating, we both worked for The Orion and held jobs in food service. Brandon worked in the kitchen at Madison Bear Garden and Jamie worked at Katsu’s as a server/bartender. We would get to campus early, work, run to class and then spend nights at the restaurant/bar. We definitely learned how to hustle! Chico State taught us to figure out how to strive for greatness and be able to easily manage a much, much longer workday. We take pride in working hard and know that it was because of the well-balanced work/school/personal life that Chico State put forth that helped us learn how to manage that type of schedule. Chico State also did a great job offering up career advice to help set us up for the future. From working on campus to helping find jobs and résumé creation via the Career Center, I think we both went into our last semesters working full time, graduating with no debt, and having careers lined up. That was possible because of what Chico State instilled in us.

What is your favorite thing about being a Chico State alum?

We love striking up conversation with other Chico State grads. During those conversations, it seems that we all have the same fond memories of our time on campus, our days floating the Sacramento River and grabbing a burger at the Bear. When Jamie’s parents dropped her off at Whitney Hall, they grabbed a bite to eat at the Bear and when they came back to visit that fall, they went to eat at Tres Hombres. It seems surreal now that Brandon would be the president of the Bear (among nine other eateries) and we would both own one of those nine–Tres Hombres. I smile every time I walk through campus, and being able to see it from Tres is just the best feeling! 

Matt Thiede (Civil Engineering, ’12) | Co-Owner | Stoble Coffee

Matt Thiede stands in front of Stoble Coffee in downtown Chico.
Photo courtesy of Matt Thiede

Why did you locate your business in downtown Chico?

We love downtown. My family and our buddies/business partners for Stoble live in the Avenues just a few blocks up The Esplanade. After graduation, I got a job working with a local civil engineering firm (since I figured I should put my civil engineering degree to use!), and over the years, my wife and I fell more in love with this community. When we started Stoble, we made being in downtown Chico the priority. The business concept itself was really informed by the space we were able to land on. There’s just something about the feeling of downtown that represents the values we hold with our business. We hope we can inspire others to keep building up our downtown community.

What role do students play in your business?

We’ve got a number of students on our staff who really help make Stoble what it is. There are nearly 50 people on our team, and at least half are students. We also have a number of student staff paid interns as well, which has ranged from event planning to admin and HR. Students are also a big part of our customers. We’ve definitely become somewhat of a student study hub during the school year, and it’s definitely a lot slower around Stoble when schools are out for the summer!

What did you learn at Chico State that helps you in your business today?

I studied civil engineering, and I had great support from the faculty in my department. I was even given my first engineering internship from my professor in our fluids lab. I don’t think I was naturally science minded, and I lacked confidence in my abilities to be competent in the field of engineering. During my time at Chico State, I developed the skills not only to work as a civil engineering consultant and obtain my Professional Engineer license, but it equipped me well onto our other business ventures later on.

What is your favorite thing about being a Chico State alum?

One of the reasons I love Chico is it’s this underdog approachable town that isn’t given a lot of fanfare, but deep down it’s a really special place that you have to experience to understand. I feel the same with Chico State. It might not make headlines for something flashy, but its real value lies in its unsung qualities that are felt deeply through those that choose to attend.

Kirk Bengtson (Undergraduate Education, ’77) | Owner | Kirk’s Jewlery

Kirk stands in front of Kirk's Jewelry in downtown Chico.
Photo courtesy of Kirk Bengtson

Why did you locate your business in downtown Chico? 

I picked downtown because it was a great fit for us. The downtown Chico area is walkable from campus and has great energy, which is a natural draw for students and faculty. 

What role do students play in your business?

Students, alumni, and faculty have been customers for years and are a large part of our business. We enjoy hearing stories from alumni of how they met on campus and then returned to purchase their engagement and wedding rings.

What did you learn at Chico State that helps you in your business today?

Chico State allowed me to create a unique major that focused on business, art, and psychology. This field of study created a foundation that allowed me to excel as an entrepreneur.

What is your favorite thing about being a Chico State alum?

I built lifelong friendships, which include art professors Jim McManis, Bill McNally, and Jim O’Bannon.

Caleb Klungtvet (Communication Design, ’07) | Owner | Art Etc.

Caleb Klungtvet stands in front of Art Etc.
Photo courtesy of Caleb Klungtvet

Why did you locate your business in downtown Chico?

We are a family-owned custom frame shop that has a small gallery and lots of art prints for purchase. The beauty of our business is that it has already been a staple in the downtown community for almost 50 years—it was established in 1973 by Bob Reagan. It has been through a few name and location changes over that span of time. We are currently the fourth-generation owner. I knew when I bought it in 2018 and decided to move locations that I needed to keep it in the downtown area. The new location for us at 256 East First Street was a great decision because of the ample parking and the closeness to the Saturday Farmers Market and the University. 

What role do students play in your business?

We get the art students from the University all year long who are looking for matting and framing or just to get some inspiration from the local artists hanging in the gallery. I have teamed up a few times with some of the printmaking students to display their work in our gallery in hopes of getting a little more exposure and maybe a little extra cash. This is something that I would love to continue in the future.

What did you learn at Chico State that helps you in your business today?

Pretty much every art-related course I took at the University is beneficial in my business. From business design courses to color theory to logo design, it all applies today. My internship at Union Graphics at the University helped tremendously in working with clients and meeting their needs. Every aspect of my job today is about art in some fashion, and I couldn’t be happier. It is also a nice place to sell and display my own artwork. Being so close to the University and having clients that work there has also given me a huge opportunity in being selected to serve as a board member at the Janet Turner Print Museum on campus.

What is your favorite thing about being a Chico State alum?

I get to live and work in the same community in which I was raised and got my education.