Archive for July, 2011

For my kids, the A & W east of Sullivan on Sprague has been there the better part of their lives as well as a part of their better memories. They were stunned when I told them on Saturday that I had just driven by and saw all new signage for an interloper called “Wraps.” What had happened to our old family friend? I told them I was buying lunch on Monday and we’d find out what in the blazes was going on around there.
So five of us headed down yesterday and discovered that while there was no trace of the old A & W from the outside, it is still pretty much there minus all the franchise branding and advertising. Turns out that the people who own the franchise here in Spokane decided to try something new. While their other three A & W’s in town are remaining as A & W’s, they decided to create a new kind of fast food joint called “Wraps” at the Valley location.
Though there are plenty of wraps, the name is a little misleading because there is a lot more on the menu. They seem to have everything that A & W had including the 21 piece shrimp that I often ate, the chilli cheese hot dogs and fries that were standards there and even the good old root beer floats though I would be surprised if it were A & W root beer since they had Mug rootbeer on the pop machine. Beyond the items you would expect at a fast food place that sold wraps and burgers (which is a combination you might not expect), they also have lots of chicken, salads, Mexican and five different kinds of fries – regular, juicy, gravy, chilli cheese and cheesy gravy. On top of all that have a big breakfast menu.
We all thought the food was fine and the portions and prices were quite fair and so I’m thinking these guys may be onto something at their new fast food joint with everything.
BTW- they are open for breakfast.

Wraps did not make it long. It closed recently.

Every time that I do an interview for the Spokane Valley Scoop quarterly newsletter I always wind up with a lot of great stories that I can’t fit into the feature story. Jenny Hoff, the subject of the most recent Scoop was certainly no exception. The story she told us about going on a cruise was too involved to weave into the original article that I wrote but too moving to leave forever on the editing room floor. So on the eve of a great benefit for Jenny I thought I’d pick it up and give it a blog post of its own.
When Jenny was given the diagnosis of having Lou Gehrig’s disease in the summer of 2006 she had all of her mobility and coordination, she just had occasional loss of balance. The cruel and steady advance of the debilitating disease spares no one, however, and Jenny stubbornly moved along from cane to walker to wheelchair to powered wheelchair. Her family knew time was running out for Jenny and Jeff to make memories of adventure and fun and so they bought them tickets for a Mexican cruise.
Flying on the airlines with a powered wheelchair and being immobile is a difficult and complicated task. Jenny studied up long beforehand and then spent hours on the phone with the airlines and hotels and Carnival Cruise Lines coordinating every detail. Finally on a snowy day in January of 2009, Jenny and Jeff boarded their plane at the Spokane Airport and there they sat. After a long wait it was determined that repairs would take several hours and so passengers could wait or be assigned to other flights.
The trouble was there were no immediate flight connections and the four-hour, best-case-scenario delay did not give them enough time. So Jenny and Jeff had to go back home and say goodbye to their dream cruise and Jeff’s car keys which were on their way to Los Angeles along with their luggage. A friend had to drive out in the snowstorm and give them a ride home, stopping at the liquor store to let Jeff buy a bottle of rum. Needless to say, it did little to dull the pain of being left behind that wintry night in Spokane as their cruise ship sailed towards the warmth of Mexico thousands of miles away.
Jenny found out the hard way that cruise companies hold passengers responsible for getting to the dock on time and airlines take no blame when they make that impossible. For months Jenny called and wrote to the airlines and Carnival and insurance companies and received nothing but “please holds” and “we’re sorries.” With her window of opportunity steadily closing, Jenny finally sent out an email to everyone she could asking for suggestions.
One of her friends contacted KREM and they did a story on her. A mother and daughter from Post Falls who had already bought tickets for a Caribbean cruise saw the newscast and decided they could wait but Jenny and Jeff could not. They not only gave them their tickets, they also worked to raise enough money to pay for a caregiver so Jeff could relax and enjoy his time with Jenny that much more. When they booked their flight this time, they gave themselves an extra day’s grace before the cruise left port, knowing that it was by the grace of some strangers’ love, generosity and sacrifice that they had been given a second chance for a last vacation.

We have other stories on Video told by Jenny on our Facebook page at

Ferraro’s on east Sprague has what I consider to be very good Italian food and it also has what I unequivocally know to be one of the very sharpest owners in this town. Elaine and I split a wonderful seafood fettucine there for dinner last week. It came with fresh french bread and homemade garlic butter, tossed green salad and ice cream dessert – all for $14 which means we had a nice meal for $7 apiece. The alfredo sauce was rich and creamy and there was nothing but cherished chewing followed by savory swallows. It was the kind of food where one looks forward to any after burps that might bring back gaseous mementoes of the gone-too-soon delicious dinner.
For us, however, the good food is a distant second to the waitress who served us and the hostess who sat us. The former was named Crystal and the latter was Jacque and both their last names is Swanson which happens to be our last name as well. How could we not love them, they are our beautiful teenage daughters. Crystal, who just graduated from West Valley, began working as a hostess more than a year ago and was recently moved up to serving. Pat Ferraro thought so much of her that he hired Jacque when she turned 16 last fall. He thought so much of both of them that he just hired Natalie, 17, their best friend and cousin.
There is an interesting story behind Natalie recently being hired. She had a summer job lined up at Applebee’s, or so she was led to believe. But when she went in for her orientation she was told that the person who hired her was no longer with them and that they were overstaffed. So this Apple bummer bee assistant manager, or whatever he was, has her take an aptitude test. She is a kid and so she tries to be honest which is more than he was being. Based upon her responses, the guy tells her she is not cut out to be a hostess at Applebee’s. What a crock of crap. (That is one of the reasons I seldom eat at the chains – they are managed by corporate-trained managers whereas independents are normally run by life-trained owners.)
This being her first job experience, Natalie was devastated and went home and cried herself to sleep. When our girls heard about it they immediately told Pat, who had been interviewing for a hostess, that Natalie was available. He reasoned that Natalie was family to his trusted employees, which are family to Pat, and that was good enough. I would wager that in his entire career as a long-time restaurateur,Pat has never used an aptitude test to judge the worth of a person and that makes him smarter than all the corporate run restaurants in this town. But I have further reason to believe that he is smarter than his local competition as well.
That night as we were leaving Ferraro’s, Pat asked Elaine for the tenth time or so if she would come to work for him at the new place he was opening at the old Dewey, Cheatum and Howe location on north Division. He had been asking her for weeks and Elaine had just kind of laughed it off. She was making a living painting and working with me building houses and was not looking for a job. But Pat was very persistent and that night he told her she could make out her own schedule and take the shifts she wanted. Pat said he needed her help in the bar where he had no experience.
While Elaine was honored and moved, I thought to myself that it was about time that someone appreciated this women like she deserved. I bought a niteclub/restaurant, The Rock Inn, nine years ago because I believed in Elaine so much. She has more personality and professionalism than any owner, let alone wait person, that I have seen in all of the Valley watering holes. Yet in the 5 years since we left the Rock Inn, no one in the Valley has been smart enough take advantage of her. She has tried to get a job at different times but only offered a few lousey shifts when a couple of the owners were desperate.
I crave Charlie P’s food, and I love the atmosphere at the Iron Horse and the Sullivan Scoreboard is a lot of fun, and furthermore I consider all the owners of these Valley establishments and several others to be our friends. I have thought for years, however, that they were all foolish for not asking Elaine to come whip their staffs into shape, considering none of them have really great service. She would be an example to everyone that local bars do not have to settle for the mediocrity in service that they all have become complacent with.
At the Rock Inn, Elaine not only took care of our 4 kids, she also ran our wait staff, waited on tables, organized and served dozens of banquets and meetings, and bartended 4 nights a week. On top of all that she did our books and the year we did 1.2 million in sales she was off $1.36. Now that is a person that has something to offer. But until now, no one was smart enough to see that but me.
While he knows we owned a place and that Elaine helped run it,Pat has never seen her serve nor has he interviewed her or given her a silly aptitude test. But he knows what an outgoing and upbeat person she is and he knows how much how he loves the daughters she raised. Based on that and what he knows about the business and what he knows about people, Pat felt he had to have Elaine at his new place. I think that is about the smartest thing I’ve seen in a very long time.
Pat’s persistence finally paid off and Elaine is going to retire from painting and go to work doing what she loves to do at the new Dewey’s Burgers and Brew on Division later this month. She put together a schedule that allows her to help me on the houses and still be there for Pat 5 days a week. It will be a challenge for her, but she is more than capable of delivering and living up to the tremendous belief both Pat and I have in her.
Elaine and Crystal who started hostessing at the Rock Inn when she was 10.
Jacque the hostess that we love the mostest.

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