Caruso’s Sandwich Company in the Spokane Valley has lot’s of company

Posted: December 29, 2011 in Opening Business in Spokane Valley, Spokane Valley Dining, Spokane Valley Folks, Spokane valley lunch specials
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Caruso's Sandwich Company is nestling in at a building the Valley has been dining at since 1965. Located at the corner of Argonne and Montgomery, it is in the heart of the Valley's most intense culinary beat. If I was told I had to pick a two-block area in the Spokane Valley where I would be forced to dine every night for the rest of my life, this would be the spot. Across the street to the north lies a Pizza Hut, Ambrosia Bistro, Subway and Panda Express. Just to the south soar the towering signs of the behemoths of fastfood including Jack, Wendy, BK and McDonald's. Given that Longhorn Barbeque and Timber Creek Buffet are also in the hood, I could easily spend all eaternity dining around this cornucopia of eateries.

To compete in this mad melee of marketed meals Caruso's has sunk a lot of bread into the old and venerable building. Some of it went into this unusual little statue/art piece between the building and the sidewalk on the Argonne side. Around the corner on the northside of the building they put in a raised concrete patio with an outdoor gas firepit covered by what is left of the old carport that served for years when the building housed the A & W Rootbeer stand.

Converting the interior from Scotty's Bar and Grill, the building's most recent occupant, to the stylish sandwich shop it now is , took the most serious amount of lettuce. Gone are all traces of the former bar and everything has been redone, costing somewhere between 200k and 300k, I would guess. They are going to need a lot of dough to raise that kind of bread. While Caruso's is not a mint, they do indeed knead their dough each morning and make their own bread fresh from their secret recipes and I can testify to the tastiness of their sourdough variety.

As tasteful as the remodel project was done, the Cordon Bleu sandwich I had there recently was done even tastier. However, like remodelling these days, Caruso's sandwiches are spendy. A half sandwich is around $6 and a whole is $12 which is more than you would spend at a sit down restaurant. But most restaurants don't make this good of a sandwich, certainly the sub store across the way does not. Caruso's also serves pizza and breakfast as well as beer and wine which makes them unique with the speed and casualness of a fastfood plus the quality and variety of a good restaurant

But will this newcomer in the old building make it in today’s vast and competitive hospitality trade that is so well represented in the surrounding neighborhood? While most people love to play armchair restaurant owner  and believe they know all the moves new places should and should not make, I am agnostic which means I don’t know. It is a lack of false pride and know-it-allness based upon having owned and operated one for four years in sickness and in health. But I do know this property and  its history very well. Maybe there are hints about the future in the past, maybe not.

In 1965, one of the three Armstrong brothers who operated the  first national burger franchise business in the Spokane Valley, A & W, hired my dad  to put in the foundation to the building. My dad and his partner, Don Barden, had been running their sub-contracting company, Custom Basements, for three years at the time. Dad has been retired for nearly 13 years now and Don Barden has  passed away. I know A & W preceded McDonald’s in the Valley because Dad put in the foundation for that franchise’s first Valley location on Sprague across from U-City when I was in about 4th or 5th grade.

At their peak, the Armstrongs had five A & W’s in the Valley from Greenacres to Dishman. The Argonne store prospered and they called upon Custom Basements again in the summer of 1975 to install the foundation  for the eating area they were adding on to the west side of the drive-in. Since it was a summer construction project, I worked on the job myself. To call my father frugal, would be like calling Bill Gates wealthy. He still takes pride retelling the story of how he pulled off and reused the original footing formboards that had been buried in place for ten years to save the Armstrongs a few bucks. “They were a little soggy after all that time, but they worked fine,” Dad told me recently when I quizzed him about his history with the building.

For one reason or another, the A & W at the corner of Argonne and Montgomery did not make it out of the 80’s, nor did the other A & W’s run by the Armstrongs. In 1989 a guy who I had gone to school with from 3rd grade , Terry Mazzie, was hired by new owners to convert the A & W into a Wolffy’s. His construction company gave the building its second major remodel, updating it to an older burger selling era, the one just before the one  it had originally been built for. Through the 90’s Wolffy’s sold old-fashioned burgers and shakes the way they did in the 50’s.

Then around 2002 another friend of mine, Del Stratton, was hired to convert the premises from its Wolffy’s trappings into Scotty’s Bar and Grill. I watched this transformation fairly close since I was in the business at the time and Scotty was often at my business. He told me it cost $250,000 to give the place its third setting in 37 years. Though Scott Reckord  left that business not long after he and Patty opened it and went on to start up Sullivan Scoreboard with his new partner Deanna, Scotty’s made it for approximately 9 year’s before following Wolffy’s tracks down the trail of broken dreams and financial setback.

I don’t know who the Caruso people hired to complete this most recent do-over, but I know enough to know that they did a good job and that it cost a fair to middlin’ amount. Is the fourth time the charm? Most armchair owners would say the location is jinxed since three businesses ended there. But I don’t know.

It reminds me of another location in the Valley that my Dad and his partner also put in the foundation for back in the 60’s. Having stewarded their profits wisely through the years, by 1968 they were able to buy the old Torrey’s Lockers property at the corner of Sprague and Moffit and build a building for Mr. Steak. For 20 years that national franchise stayed and paid the rent, but then they left and were followed by a succession of forgotten ventures. By the time Mike Robb and his family tied up their Iron Horse there, the place had earned the reputation as a loser. That was about 12 years ago and the Horse is at full gallop.

So it seems to me that Caruso’s has a good shot. I know they have found a worthy building that has a rich history serving the hungry Valley well, built and rebuilt through the years by hard-working guys like my Dad and Terry and Del who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty and then go into places like A & W and Wolffy’s and Caroso’s where they wash those hands and sit down for a good lunch.

(Well actually, Dad was too frugal to take the time to eat lunch at a restaurant or drive-in on a work day. He never took more than a 30-minute break to eat the lunch my mother prepared for him. But that is why he has been retired all these years and still owns the building at Sprague and Moffit along with other investments that allow him to travel with Mom and pick up the tab when he takes his family to places like Caruso’s.)
Caruso's on Urbanspoon

This is an old Valley Trivia piece from a past Scoop newsletter:  Long before the Valley had McDonald’s it had A & W Rootbeer stands and quite a few of them. One was at the current Conley’s Restaurant location next to the White Elephant, one was at the corner of Montgomery and Argonne where Scotty’s Bar and Grille is now located, another was on Trent near Fowler road ,one was just east of Deja Vu(the old Dishman Theater), another was at the current location of King’s restaurant in Greenacres  and the last was located at the Mustard Seed location recently torn down when Winco Grocery opened.

To read more Spokane Valley trivea click here.

A feature story on Sullivan Scoreboard’s start.

One on the Iron Horse.

Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    Very nicely done. Love the old memories. The Armstrongs, Mel, Dick and Jerry actually bought the franchise from Glen Myers. My friend Julie Lilenquist and I were hired by Glen and Nora. When Armstrongs bought the drive ins they bought us too :). We started in 1964ish. Glen Myers was the one that designed the speaker system for drive up ordering and installed them all over the Northwest. There you have it! Linda

    • Wow Linda, that is really great that you know exactly how things went down. In little things like this that no one recorded because it was not important news on a big scale, the details only remain after all these years in a few people’s memories. I find it exciting to get your account recorded. Thanks.

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