Archive for February, 2013

I have known Ryan Heaton, owner of the Valley Senior Froggys since about 1973 when he and I played trumpet  at Bowdish Junior High. I was a consistent third or fourth chair below Renny Smith and Teresa Tsalaky while Ryan, who was a year younger, normally sat far below.

Everyone hated those surprise tryouts that publicly and painfully exposed our lack of musical talent and lazy practicing habits. Anything could happen. More than once I sat at the bottom after a humiliating attempt, only to look up the line to see Ryan beaming back down at me from my old chair after he had pulled off an unusually good performance.

Even on his best trumpet days, I would not have put him on my most-likely-to-succeed list. It was not  until high school when he began bussing tables at the Valley Red Lion that it became apparent that he possessed first-chair talent in the hospitality field .

One year out of high school at age 19, he was managing The 1881 Room at the Sheraton Hotel downtown.  Back then Patsy Clark’s was their main competition, today it would be Churchill’s or Spencer’s, which is at the 1881 Room’s former location.

After problems developed with a new general manager, Ryan thought he could do better and so applied for the manager position when it came open at the neighboring Casablanca restaurant, owned by the Omni Corporation.

They liked the looks of the kid but not the idea of him running a place where he was not old enough to go into the bar, especially when its nightclub was downtown’s hottest. They lured him away by offering him a better salary and a manager position at their Taco Time on Division.

At one time, Omni had a big operation in Spokane. They owned Casablanca, all the Taco Times, Fuddrucker’s and The Rocking Horse Saloon. Ryan became a key team player they moved  around to run other local Taco Times for a few years.

Then they sent him to  California to open a new Fuddrucker’s before coming back to open and manage their new Spokane Fudruckers, a gourmet hamburger franchise. By the time he was 25, they put him at the helm of their starship, The Casablanca where he was in charge of four assistant managers and 95 employees.

After meeting Dave Hooke at a golf tournament, Ryan decided it would be better to raise is two young boys on fast food. The plan was that he would be allowed to buy into Dave’s  local franchise, Senor Froggys, a move designed to help fund Dave’s retirement and secure one for himself. That was 23 years ago and things have progressed nicely, with Ryan owning the Valley and Indiana Froggy’s.

The nice progress has come through a battle of wits and hard work against difficulties like  relentless national competition, an abysmal economy and a traffic shift that did not work in his favor. Ryan has kept his Froggys hopping by using two key strategies.

One of the strategies was cutting edge when he became a Bruchi’s franchisee and co-branded it together with his two Senior Froggy’s  11 years ago. He was the first in Spokane to implement this nationwide trend, offering two original Spokane franchises in one location.

Beyond menus that complimented each other, Ryan and Bruce Greene, founder and owner of Bruchi’s worked well together, having known each other from the Casablanca days when Bruce was an assistant manager under Ryan. Currently, they are partners in the new Cheney Bruchi’s and up until January, Ryan ran the North Town and Valley Mall Bruchi’s.

Knowing a year in advance that he would be loosing his lease at the malls, Ryan  took the co-branding concept to the next level, coco-branding, and brought in Itallalian Express, another local franchise that had been started by Dave Hooke with recipes provided by  Luigi’s owner, Marty Hoberg , who had been one of Ryan’s busboy at the 1881 Room.

The second strategy Ryan has implemented is himself. He will tell you he believes he has been  at the same location for 23 years because they deliver a consistent, quality product for a good price. While that may be true, Ryan is the one who has ensured those standards day in, day out. He is hands-on and works everyday, 40 hours a week. When you combine that work ethic with a 1st-chair talent for playing to a room full of diners, The Froggie is going to make it even in the rough waters of the Spokane Valley fast food pond.

When I took Mom to lunch there the other day, he took our order at the counter and delivered the meal. It occurred to me how unusual it is at a fast food place for anyone, let alone the owner, to bring the food out even though it seems like a pretty simple but accommodating service to provide. I guess that it is something that only an owner who enjoyed working with his crew and serving his customers would be happy to do. I would imagine most owners would not enjoy either.

I could tell Ryan, however, is the oddball and is happy to be doing what he was doing and to be where he is at. As I sat looking up at him from my chair as he cheerfully cleared our table, I recognized that  look of contentment on his face from forty years before and I knew it was genuine.

I have no problem vouching for their raviolli. They also offer it with alfredo.

I have no problem vouching for their raviolli. They also offer it with alfredo.

Mom will have to vouch for their chimichanga. \it must be good she has been eating this at Senor Froggies for years. It looks mighty tempting.

Mom will have to vouch for their chimichanga. It must be good because she has been eating this at Senor Froggies for years. All I know is that it looks mighty tempting.

The only thing happier than that frog on the outside is the big bullfrog on the inside.

The only thing happier than that frog on the outside is the big bullfrog on the inside.


Having been trying for the last 30 Valentines to find romantic spots to dine on the most important dinner night of the year, I was amazed at our good fortune last night at The Black Pearl.

Due to a scheduling snafu, Elaine  discovered we had the night off from the family at about 5:30 when she got off work. She thought we should go out for dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Eve since she worked late the next night. She called on her way from downtown and asked me to think about a place.

I knew she would want some place special that would compliment our romance which can  flare like a Piccolo Pete on Valentine’s Day.I was thinking Timber Creek Buffet would be the perfect metaphor for the smorgasboard of love we share between us. Perhaps the ribs at Charlie P’s to honor God’s ultimate gift exchange when he swapped Adam a rib for Eve. It would make the perfect eucharist for lovers like us, or at least for a manly rib lover like me.

I kept my ideas to myself and I told her I would think about it while she was getting  home. But with an attention spanning maybe an inch, my mind moved on between my goodbye and hers.

Luckily, she rescued our hastily scheduled but crucial, must-win annual dining event with a suggestion even more brilliant than my own secret ideas. I was impressed. We had stopped in the other day at The Black Pearl but  only had the chance to look at the menu during our brief visit.

It was an impressive and tempting look, worthy of a second. Cost effective with lots of tempting choices for both of us, just what we like to see in a menu. Everything is reasonable. None of the other places that advertise Valentine Dinner Specials can match The Pearl’s pricing. We could have gotten loaded nacho’s for $9.99 which would have gotten my vote Valentine dinner or not had we been there during Happy Hour when they are half price.

Beyond a menu worthy of the sacred supper, The Pearl has class. I would say it is right up there at the top of the local class. Once cost has been factored in, it is the Valley’s Valedictorian of Valentines Value.

It’s three parts, casino, lounge and restaurant, are upper class but comfortable. The staff is well dressed, attentive and friendly, complimented by their surroundings of  rich woodwork, atmosphere lighting and stylish furniture.

I liked the second to the last buddy bar in the lounge where I  sat facing the door and could watch the game room behind a glass wall to my left and the long, well-appointed bar to my right. With Elaine sitting between them in my field of vision, there was no possibility of being bored.

None of this back drop was so distracting that it drew undue attention. But there were brief moment’s during Elaine’s retelling of her day in sometimes numbing detail that my attention wandered left to the more interesting gamers and then drifted right to the more colorful bar. But that just about never happened.

I have not made it through 30 Valentines by not paying attention to my sweetheart, but The Pearl is a place that makes it easier and more interesting to look into her eyes while looking occasionally beyond. It is also a place that delivered the perfect romantic dinner for the right price. She got Coconut Prawns for $7.99 which were quite good. I know because she shared two with me.

I got my beloved ribs for $9.99 and they were quite good which Elaine knows as well because I also shared. I cannot be more generous because as much as I love her, she is no better than God, and so like Adam, I will only give up one of my ribs.

This plate has love written all over it. The decadent steak fries were the big ones with lots of salt and seasoning. This great and sinful slaw had a tangy taste and  terrific texture. Neither God nor my divine wife, could get me to part with more than one rib off this plate from me. And if they were both sitting there, they would have to share it between them.

This plate has love and lust written all over it. The decadent steak fries were the big ones with lots of salt and seasoning. The great and sinful slaw at the top of the plate had a tangy taste and terrific texture that forced me to eat every last piece of cabbage and carrot.  I never have to share any coleslaw with Elaine because it is on her do-not-disturb list. The french fries are another matter. Neither of us can resist the forbidden pleasure of poking  deep fried potatoes into our personal dipping sauce blend of tartar sauce and ketchup. I have always tried to be generous when it comes to poking potatoes and I think she likes that about me. But neither God, nor my divine wife, could get me to part with more than one rib off this plate . And if they were both sitting there across from me at the same time, they would have to share that one between them.


Black Pearl Restaurant and Card Room on Urbanspoon