Archive for the ‘Opening Business in Spokane Valley’ Category

Ownership of The Roadhouse recently passed from one of my friends to another, and everyone is better off for it. While Fred Lopez had the money, vision and desire to raise up The Roadhouse from the smoldering ash pile that was once the hottest niteclub around known as Hotties, he did not have the time to run the place himself. I watched from a front row bar stool as he went through four managers who, despite The Roadhouse’s initial success managed to run off a lot of business after two and a half years.

Meeting with Fred nearly every week at the time for a drink, I told him straight out that he would one day regret getting into the nightclub business. I owned one for four years and since the day I bought it 14 years ago, I have been watching nightclubs come and go left and right. I tell everyone, not just Fred, contemplating getting into the nightclub business that they will regret it. I would have told Joey the same thing if he had asked but he did not.

But I know Joey well and have appreciated his talents and abilities since we met many years ago at my old place, The Rock Inn at the Old Plantation. He coaxed and coached me into the world of karaoke, teaching me how to host and participate. He insisted that I would sound as good as him if I found songs that suited my voice and practiced them all the time. Though I eventually hosted karaoke at the Rock Inn four nights a week and sang my heart out on the three slow nights to help keep things going, I never came close to sounding as good as Joey.

After we pulled up stakes at the Rock, I went back to being a contractor/carpenter and hired Joey on a big remodel project. I learned first hand that Joey is truly a jack of all trades. The guy could tile or plumb or paint and he was a good carpenter, but it was his skill as an electrician that blew me away. I can still picture clearly the sight of him standing on a step ladder with exposed wires going everywhere as he worked on the garage door opener ceiling outlet. I would have gotten shocked five times just pulling everything apart, let alone putting it all back together. Joey did not even turn the breaker off, every one of the twelve or more wires were hot. He never got a shock and he fixed the problem.

On top of what I used him for, Joey had mastered other trades as well. He had been a sound technician for a long time, starting years before when he ran the sound monitors for the bar band he sang for and toured the West coast with. He ended up going much further with his hearing than his singing, as he went on to run sound for local concerts and even touring with Kenny Chesney. During the time we were working on my remodel project, Joey was running sound for Paul Rogers, former lead singer of Bad Company and the Firm. Paul Rogers did not need to tour steadily and so it was just a part time deal for Joey.

I have heard a hundred stories on a  hundred Monday mornings about what a wild weekend some wide-eyed and overly animated co-worker of mine just lived through, but no one topped one of Joey’s weekend weekend adventures . There he was with his tool belt on, saw in hand as he told me about riding in a limo somewhere in Japan with Paul Rogers and his wife during his long four-day weekend. The amazing thing was that he acted like it was no big deal, just like the twelve hot wires that would have been the shocking death of me.

From that job I continued being a carpenter here in Spokane and Joey went to work for Eddie Money for several years. He hired on as his sound guy and then eventually became his road manager. Unlike Paul, Eddie needed the money, and so Joey had a full time job flying and bus riding all over the nation organizing all of the thousands details involved with each of the 150 plus shows a year.

He was still in town a lot and always looking for a good side job and so I introduced him to  Fred when he needed some help with the sound system at his new sports restaurant and bar, The Ref, here in the Valley. To make a long story short, the two have worked together ever since as Fred soon opened The Roadhouse nightclub and then The Palimino and found himself, like Paul, Eddie and me, needing the the skills and talents of Joey Shalloe, who had grown weary of the road and left Money behind.

So my two friends became friends but whether they remain friends remains to be seen because they have gone to a place I would have advised them not to go, but they did not ask my advice. Fred was tired of being a gentleman nightclub owner and Joey needed something to do. I would have told Joey that it looks a whole lot funner than it actually is, which is what I told Fred and what I tell anyone who will listen. However, if anyone can pull it off it is my old friend Joey the jack. So far he is doing everything right and once again I am impressed.

During a recent shutdown  due to a lapse between Fred’s liquor license expiring and Joey’s arriving, Joey went to the great effort of pulling every piece of equipment out of the kitchen, thoroughly scrubbing it down and then repainting the floor. It is a fairly new and unused kitchen and he did not have to do that. He did it because he has high standards not because it will make him any more money, because it won’t. He also painted the bathrooms and made lots of other  subtle improvements.

What I am most impressed with is the food he has been cooking up in his pristine kitchen. I should have known Joey could cook and had the gumption to create a great menu and then take shifts working the kitchen. Rather than go on and on how good his food is, I will just say two words – Taco Tuesday. He took something that every other bar in the Valley is doing and came up with a whole new standard. Every Tuesday The Roadhouse hits the cycle while all the other players  are happy with just hitting singles. He does a black bean chili quesadilla for $5 bucks that is so good I now resent Mondays even more for not only ending the weekend but now getting in the way of Taco Tuesday at the Roadhouse.

To lastly prove my point about Joey and his knack at being a jack of all trades, including his current one, consider today’s benefit concert for the firefighters at the Roadhouse. It is a smart and worthy move and one I did not see any of the competition making. Probably the best times Elaine and I had at the Rock were the fundraisers we were fortunate to be able to host. In hindsight I wished we would have figured out how to do more. We let people who had a cause come to us, but The Roadhouse has seen a cause and took the lead since the Washington forest fire crises began. Today’s concert which begins at 2 is part of their impressive efforts.

I recently learned that Joey did not jump into the bar business by himself but rather took on his buddy Joe O’Conner  as a partner.  If you have to go into it, might as well spread the risk and the worry and hopefully the riches. I know that I could never have run our place alone because there is just too much to do and try to be good at. Joey is good at a lot more things than most people and certainly than I am and so I give him twice the odds I would give anyone else at The Roadhouse, which still only gives him fifty fifty. I would not bet on him and I would not bet against him but then I never bet on anything, but I love to root for a good team and I found one at The Roadhouse.

Elaine and I have a long history at this odd-looking builing. When we were children, we there with our parents to annual budget dinner meeting for Pines Babtist church that both our families attended.

Elaine and I have a long history at this odd-looking building. It was a smorgasbord  when we were kids and  we went there with our parents to the annual budget dinner meeting for Pines Baptist Church that both our families attended. Later  when it became Sea Galley Elaine worked there as a waitress and I spent too much  time at their round salad bar and the regulguarantee sitting bar.

2012-06-23 14.20.08

Later it became the Valley’s hottest spot just as Elaine and I moved into the neighborhood and had just reached that blissful time when the oldest is able to babysit the others. We found ourselves there often and were bitten by the niteclub bug. We even made Scott Lane, the owner , an offer that he at first accepted and then reneged on when we wrote him an earnest money check for $10,000. That is what sent us down the road to The Rock Inn.

2012-06-24 09.19.33

Years later Fred Lopez bought the building  for less than what Scott turned down for just the business that The Rock Inn started on it’s path to destitution. I went there many times as Fred gutted the building and rebuilt it . I found this caricature lying on the desk in the empty office where a decade before Elaine and I had sat down with Scott and his Dad, who owned the building, and offered them our earnest money check. Having competed for four years against Scott I can say firsthand that he was not the fun looking guy to play with that he looks like in the picture.

Fresh start starting with fresh food.

2015-09-15 19.20.36

Scott has gone on to that big nightclub in the sky or perhaps he’s with the Big Hottie down below, and Fred learned to appreciate my powers of prophesy. Now it is Joey’s turn, and I can safely say that no one with his get up and go and high standards has been there since Elaine waited tables there 30 years ago.

2015-09-15 19.13.19

All I know for sure about this whole deal is that as long as Joey’s Taco Tuesday is there for me, I’ll be there for Joey.

The barrel-topped building just south of Sprague and Bowdish, birth and burial site of Ringo’s Casino, is about to become a beehive of activity when a group of marijuana merchants open shop. Now the games of chance at the old casino site are really getting interesting. Legal pot peddling is a new and wide open field that has beckoned an odd array of creative and bold players like Tim McKinney and his associates.
The first time I met Tim McKinney was about 10:00 o’clock a few Friday nights ago while I was walking peacefully with an absent mind down to the Iron Horse to meet Elaine who was getting off work from her job at the Ambrosia Bistro. I had already noted the one car parked out front of the building and so when I saw the lights go out inside, I crossed Sprague. I figured some body was working late at the renovation project that I had surmised was taking place for a week or two.
I made it all the way across the 200-yard parking lot and right up to the door before he burst out. Despite the late hour and being caught off guard, he was as open as a steamed clam and as energetic as a minor league baseball mascot when I asked him for the lowdown. Perhaps no scoop that I have uncovered snooping around has raised my eyebrows quite as high as Tim’s disclosing and detailing of the dealings that he and his associates where preparing for.
Tim told me that this spot on Earth, one that I have known as well as any spot since earliest memory, was about to become what up until just now was not available anywhere in the entire nation. Most of my life I have wondered what it would be like if the whole world were like Amsterdam where people had the choice of catching a buzz in public using alcohol or pot. Now Tim was telling me that Amsterdam was not just coming to somewhere in America, it was coming to my neighborhood. I could not keep track of many more details that he enthusiastically went on about. My mind was blown.
I did, however, have presence of boggled mind to tell him I that I wrote the occasional blog and he asked me to give him at least two weeks. That was easy because it took that long to wrap my noodle around just the basic idea that I was soon to have a pot bar within walking distance, while the rest of the nation will just be watching and wondering what it would be like to live where I live. So after two weeks I dropped back in during working hours to find Tim bustling about. I wanted to get more details on how this was going to work and once again Tim stopped what he was doing and focused on trying to help my scattered brain to see their master plan.
First of all it is going to be a private club called The Members Lounge . There will monthly dues since our liberal state of Washington only allows us to partake of pot in private and not in public. Secondly, it will take a marijuana medical card to buy pot onsite. Apparently, lawmakers decided Spokane should only have three establishment where you can buy your pot and smoke it too. Tim said that he and his gang were fourth on the list, though they are much further along than the three parties that got the much sought after licenses.
As he toured me around the building he took me to the southwest section where for the last few years I had seen gambling folks playing cards and where before that I often heaped my plate at the oriental buffet line and where 20 years ago I splurged on a company Christmas party in the banquet room of the Chinese Restaurant the building was originally built for. This quarter of the building, he told me, would soon be transformed into a farmer’s market where medicinal marijuana will be the harvest for sale.
Tim and his partners won’t sell any pot themselves, but rather provide space to merchants. It makes sence to experiment with an antique mall setting considering that we are at the starting line of this industry and, like in the gold rush days of the 1800’s it has drawn in the little guy with little resources but eager to strike it rich. Tim then guided me into the northeast quarter of the building, which has always been the dining area. This, he told me, is where members will be able to consume their cannabus, be it from home or purchased from the adjoining marketplace.
I went away from our second chat with a sense of foreboding. I worry every time that a brave soul puts thousands on the line and opens a new pace. It is bad enough that they are always based on some new and untried idea for a restaurant or bar or coffee shop, but this new venture is also based on a whole new social experience for America, let alone the Spokane Valley. Will our local pot smokers who have been forced to hide in the closet all the lives now come scurrying out and smoke in public?
Will partiers in general find consuming pot in a lounge setting as comfortable as they do the bars they have been going to for years? I can see the young crowd embracing it, but the older generation seems set in their love of alcohol which is not an option at Tim’s new joint.
Regardless, our society is about to undergo a transformation and this little private club in my backyard is leading the way onto the battlefield of Spokane. I am sure the fight will one day be won, but I fear for the those emerging out onto the front line, there has to be casualties. It was not until my third trip to this rabbit hole that I saw the light or at least a glimmer of hope.
We were driving by at about 9:00 last Saturday and the parking lot had several cars. My curiosity drove me into the parking lot and right through the doors where once again I found an obliging Tim among a large and informal gathering . He welcomed us with open arms to a meet and greet party that had been going on for two hours.
I knew that the pot that was to be consumed at the new place had to be ingested as a vapor since servers could not be exposed to smoke. But it had not dawned on me that the technology of the e-cigarette had been applied to pot. To paraphrase an old Cheech and Chong bit: No smoke or smell that you don’t need, vaporized pot is bad-assed weed. The age of the e-joint is upon us.
As vapor puffs frequently appeared from the mouths of the happy laid-back crowd, the smoke cleared and I saw where this place might have a chance. If vapor lounges have been around for years and have been able to survive and prosper how much better are their chances now that the law allows for the granddaddy of all vapor-able substances? For Tim’s sake and the sake of all the Marijuana Sooners preparing to race for their stake in this new state of affairs and for the sake of Washington’s bold step towards common sense, I hope our town rises to the occasion. I say let’s Amsterdam it.

2013-12-16 09.26.41

You would have to be about 70 years old to remember when Halpin’s was not located just west of Sprague and Bowdish since it has been there since 1949. I know that it has always been there for me and I was raised just up the road at Alki and Bowdish, until I was 7, in the same home I bought as an adult 20 years ago. I would guess that I have passed through the light  at Sprague and Bowdish more than any other intersection on Earth.

Actually I do not have to guess since we went up Bowdish to get to the family church each Sunday morning and Sunday night for the first seven years of my life. Just those 4 weekly trips added up to 208 and if you throw in the rest of the Vacation Bible Schools and other special occasions I was escorted to, they probably added up to 208,000. Between church and school, it seemed I spent most of my precious youth trying to stay awake or slyly slip in a nap as I was being taught hundreds of lessons that failed to captivate my attention.

If that were not enough to make Sprague and Bowdish my most visited intersection for life by the time I was 7,  my great grandparents lived a little further up the path at 12th and Bowdish. By the time I came along, Grampa Dean, a logger from Arkansas, was doing lighter work at Appleway Florist and Granny Dean seemed to always be babysitting me.

Probably the best and worst part about spending so many precious moments of my youth passing north and south through the Sprague and Bowdish intersection was the Dairy Queen located where the loan business is now. This was long before we had a Baskins and Robbins or anyone had ever heard of frogurt. Remembering how much I loved the Dilly Bars and Mr.Misty floats always made it the best intersection. Realizing we were not stopping to fulfill my fantasies, made it the worst.

Always there just beyond the queen was  Halpins, with its Treasure Room and its regal sign towering just below the massive red “H”.  It was there the whole time of my youth and adult life. In the old days there were six independent drug stores, which slowly dropped off one by one until there was just one. For several years Halpins stood alone, the remaining mom and pop drugstore, though they craftily survived by also becoming a gift store.

Times change as economics and advertising and the internet lead consumers  in other directions. But when an old tree falls , it makes way for another to grow up. The one bright thing concerning the loss of Halpins is that the large and mostly empty building will not be empty for long, which seems to be the fate of an alarming number of  buildings along Sprague over the past several years.

Brad and Julie Markquart, who opened their first Complete Suite Furniture store in the Valley in 1998 have bought the building and are busy remodeling the old Halpins into their 7th retail location and the lower part of the building into warehouse space. Obviously, they are go-getters and I hope their success lasts at least as long as Halpins’, longer in fact.

I root on all new business ventures  but I also mourn the favorites a bit when they close and I try to remember the ones from the past. The people and places we love do not go on and on like the roads we travel to get to them. But at least there is some kind of comfort, though it goes unnoticed and unappreciated mostly, from travelling along the roads and through the  intersections that were laid down long before my great-grandparents arrived in town, and will be here long after we are all gone.

Brad Markquart is hoping to open Complete Suites here in February.

Brad Markquart is hoping to open Complete Suites here in February.

I have to wonder how long the herd will continue to stampede Buffalo Wings Sports Bar and Restaurant that opened last month at the Valley Mall. Since this is the chain’s 455th place since 1983, I am assuming this not a flash in the pan, but I would think only a Times Square location could sustain what I have been seeing at our new B-Dubs.
If this were a movie opening, it would be like James Cameron’s Titanic, riding high at the top of everyone’s list of must-see dining. I have been Buffalo-watching since they opened and have been astounded by the numbers that have flocked the place. During the first few weeks the wait at times was two hours long. I went in by myself once on a Sunday around noon and told the hostess I just wanted to sit at the bar, expecting her to let me pass and seat myself. Instead, she started taking down my name like she expected me to wait for the first available bar stool. I told her I am not a waiter when it comes to sitting alone at a bar and off I went down the road a bit.
The next Sunday I went back earlier and I was able to get a spot at the bar. It was a first for me when the hostess escorted me to what turned out to be the last opening. I found it a bit embarrassing, like I needed any help finding a bar stool. Though I knew that I was there to research this blog, to the rest of the packed bar, which all seemed to turn and watch me following my young guide, it had to look a lot like I was drinking alone fairly early on a Sunday morning. That is something I prefer to be more stealth about.
While I might have been sinning solo on a Sunday morning, there were a lot of others there skipping Sunday School to watch football as well. If you consider how popular this chain is and that the scene I was witnessing was being repeated 455 times across the nation, B-Dubs is responsible for a lot backsliding across America. It is a great place to relapse and relax with large-screen, high-def plasmas lining the walls broadcasting every N.F.L. game being played. Back to back jumbo screens in the center of the building separate the bar from the family dining area, which is only slightly bigger and only slightly less boisterous.
Part of the appeal is the noise level which for a place to eat, B-Dubs is like being at the stadium live. If you are going there to have a nice quiet meal, go somewhere else. Likewise, if you are going there for really good food, go somewhere else. It is not that the food is bad, it is just that I find it very chain-esque, meaning it holds its own with Red Robbins and IHOP and all their nationwide rivals competing in the hunger game.
Though they have a fine and full menu, it is a success story that came in on a wing if not prayer. I find it interesting that the Spokane Valley took so long to get our first B-Dub while distant outposts like Billings and Missoula have been enjoying their Buffaloes for a while now. Could it be that B-Dubs was buffaloed by, or perhaps just plain chicken of the established local wing slingers? Though I am not sure how healthy a chicken wing is, there does seem to be some healthy competition selling it.
I believe Flaming Joe’s was the Valley’s first wing joint and from the start they have been a testament to the fact that the Valley loves its wing just as much as the next town. I have never been a fan of the vinegar-based buffalo flavor nor the heat when it comes to hot wings, but if a person feels different about these things, Flamin’ Joe’s has always had their wing. Apparently, more than some like it hot since Joe’s features eight increasingly hotter original buffalo sauces that peak at a sauce they call Code Red. I am a sweet and gooey kind of a guy and they have me amply covered with 18 different sauces. Elaine, on the other hand, is a dry rub kind of gal, only wingly speaking, of course, and they easily take care her kind of bird with 7 different versions.
The Ref opened not long ago and proved that the Valley had a big enough appetite to fly two wing joints at the same time, though apparently our wing cravings had increased since a few years before when we let Wingers down at the Mall. Unlike Wingers, but like Flaming Joe’s, The Ref is locally owned. Unlike Flaming Joe’s owner, The Ref’s owner Fred Lopez, has not been involved in any federal sting operations and has been on a tear opening the Roadhouse country night club, the Black Wolf gaming center and is now remodeling The old Moose Lodge just off Francis into a country night club and concert hall after opening The Ref.
The night to try one of his 31 flavors is Wednesday when they sell them for 65 cents apiece. They are great wings and I am sure they sell a lot of them but I can’t be sure because on that night I am at Boston’s where they sell wings in the bar for only 35 cents. They have been doing it for years and it is not a very well-kept secret. It is elbow to elbow, as the ravenous, heaving crowd pile up gleaned and cleaned wing bones, going through yards of napkins, attempting to keep the sauce from oozing past their own elbows and onto the elbows of their neighbors.
Though you could never tell it by the Wednesday night crowd at Boston’s, I would guess that the Buffalo has sucked a lot of wing lovers from the Ref and Joe’s and Boston’s, with which it shares the parking lot. Like all types of food enthusiasts, Buffalo wing enthusiasts tend to roam when something bigger and better and more boisterous comes to town. I root for B-Dubs and the army of young servers and cooks they have put to work, but at the same time I am partial to the wing status quo. Hopefully, the Valley is up to the task of eating our way to the success yet another wing eatery. Judging by our overall slowly but steadily increasing average weight, it is likely that we are up to the task.


These are the wings from B-Dubs and these are how they serve them. Elaine did not like eating out of paper boats though she did like their wings.

These are the wings from B-Dubs and these are how they serve them. Elaine did not like eating out of paper boats though she did like their wings.

The Refs wings are dang good. Afreind of mine from New York who has been eating wings since they were invented in Buffalo thinks these are about the best in the Valley.

The Refs wings are dang good. Afreind of mine from New York who has been eating wings since they were invented in Buffalo thinks these are about the best in the Valley.


While The Ref's taste may compare with Boston's wings, their Wednesday night price of 65 cents a wing does not stack up next to Boston's 35 cents. Elaine and I can gnaw our way through about 20 of these. That's $7.

While The Ref’s taste may compare with Boston’s wings, their Wednesday night price of 65 cents a wing does not stack up next to Boston’s 35 cents. Elaine and I can gnaw our way through about 20 of these. That’s $7.

Flamin' Joes has a lot of good grub. I like the waffle fries they serve with their wings.

Flamin’ Joes has a lot of good grub. I like the waffle fries they serve with their wings.

My advice for you when dining at B-Dubs is to stick to the well-worn path. Daring to try other items beyond their tried and true wings could lead to disaster. This Tailgater Sampler looked interesting but tasted not so much so.    All three dips were bland and tasted watered down. When Elaine told the mananger who ecame by and enthusiastically inquired how much we like the food, he replied they never watered anyhthing down because it all came prepackaged. Maybe that is the problem. But the wings on the sampler were quite tastey.

My advice for you when dining at B-Dubs is to stick to the well-worn path. Daring to try other items beyond their tried and true wings could lead to disaster. This Tailgater Sampler looked interesting but tasted not so much so.
All three dips were bland and tasted watered down. When Elaine told the mananger who ecame by and enthusiastically inquired how much we like the food, he replied they never watered anyhthing down because it all came prepackaged. Maybe that is the problem. But the wings on the sampler were quite tastey.



Mark Baier and his partner David Birge deserve a medal for what they are doing to the old historic building at the corner of Sprague and Vista. I would actually call it important to the Valley as it preserves a small piece of the past, while at the same time promising enjoyment in the present and future. For a while there, I would have bet that corner would have gone the way of the old Ethan Allen building and others throughout the neighborhood that got flattened into car lots.
The building sat vacant for months, stripped of its equipment, for sale and unwanted. Because of the state the building was in after years of neglect, and other issues, nobody wanted to touch it even for the land-only price of $160,000. Demolition of a 10,000 square foot old building just to get the land apparently did not pencil out. Gus Johnson has a pretty good head on his shoulders and I know he looked at it.
I also know a guy named Jesse who looked at it seriously with the idea of bringing it back to life as a night club which it had been for decades. He said mold and asbestos issues made remodeling a losing proposition. I myself thought about the possibilities and even had someone who was thinking about buying the building if Elaine and I wanted to go back in as the Rock Inn, the night club and restaurant we had run years before in that beloved location. Unlike Jesse, I knew the night club business and so I did not need to look at the building.
That building’s demise was set in stone decades before when it was doubled in size, adding what was back then called a dance hall to the established restaurant and bar. It might have been a good move back in the 50’s or early 60’s when the cops told drunk drivers to pour out their drinks on the side of the road and drive straight home and back when there were likely few if any hopping nightspots that size in the Valley. Our landlord, Jack Riley, used to tell me about the good old days when his aunt, Rose Townsend, ran the place. “Craig,” he said a dozen times as we sat and had a few drinks at the bar, “this place is a goldmine.”
That is what I and a very long line of risky business owners thought when we signed his lease. The goldmine soon revealed itself as the money pit. What I took away from my four years is that the building was too big and the business you had to run there was too big as well. It should never have been anything more than just the restaurant and bar. That is how it should have remained and how it is now returning. And I say kudos to them and congratulations to the Valley.
The land itself was historic long before the building was built. The rock pyramid in front is a commemorative marker to the Mullen trail. It was a special place on the old trail where the Walla Walla wagon road intersected and many travelers ended the day’s journey and camped for the night. Slowly the Dishman business area grew around it and the storybook stone building was built to house a zoo with rodeo grounds in the back.
Continuing the location’s destiny as a public gathering spot, the stone buildings were eventually remodeled into the restaurant and bar. It was a place worth keeping and preserving way back in the 40’s and even more so 70 years later. It is one of those odd looking places that you have know idea what you are getting into as you enter and once you are in you are still not sure. You just know that the whoever dreamed up the design and built it out of native stone and virgin logs was a creative and talented and skilled craftsman.
Longer than anywhere else that I am aware of in the area, Valley folks have been eating and drinking and enjoying a few moments of their allotted time in this warm and impressive and unique dining room. Now Mark and David have rescued this castaway from cremation.They own the two adjoining parcels west of the old Plantation building and they originally planned to demolish it.
Luckily, they realized that it was too unique and beloved and historic to reduce to a pile of rubble. Mark said he does not want to even advertise for a tenant until he restores it according to his vision as close as possible to it’s original glory.


Look carefully at the picture above. It is a masterpiece to the eyes of a hungry man’s empty paunch. At the center of this classic you see a pulled pork sandwich, my standard first choice at every new opening that dares to put this American staple on their menu. Mama Doree’s rendition easily manhandled the anticipation that always bursts inside my head as soon as I realize I am about to see if some new place can pull off their pulled pork promise.

To the lower right of the main attraction is as tasty a squash casserole as you will ever slide your fork into. You immediately know that this is the kind of food you came to expect when you went and ate at which ever family member cooked really good. Personally, I was blessed with a grandmother, named Grannie as far as I was concerned, and a mother, who I always call Mom, that put out this kind of food as a matter of routine. With great family recipes dovetailing with culinary skill and flair they made everything they touched excellent.

The coleslaw in the work of art above reaffirmed what the squash and pork had stated before. It was just right tastefully and texturally while being different and unique and so I knew it was another tried and true family recipe. The cornbread also had the taste and feel of generationally great grub.

Then came the blueberry cobbler which by now had a lot to live up to. The bar set and raised by each of the previous selections was easily sailed over by this clean up batter of a dessert, a walk-off home run cobbler. It was just the kind of dreamy meal-ender I always saved just a sliver of stomach for every Sunday dinner at my Grannie’s table growing up.

Turns out that Mama Doree is the grandmother of Frank Hunter, owner of the new place. It looks as though the idea is to sell to the drive-thru customer at least as much as to the dine-in crowd. My meal which included everything pictured, drink and all, was $1o.95 and was dished into to-go containers as I made my selections to the server on the other side of the buffet line. Think KFC buffet line dished up like at Subway, but think of your Gramma’s finest going on the plate.

I hope the Valley rises to this new dish man’s opportunity in Veradale, which has become something of a Bermuda Triangle for eateries, having swallowed up the likes of the Staggering Ox and an A & W in the last year or so. Porky G’s sadly being the most recent new business to vanish shortly after entering the quadrant.

The building at 14787 East Sprague, home of the new Mama Doree’s, is itself the exact spot of a few strange and mysterious disappearances. Please let this not be the case this time. If everyone would skip their next meal at one of the big chains that soar like giant trees choking off the sunlight from the independent local seedlings that try to take hold below, and give Mama Doree’s a try, they would be fine.

The idea of stopping by my beloved Grannie’s home and picking up a quick dinner to take to my home is a dream that I can only pray comes true in heaven. Until then, I hope Mama Doree’s is there to help satisfy my longing for my grandmother and her divine cooking and make the wait a little easier to endure and a tad more tasty.

I don’t have to look at old photographs of the Valley to see  pictures of a past and a place much different than today.  I need only to close my 54-year-old dream screens and conjure up scenes from my early childhood through my twenties . Most everything has changed like, for example, the simple routine gas stop.

My memory goes back to the days when  parents could drive along with windows up, smoking a cigarette as their children sat unrestrained by seatbelts just inches away. No one thought anything about it. One long-gone ritual from those less enlightened days  was stopping for gas at one of the many neighborhood full-service gas stations. My folks mostly went to the white and red cinder block Phillips 66 station on South Pines road where Polka Dot Pottery is now.

Like most stations back then, there was a small counter area with just a limited offering besides fuses, fan belts and roadmaps, like a small variety of the top-selling candy bars and gum and some pop. Two service bays took up about two-thirds of the building’s north end. You had to go around the corner to get to the small, drab bathrooms on the south outside wall. The “service” in service station was all about servicing the car, not spoiling patrons with spacious tastefully designed, well-lit bathrooms.

While I don’t recall the name of the owner, I do remember he seemed a bit debonair with his white hair neatly combed and oiled.  Below his nose was an equally well-groomed white mustache with its opposing ends extending an inch off his face and curling up to  sharp and rigid points. It is no wonder his face is entrenched in the caverns of my memory considering how often he loomed above outside the car doing his job .

In good weather he was jovial and the chat was always friendly. In bad weather we saw more of his employees which was good because it was often too miserable outside to roll down the windows and visit . I was always mesmerized watching them looking through the windows at us but not seeing us and then squirting cleaner on the film of dirt and bugs I hadn’t even noticed before. Then they wiped it clean with their squeaky squeagies and often went on to pop the hood to draw forth the mystical dipstick.

It was a Mayberry part of life in Opportunity that was on its way out with the 1960’s. Somewhere during the changing of the eras, the “Self Serve” pumps  showed up in the far lane at the small gas stations dotting the Valley like the freckles that ran amuck across my face when I was a kid. For awhile they offered both full and self-service, but people frugally and routinely chose braving the elements to pump for themselves and pay a little less . Slowly and sadly,  the Goobers and Gomers of the gas stations came out less and less, and then one day, like little Jackie Paper, they came no more.

We have been living in the era of the convenience store ever since. To put it mildly, it is a stale industry that has not evolved much since 7-11 stores  pioneered the Valley, though it is a  bellwether to the overall unhealthiness of our society.  Today’s purveyor’s of gasolene are more filling stations now than ever. It is unbelievable the amount and variety of liquid beverages we are offered now as compared to the early days.

Since I hated pop as a kid, I was keenly aware that there were no bottled or canned non-carbonated drinks. Finally, Country Time Lemonade came out in a can and that was the best it ever got during my  youth. Then Snapple was introduced and mass-marketed while Gatorade morphed from a one-trick pony into the mother  of all sports drinks. We must be very, very thirsty if we can support all these people and products in the beverage industry.

But overall, beyond the occasional teaming up with a Subway or Wendy’s, the convenience stores of today are close to what they were in the beginning.  I actually had not noticed or ever thought about it until we stumbled upon the open house party last Wednesday at the new super-convenience store at Evergreen and Broadway, Maverik, The Great Adventure.

We were headed back from the food court at the mall where we had met our daughter for dinner. Talk about bad timing. There I was with a $5 Bruchi’s Philly Steak sandwich hogging up all the room in my tummy as I milled about all the free food a free-loader like myself could ever want at the Maverik’s crowded, live-remote open house. Like it or not, my full tummy had to stretch more than it wanted as I forced it to accommodate a few desert items like a bite of cookie or two, a dab of frozen yogurt or two and serving or two of jerky. They did not need to give me free food to win me over, though as always I did appreciate it.

This new store is something like their 240th store in the western US but it is the Valley’s first and I see nothing around here to stop them from slamming in as many as they want. Certainly the present competition is little deterrent. The word competition is being generous to the local convenience stores because Maverik is on a different playing field. They have actually thought of the best way of doing things and then implemented those thoughts.

For example, as a coffee drinker I spend so long looking for the coffee cup lids at unfamiliar stops that my coffee is nearly cold by the time I find them hidden in some illogical location. Then I normally have to set down my cup and focus carefully using both hands to get one lid away from the interlocked stack of lids.  At Maverik there is this ingenious container right where one would think lids should be that you pull and one lid at a time handily pops up.

Another simple well thought-out solution to a widespread problem is a contraption attached to the bottom of the bathroom doors called Clean Escape. While Americans may be drinking themselves to unhealth without a care, many can’t stand the thought of grabbing the bathroom door handle with unprotected hands to get out. In addition to the wisely placed garbage can next to the door to receive paper towels the hand-washers use to grab the handle  to protect themselves from the none-washers, Maverik has provided the Clean Escape gizmo that allows the strong of foot to pull open the door using a toe or two.

Then there is the social media they have mastered on the internet including Facebook,Twitter and Youtube. Suffice it to say that I am already a club card-carrying member and able to track every penny that I spend there wisely and otherwisely. And just like the old days of S & H greenstamps, I am building points that I can also keep tabs on as they amount to not anything great but far greater than anyone else is giving me.

I could go on drawing a picture of this incredible new place, where  attendants are called “adventure guides” and chefs bake fresh bread daily but it is a welcome and fresh scene you can see for yourself. But take it in soon and remember it carefully, because someday convenience stores like gas stattions , will become memories from the past.

Forever have the 3 Valley 7-11 stores stood head and shoulders above the competition in the arena of really fast food. Maverik’s arrival gives them a rival that has raised the maple bar. Literally, they make their own and add bacon on top.

They have also raised the condiment bar. While you can grab the packets of mayo ketchup and such if you are in a super hurry, you can also take your time and load up the old dog with every kind of topping imaginable.

This the incredible, ingenious and indespensible dispenser of cup lids that indicates the impending impact Maverik is about to inconvenience the local convenience store competition with.

They just have it figured out, right down to getting out of the bathroom.

Everyone is talking about The Roadhouse, the new Country rock nightclub that is getting set to open. A good friend of mine, Jim Kuhlman, is setting up the cameras and tv’s and computors and sound and lights. He was our guy for all that stuff at the Rock Inn and now he’s Fred Lopez’s guy at the Roadhouse. I put them together and so that gives me a front row seat to what’s going on with the place.
On top of that connection, I am fairly good friends with Fred and helped in the early stages with design. The bar is my biggest contribution. Not that I designed it, but rather that I convinced him that the old bar had to go and he needed to do something very close to what he created at his other new place, The Ref.
The Ref’s bar is the only bar that you routinely see couples and women sitting at. It is huge and oval with a large bank of flat screens hung overhead in the middle. It is one of the best bars I have ever seen and I lobbied hard for Fred to recreate whatever version of it he thought would work at this new place. Once he agreed, all I did was draw up his idea and then he hired the same guy who built the Ref’s.
It turned out beautiful as the picture below shows even in the middle of the construction scene before it is all shined up and stocked with glistening glasses and beautiful bottles of booze lit up with accent lighting as the plasmas play patiently in the middle above it all. While that picture is still just in my head, I got the one below Thursday when I went down and saw Jim as he was getting ready to start his lonely nightshift working on fine-tuning his many projects.
This visit  prepared me well for all the people we ran into yesterday as Elaine and I went out for an early dinner and then stopped at a few places to visit with friends. I never one time brought up the Roadhouse, but I was amazed at how often it came up.
We started out up at Hogan’s on the Southhill. We had been meaning to eat there for nearly a month since Elaine had waited on the owners where she works at Ferraro’s on Division. They told her she was a fantastic waitress and asked her to come check out their place. What a pleasant surprise. It is right next to Trader Joe’s which had Granola Cruisers and Vegan Heads streaming in and out the whole time I was eating my unhealthy but exquisite pulled pork sandwich and sweet potatoe fries. Elaine’s wrap was much healthier but still tasted quite good.
Elaine, of course,  gets into a conversation with Jen our waitress and asks her how she likes working at Hogans. Jen says it is great but she had just put in her two-week notice because she had been hired last week to be a bartender by Alison who works for Fred at the Ref and will be managing The Roadhouse. Elaine told her we knew Alison and her boss. Jen was very excited about her new job and told us to be sure to come see her. Elaine assured her that we would.
Then we stopped in at Mike’s Tavern, which was amazingly busy for 5:30 on a Saturday, to see Danette who had moved there from Sullivan Scoreboard a few months back. Our friend Jim had seen her at The Roadhouse recently and so Elaine was curious to find out if Danette had applied there.
Turns out Danette had been having lunch at The Monkey Bar with Dianne Record, who owns Sullivan Scoreboard, and curiosity got the best of them so they wandered over to have a look around. She was flabbergasted at how great everything looked and commented that there was nothing like it in Valley, I told her there was nothing like it between Seattle and Chicago.
If we are at a place and it is busy in the Valley, Elaine will get into at least a half dozen conversations with old friends, give out a handful of warm hugs to people she is glad to run into and pass out friendly hellos to at least a dozen faint aquaintences. She is a friendly thing. During the course of her visitations, The Roadhouse kept popping up and I showed off the bar picture on my Droid more than a few times.
On our way home we noticed that Darcy’s had a lot of people and so we stopped. Turned out that there were three different parties going on and the places was hopping and so too was Elaine shortly after arrival. Hopping about hugging and hello-ing like a talkative version of the energy bunny on laughing gas. Pretty soon I am pulling up the bar picture and showing people how cool the place that they keep talking about is going to be.
I also used my Droid to text Fred to see if he and Melanie were doing anything. It was 7:30 and he texted back that he been working at the Roadhouse since 6 in the morning and had just gotten home. I thought my day sounded much funner talking to everyone about The Roadhouse rather than working on it. When we drove past it on our way home I noticed Jim’s truck in the parking lot. I guessed that he must have punched in about the time Fred was clocking out. They better not be slacking because the place is suppose to open November 14th and everyone wants to see it and I can only show a limitted number the preview on my Droid.

Here is the bar Fred dreamed up for The Ref. As far as bar styles go this is a grand slam home run slash Hail Mary touchdown slash half court swish.

This the my 3-D rendering of his new version The Roadhouse.


This is the Roadhouse bar just waiting for the action to get started. Notice the 160-inch high def projection screen in the background. Adjusting and dialing it in was one of Jim’s projects for Thursday night.

As the doors of the miscarried Blue Kat night club remain tightly locked with eviction and equipment lien papers taped firmly to them, the Handle Bar down in Greenacres struggles to open its doors after a gestation period that is now rivalling an elephant’s. Meanwhile, work on The Roadhouse, located at the old Hotteez, is going along at a brisk pace and looks like it could be ready to go as early as mid October.

It’s like Cindy Lauper wrote a song about: Money changes everything. Never is it more true than when it comes to getting a new place off the ground.

I met Jesse Martinez at the beginning of the summer when he called me up and asked if I would draw him a set of as-built plans for his portion of the Halpins building at Bowdish and Sprague. Things were going fine at that point and spirits were high. Jesse was spending money and having fun as he put together his hot spot, dreaming of the good times to come as soon as the Kat’s doors opened.

Turns out he had gotten the cart a bit out ahead of the horse, and had not dealt with some of the less fun aspects of his new venture like permits and regulations and inspectors. It was the one about having to put in a $16k sprinkler system that finally dowsed the flame and put an end to the party before it got started.

The truth is that Jesse probably never had the kind of money to make a nightclub out of the old Habitat for Humanity store. If $16k blew him out of the water, then he was dreadfully under capitolized. I tell people not to get into a nightclub-type venture unless you have a spare $250k you don’t mind gambling with. That is the number that was lost by all three of the nightclub owners that I knew well enough to talk to about their finances. Of the many others I have watched from a distance, I would guess that the numbers and percentages hold true across the board.

Some may have been able to get out quicker than others and so have lost less. Jesse’s exit was the quickest I have seen, considering he never made it to the entrance but that probably means he lost a whole lot less than some that gutted it out for 2 or three years.

The Handle Bar down at the old Hat Trick location looks like it should wobble its way to opening. I have known its owner, Frank Smith, for a very long time. The only thing that matches his ingenuity and creative energy is his abillity to overspend. He does everything with skillful flair and that usually costs top dollar. When The Handle Bar does open, it is going to be something to see.

Since it is a bar and not a night club, it is a good bit less risky. I personally think the best odds are to open a bar on a shoestring and then bootstrap your way through a slow, pay-as-you-go improvement process. Unless you’re someone with deep resources, like the guy down the road at The Roadhouse.

In a way, Fred Lopez is exactly like Jesse and Frank and myself and every one else that has opened up or bought any kind of hospitallity establishment. I would call owning a place the true American Dream. Look how many athletes and celebs have a place with their name on it or own a piece of Planet Hollywood or The Hard Rock Cafe. I heard it over and over again from our customers when we ran The Rock Inn. Everyone has an idea and a few recipes.

What makes Fred different from Jesse and Frank and the rest of us common dreamers is that he is more like the rich and famous. While he may not be the latter yet, he is the former and that is the most important thing to bring to this game. I can safely say that the main reason I can safely say that the Roadhouse will succeed is because Fred can afford to be successful.

He can afford to do things right as he completley remodels the premises, transforming it into his vision just the way he sees it. Then he can afford to redo or adjust anything that can be improved upon after the place has been running for awhile. Just as importantly, he can afford to let his place run with little or no profit for as long as it takes to get established and running smoothly in the black.

But there probably will be a profit from the get go and it probably won’t be little because on top of the advantages wealth provides, Fred also brings a lot of ingenuitey and creative energy to the table. I was thoroughly impressed with the job he did at The Ref and I have been able to watch him work as he puts together this new place. The guy has good ideas and the energy and resources to make them reality.

I look forward to Fred’s final product, just as I look forward to Frank’s and was looking forward to Jesse’s. I admire their guts and creativity. I find watching their efforts to be a fun pastime and that is why I blog about new places opening up. They are always intriguing and hopeful stories and the supply of new beginnings is unending.

This is a Youtube video I posted made from the 3-d modelling I did for Fred at the earlir stages of the remodelling of the Roadhouse

A friend of mine who worked for the forest service said he used to go into burn areas months after a forest fire became buried under deep snow. They would use heat seeking instruments to detect smoldering, burried logs. While I always thought that incredible, as a camper I have several times restarted the dead coals from the previous night’s fire by purposefuly arranging thin twigs and branches and then blowing like a kid trying to extinguish ten or so birthday candles. Both were matchless experiences.

Most new places open at old sites. Like campfire rings in the wilderness where prior establishments set up shop, some with great success and some with not even a taste of it. With a little luck the new campers find the bed of coals waiting for the right combination of combustibles to be laid on top with a fair amount of huffing and puffing to be blown back to life. The new Darcy’s, which rests on top of the old Percy’s site, should not have to waste a lot of breath considering the prices on the new menu and the quality of the food they have set out to serve.

I can’t think of a spot in the Valley where so many have gathered around the fire for so many years. Personally, I go back to 1966 or so when University City was being built by my great uncle, Clyde Higgenbottom, who was a superintendent for Halverson Construction.

The shopping mall that Clyde built became the center of the Valley as soon as the occupancy permit was issued. My first love at U-City was the wishing well at the heart of the mall where I would toss pennies into the clear water and watch them sway back and forth as they came to rest along side the other glistening coins on the white and blue mosaic tile that made up the pond’s floor.

My favorites changed over the years as I went from childhood to adulthood wandering the stores at the mall. As a grade-schooler I loved the pet department in the back southeast corner of Newberry’s where I bought tropical fish for my first aquarium. Then in junior high it was the second floor of The Crescent where I bought my first album, Talking Book by Stevie Wonder in 1972.Later when I became aware of the opposite gender, Hamers and Harvey’s clothing stores had the all the threads I needed. And always the crowded aisles of the Hallmark store yielded the perfect gift for every occassion I was forced to shop for.

My appetite for good food never changed however and so the one constant favorite from the beginning was The Golden Hour. Back then there were no chains, not Mc Donald’s or Arby’s,which were the first two to arrive in the Valley just across the street, (Arby’s then McDonald’s, if memory serves). The Golden Hour was the pinnacle of Valley dining and their Sunday buffet was the pinnacle of the pinnacle.

I worked there in high school and knew the buffet line well. I whittled away at the baron of beef with a long, white-handled carving knife at the end of the line, attempting to figure out where to place the slabs of beef on the already too-full plates of the glutonous customers that came smiling up to me.

Then I graduated and moved on. The Golden Hour soon graduated into Percy’s as my old boss Percy Howell slipped into retirement and turned the reigns over to his daughter and son-in-law, Pat and Greg Kroetch, who kept the fire well stoked. For years the campfire ring at Percy’s enjoyed the Valley’s warmest blaze.

It packed them in with karoake way too many nights a week and it was the place to go after shopping, especially Christmas shopping. That folkway long outlasted U-City Mall as shoppers found there way back from the U-Surper Mall on Indiana every Christmas season and most specifically on Christmas Eve when a toddy at Percy’s was a local tradition and hidden treasure for natives and newbies alike.

Then after the better part of a career, Greg passed away and Pat left the building like Elvis, turning it over however relunctantly to the new owners of the Luxury Box. With the king gone, the building that had warmed so many for so long became cold. Like a transplant recipient that rejects its donor organ, the old building would not accept its new enterprise and for whatever reason the Luxury Box slipped into the history books.

And now we have Darcy’s.

As I said, I go way back at this particular spot on Google Earth and I predict with the confidence of Notradomus that these new guys will resussitate the fire from the deep down smoldering, golden embers that have been at that location longer than most of our citizens have either been alive or lived here. Darcy’s is a new concept at an old, sheltering site. It is a camper that I think Percy would welcome.

Having opened the sandwich shop, Casey’s, several years ago, Annette and Kevin Hayes, do know the first thing and everything else about making good sandwiches and salads. As the new owners, they have a dinner menu that includes traditional American favoites but the bulk of their menu reads like a sandwich shop, a very good sandwich shop that knows how important good salads are these days in a weight watchers world.

They also know how important price is in our present penny-pinching paradigm. Most new places push the envelope just a tad when it comes to prices, apparently thinking their newness justifies it. Not Darcy’s.

Their prices are so good that McDonald’s next door needs to be  worried as should all the Valley sit-down restaurants. Why would you want a $5 fast food burger you get handed to you in a bag after waiting in line when you can pay just $2  more at Darcy’s and get one served with fries by a smiling young waitress. And for that matter why would you go to any other sit-down restaurant where you would pay $3 more for perhaps an inferior restaurant burger?

Beyond their brilliant and bold price positioning, Darcy’s is obviously emphasising quality recipes with fresh ingredients. While my time to test things out has been limitted, I have been doing my part to help rekindle the flames having sampled their menu on four seperate occassions in the few weeks they’ve had their doors open. It is apparent to me that the owners are hands-on and heads-up in the kitchen.

On top of their food and prices and beautiful setting, Darcy’s has location, resting on the Valley’s warmest bed of coals where we have been blessed with decades of professional yet down home hospitallity. The new owners appear to have all the right talents and skills to rekindle the blaze and tend to it for years to come.

Everyone orders what we know and love and that is why I tried the Chef Salad first thing. I really was not expecting much for $7.  It was not quite as bountiful as the $11 version you find at a few other places, but the ingredients were fresh and this size was all a person needs and so the value was far greater considering $7 worth of good salad that you eat all of is way better than$11 dollars worth of salad that you over eat what you can and take home the rest only to have it too soggy to enjoy the next day.

The Hawaain Has been one of my go-to sandwiches forever. Now I know Darcy’s is the place to go to for my go-to. Like Beatles said, its way beyond compare.

McDonald’s price compares, but their quality and portions do not.

These chicken strips are phenomenal.They are so good that the word “strips” should be replaced in this case by “jewels”. Because if McDonalds can call their’s nuggets, these are priceless jewels by comparison. Like Darcy’s fish and onion rings, the chicken is hand battered, and a better batter is beyond imagination. Best of all, they are on a special happy hour menu in the lounge for only $5 , fries and all. When it comes to chicken at Darcy’s, I say better batter up.