Archive for the ‘Spokane Valley Folks’ Category

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.

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

This is a story that I was so fortunate to get from Harold Buelow a few years ago. He made it to his 90 birthday, but that was his last. Remember as you read this that Harold was doing a job that on certain missions he only had a 50/50 chance of landing safely back where he started. It was as risky as it got.

We would not be enjoying our American lifestyle and freedom if not for men like Harold Buelow who put his life on the line, and gave up five years of his young adulthood to ensure that WWII was won by America and it’s allies. Many of us can remember Buelow’s Five and Dime in Opportunity, and the small, soft-spoken man who ran the store from1949 to 1976, but few know the debt we owe this courageous veteran pilot who volunteered to fly 33 missions more than his country asked of him.
Harold’s early life in Dubuque, Iowa was a bleak mixture of a family torn apart by alcoholism living in a nation struggling through the Great Depression. In 1925, at age 6, Harold went to live with an aunt after his mother left with one of his younger brothers. It would be 61 years before he and his two brothers left behind would find their long lost brother. They never saw their mother again. “ We never held it against my mother,” he said recently at his Valley home, “ She had it hard.”
Not having the resources after graduation in 1937 to go to college, Harold found work in a variety store and then moved to Milwaukee to work at a Woolworth’s. While there, he was drafted and found his way into pilot school. It turned out that he was a natural, surviving months of arduous training designed to weed out the ones who did not have the right stuff.
“I always had an inferiority complex because of my family splitting up,” he said, “ But once I got my wings, I thought, man, I’m just as good as anybody else.”
He handled his scariest test in training with flying colors. “You had to line up above these railroad tracks and drop nose first into a spin three times and come out in line with those tracks,” he said, “ Well, I did that alright. Flying takes a knack, and I just had it.”
Harold was shipped to Liverpool two months prior to the invasion of Normandy and so he did not participate. “ They did not let the new pilots go over there ,” he said, “which was fine by me, because I did not like the idea of flying across 28 miles of water.” But soon Harold’s division was in France supporting Patton’s troops as they ran the German’s out of the country.
“We shot everything that moved. We even wiped out any building that was big enough to hold a vehicle,” he said, explaining that he flew his P47 Thunderbolt fighter plane in a four man formation. The planes were used for dive bombing and strafing, each equipped with eight 50 caliber machine guns with 400 rounds apiece.
“If we saw a lone motorcycle messenger, we took the poor little guy out. It was awful,” he said, adding that after the war he never had any desire to go hunting.
At the beginning of the war, a pilot was only required to fly 35 missions. Later it was extended to 60. Upon reaching that mark, Harold recieved two weeks R & R in England and then chose to go back at it for another 33 missions. Harold, who was awarded several medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross, had reached the rank of Captain when the Germans surrendered. “ That put me out of a job,” he said, “ and I was glad to be out of a job.”

And so Harold left Europe and his fighter plane, which he had named “ Laura” after the girl he had fallen in love with two years before while training near Vancouver, Washington. Feeling as though he had pressed his luck in the air long enough, Harold left the service and chose not to go into airline piloting which many of his fellow fighter pilots did at that time. He chose instead to consummate his long distance romance and re-enter civilian life where he had left off.
“I called her as soon as I got back and I said ‘Hello, sweetheart,’ and she said ‘who is this?’ and I said ‘who in the hell else is calling you sweetheart these days besides me?” he said with a laugh. Harold had nothing to worry about. They were married 12 days later.
“She would often tease me that I got off with a cheap courtship because of free mail,” he said smiling, “but I would remind her that I I always sent my letters back to her Air Mail which cost 6 cents. I was a big spender!”
With the help of Laura’s parents, the newlyweds moved to the Spokane Valley in 1946
and bought a variety store from Gus Thue in the row of old brick buildings located on the southwest corner of Sprague and Pines. They called their new place Buelow’s Five and Dime.
It was a different world and a different Valley back then. At that time, life in Opportunity revolved around that row of stores. There were three grocery stores there, including an IGA store on the east end and the Rice’s had one further to the west next to their meat market. Marty’s Toyland, Halpin’s, Sig’s Tavern, a garden store, and the Post Office all did business side by side along with Mom’s Café, a favorite ice cream parlor.
Grandpa Peters worked as a young man there at Wade’s Electric before later opening Peter’s Hardware a few doors down. Directly north across the street was a lumberyard where another young man named Cecil Cleveland worked. Cecil would soon start his own business, Valley Bestway, which, like Peter’s, is still serving the Valley.
In a hall above the stores, The Odd Fellows Society was in it’s heyday, and the Rebecca club, a social group for women, held their meetings nearby. The township hall was at the end of the row where the Valley Museum is now located.
In the midst of all this commerce and social activity, Harold sold housewares, glasswares, sewing notions, greeting cards and lots of candy from his Five and Dime store, affording him a livelihood to raise five children. He estimates that prices have increased tenfold from 1956 when he expanded his store from a single 20’ store space to 40’. “I remember buying 1×12 pine for shelving at the lumberyard and just carrying it across the street,” he said, “It was Highway 20 back then.”
As progress came down the road, the big chains pushed mom and pop businesses like Buelow’s out of our lives and into our memories. Ernst and Pay N Save sprang up across the street where the old lumberyard had been. Skaggs loomed down at the corner of University and Sprague across the street from University Shopping Center. Their time, like Buelow’s and most of the rest at the old Opportunity shopping center, came and went.
But Harold is still with us at 89, living in the same home on Bates road that he bought for $23,000 in 1960. It is the home where they raised their family and where Laura, who passed away 2 years ago after 61 years of marriage, raised as many as 3,000 Irises at a time.
“You know she used to get after me in our later years when I would start talking about the war.,” he said. “She would say, ‘Now there you go again, going on and on. When you came back from the war, you wouldn’t talk about it at all.’ And I would say, ‘that’s because back then I just wanted to get on with my life, but now we are history.”
As taxes and gas prices nickel and dime us to death, we still need to count our blessings and thank God for Harold and the men of his generation who gave so much in order that we Americans could have a proud history and a bright future.

To find other profiles on Spokane Valley people, click here.

Yesterday was one of those weird mornings when all the day’s plans were swept away with the first peek out the window. I didn’t actually have to look past the rain-soaked window pane to see that I wouldn’t be doing the outdoor painting to which my morning had been committed. For some reason that caught me off guard yesterday. Disoriented, with an uncommitted morning on my hands, things only got weirder as Elaine towed me out for breakfast at the new Qdoba Mexican Grill, which had opened earlier Sunday night at midnight.
It was weird enough that Elaine would go to breakfast because, even though it is both the kids’ and my favorite meal out, if she has the choice between sleeping in or going out for breakfast, she is fast asleep. Beyond that,it would have been weird enough to have breakfast at a Mexican fast food joint that does not serve breakfast. But yesterday morning all of that weirdness wasn’t enough. It turns out that Qdoba Mexican Grill openings are turned into a media event. For this one they hired 92.9 FM to do a blitz campaign on it and they were capping it off with a live remote which Elaine had been listening to all during the hour plus that she takes to prepare herself each morning.
I first wondered what the heck was going on the day or two before when I saw people camping in tents in the parking lot out near the southwest corner of Pines and Mission. I figure it must have had something to do with Qdoba’s eminent opening but I was baffled why anyone would find that worthy of parking-lot camping. I was pretty sure they weren’t going to sell Justin Bieber concert tickets.
According to my kids who had been hearing about it on the radio, Qdoba was giving away something like a one-year free pass to the first hundred or so patrons that showed up. The details don’t matter, the point is that we were talking about it and so were the thousands of people who drive through that intersection each day and the thousands who listen to 92.9. I have no idea if it is cost-effective or not but I believe it did a very good job of letting everybody know that the new Qdoba here in the Valley is open for and means business.
I’m sure the hyped-up hoopla is a tried and true recipe that has opened hundreds of bustling Qdoba’s across America, as is everything else about the new Qdoba. Even though I was having dinner for breakfast because of the unusual circumstances,I actually found the pulled pork burrito with their special Mexican bbq sauce to be very good and plenty to eat. Elaine’s grilled steak and cheese quesadia was good enough that she had to finally shoo my darting fingers away from her plate as I attempted to go beyond a few taste-testing nibbles.
The thing that impressed me was the way they took the Subway format and applied it to burritos and tacos. I liked that I was able to build my burrito just the way I wanted, though I was surprised they didn’t nuke it at the end. I like my salsa mildly hot, not my burrito. Even so, it was tasty and the wrap was the softest, chewiest and lightest I had ever had. The thing that I was not impressed with was the price. Every item is in the $7 price range and so with a drink and tax you might as well figure $9 a head. That is stretching it a bit in this neck of the woods for a fast food dinner let alone a breakfast.
But I don’t think company headquarters wants us to look at Qdoba as a fast food joint. While the ingredients are fresh and the decor and in-store marketing is designed in New York, the food prep and seating are fast food. The same prep can be had at Subway and better seating can be had at the Argonne McDonald’s.
To sway our minds to place them a notch above and so pay their price, Qdoba uses the Big Bang theory at store openings and then works all the angles to keep the hype hot.
I know the ads do a pretty good job because I had thought Qdoba Mexican Grill was a restaurant based on the media that I never paid a lot of attention to. It appears to be company policy for individual stores to also manipulate the social networking media from the get go with Twitter and the rest. After being open just one day, the Valley Qdoba is right on track with more than 1,100 friends on their Facebook page.
While all these thoughts were forming a blog post in my mind, Elaine was paying attention to not one detail of the new place. I doubt she could remember what she ordered, especially since she just glanced at the menu and quickly told me to get her a quesadia as she bee-lined it to the table right in front of Dave, Ken and Molly doing their popular morning radio show right there live in the Qdoba dining room. There they were, as Dave would say, transformed through the miracle of radio technology from voices over the airwaves in our bathroom to live people just a few blocks away.
There sat her favorite celebrity in the whole world. Elaine loves Molly not because she is the world’s biggest radio personality, but because she has listened to her every morning for years as she gets prepared for the day. Molly is her kind of gal. If you ask Elaine to give you the first and last name of any other local radio host she could not. The only two whose first names she could give you would be Dave and Ken. Until yesterday in fact, she had always put Ken’s voice with Dave’s face on the billboards and vise versa.
That amazed her and she was glad to get things straight because she does appreciate the guys and loves the chemistry between all three of them. But then Elaine would like anyone that Molly Allen liked. Through the years I have been a casual listener and I like them a lot as a team, all equal. Be that as it may, none of them, individually or collectively, could have gotten me in there to eat a pork burrito for breakfast.
But there I was right beside Elaine, eating Mexican food for breakfast and taking in this once-in-a-life time event. For both of us it was it was a Kodak moment. Elaine wanted to preserve the moment when Molly came to our neighborhood for breakfast. I wanted the picture to remind Elaine that she really can go out for breakfast as long as she loves the company enough.
As for Qdoba I am sure they won’t miss Elaine for breakfast, especially since they don’t serve it.

Look us up on Facebook, we are quite a distant third behind Qdoba and Molly, who has 4400 some friends.