A Diner’s Best Friend Spokane Restaurateur Helps Preserve City’s History And Character By Buying, Restoring Neighborhood Eateries
Dollar pancakes slide across the table at Pat’s place - butter-melting, syrup-soaking hot. Coffee’s hot; the hot chocolate is hot.
Never eaten at Pat’s, you say?
Don’t be so sure.
If you’ve eaten at Arny’s, Frank’s Diner, the Top Notch Cafe or either of Hogan’s Hamburgers, you have. If you’ve seen the Milk Bottle, Knight’s or Dolly’s, you’ve seen his influence. If you’ve walked through a door and thought, “Jeez, Dad would love this” - bingo, that’s the place.
Pat Jeppesen is not the king of the diners, but he is the best friend they ever had.
For the last eight years, the restaurant owner quietly has been preserving Spokane’s history and character through its humblest restaurants. He owns and operates five diners and has invested in or helped design three others.
Where vacant lots and worn-out eateries stood, now sit a historic railcar, an old-time fountain, corner cafes with character. They’re where cops come in alongside “ladies who lunch,” where the hash browns always come with gravy.
“A restaurant has to have a personality,” says Jeppesen, 54. “It can’t just be a row of chairs.”
He remembers the first diner meal he ever ate: Nov. 19, 1949 - the day Knight’s Diner opened on Division. He was 8 and ran straight home to report the deal of his life: dollar hot cakes for 35 cents!
Jeppesen’s images of an earlier Spokane are like a slow dance before a jukebox: sweet, so sweet.
There were trips to the Triple X drive-in and Baker’s Beacon, a swing downtown with a friend after finishing Sunday paper routes for breaded veal cutlets, pinball and a couple of Swisher Sweets.
“We were quite the downtown tycoons, two 10-year-olds with $2 to $3 of hard cash in our pockets.”
And his memories are even older than he is. With an encyclopedic knowledge of local restaurant history, Jeppesen speaks of a city that roared in the Roaring ‘20s, eateries brimming with people and personality. From Nims downtown to the Italian Gardens in the Davenport Hotel - serving 3,500 meals a day, the busiest restaurant in the world.
Then came the Depression, World War II, and it was never the same again.
“There was a contempt for anything old after the war,” he said. Buildings were abandoned and furnishings were tossed. “There was no evaluation of whether it was quality if it could be replaced by those frightening words: nice and new.”
Architecturally distinct theaters such as the Rex, the Empress, the Orpheum, the Grenada, the Liberty and the Post were torn down. Hotels were closed and dismantled. Who remembers?
Jeppesen does. He long has used salvaged items extensively in his other designs, and his diners are mini-archives of neighborhood history.
The youngest child of Louise and Walt Jeppesen, he graduated from Rogers High School, was drafted and served in Germany, where he honed an appreciation for fine food and quality furnishings.
Jeppesen was importing antiques 22 years ago when Larry Brown, owner of the Onion restaurants, agreed to rent him the back room downtown to show antiques. Brown, struggling with remodeling the former Union bar into the downtown Onion, watched stupefied as Jeppesen refurbished the room beautifully, sold all his antiques and was gone in 31 days.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It went from a junk room to what looked like the Ritz. I looked at what he could do and said, ‘This is the guy to help me,”’ Brown said.
Since creating the warm turn-of-the-century look of the Onion, Jeppesen has designed interiors from the Jameson in Wallace to Luna on Spokane’s South Side to a super convenience store that includes a 1929 Oakland.
But he owns diners.
Creating everything from their unique decors to their menus to their recipes, Jeppesen opened Arny’s, where grandparents in the Gonzaga University district can take 4-year-olds for hard ice cream shakes. Frank’s Diner, once the Northern Pacific railroad president’s private car, nestles next to train tracks near Browne’s Addition.
His mother, Louise, 84, goes with friends for the bread pudding with lots of whipped cream. She likes it and should - it’s her recipe. Many of the recipes at Jeppesen’s places are.
When he bought the fading Top Notch on North Monroe, “I wasn’t looking for more restaurants, but the Top Notch had to be saved,” he said. Today, the 1931 cafe gleams with historic photos and bird’s-eye maple woodwork, Spokane’s only representation of that exquisite 1930s style.
“Pat’s biggest contribution to the city of Spokane are these wonderful oases that were once vacant lots or run-down restaurants,” said Jerry McGinn, who grew up near Arny’s and now operates the Kinko’s copy shop nearby.
McGinn remembers eating strombolis when Ray Martire had the previous place - and strombolis are still on Arny’s menu. Arny’s sign might look familiar, too: It sat atop Arnold’s restaurant and motel on North Divison. Jeppesen bought it, but as it was 4 feet too long for the building, he happily abbreviated it.
“He can look at an old handrail and see the hands that were on it for 75 years,” Brown says. “Pat’s idea of beauty includes a thing’s past use.”
Jeppesen, who recently sold the Dolly’s Corner Cafe property to owner Desi Olsness, helped her in a long search for information on the original Dolly Mueller, whose photos and memorabilia now hang on the walls.
It was a lifelong dream for Olsness. But it often is just a day-brightener: for old-timers who point to their own cars in photos, for newcomers who can savor what Spokane once was - and, in some places, still is.
Says Jeppesen: “If you lose your history as a city, if you throw away your history, you’ve lost your soul.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo