Joe Peak is still running the Enaville Resort – the Snakepit, as locals know it – along the Coeur d’Alene River north of Kellogg.
As he’s battled cancer and mourned the death of his wife earlier this year, the 66-year-old owner found a way to bring the legendary Silver Valley restaurant and bar back to a five-day-a-week operation this summer.
For now, he’s taking it day by day. The place is for sale and he’d like to retire and tend to his health, but Peak keeps going for the sake of his loyal customers.
“You know, it’s a young man’s game,” he said. “We just need someone in here who’s got a little more pep and energy and is willing to put their lives into this place. We gave till we can’t give anymore.”
Rose Mary Peak, who helped him run the place for 35 years, died of endometrial cancer in January. After that, it wasn’t clear if Joe Peak would ever fully reopen the Snakepit, which had shrunk to Thursday afternoon bar service to preserve its liquor license.
But right before Easter he opened it again Friday through Sunday. Come Mother’s Day he added Thursday back to the schedule, and by Memorial Day the place was open Monday as well.
“We kind of opened it like an inchworm,” Peak said. “We basically built it up to where I felt comfortable with the staff that I had and the help I could get.”
Summer business was brisk, with river rafters, fishermen and huckleberry pickers streaming in for the Snakepit’s signature potato nachos, burgers and barbecue, Rocky Mountain oysters and Friday night seafood buffet.
And September typically is a busy month for the restaurant as well, with bow hunters and traveling retirees providing another bump in business.
But Peak said he’ll re-evaluate the schedule again headed into the fall.
“We might ramp back a little bit. I’m not sure yet. Nothing’s in concrete,” he said.
Peak was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood disease similar to leukemia, nearly six years ago. In February 2011 he had a stem-cell transplant. The illness continues to take a toll, leaving him fatigued and struggling with an array of symptoms.
The exhausting work and late nights at the Snakepit don’t help. “It’s just too much for me. I mean, I probably shouldn’t be working,” he said.
The Peaks were the fifth owners to take the helm of the Snakepit, which opened in 1880. Now Joe Peak is hoping to find the sixth generation to carry on the tradition.
“We’ve had a few bites, but right now the economy isn’t real good for buying,” he said. “There’s not a lot of money out there.”
Yet he wants to keep the place open, which Peak believes improves the likelihood of a sale. “It needs people in it. It needs to be vibrant.”
The customers are grateful for every day the sign says open.
“We’ll just keep doing what we can do until we find a person we feel is right for the place and there’s a good fit, and kind of go from there,” Peak said.
“The public loves us to be open, and we’re open.”