Jul 23, 2012
July 23, 2012
For all of our friends outside of Bend or not able to see the paper today. Here is a copy of the article ran in the Sunday paper.
Bend diner owners give back
Lyle and Judy Hicks have created a 'community center' in Jake's Diner
By Heidi Hagemeier / The Bulletin
Published: July 22. 2012 4:00AM PST
more photos | order photo Andy Tullis / The Bulletin
Lyle and Judy Hicks, who bought and relocated Jake's Diner about seven years ago, are well-known for caring for their customers and helping the community.
Standing behind the old truck stop counter Monday morning in one of his signature Hawaiian shirts, Lyle Hicks prepared for one of his favorite moments of the week.
Dozens of veterans in patriotic T-shirts and ball caps began streaming into Hicks' restaurant, Jake's Diner on Bend's east side. They joked around, drank bottomless cups of coffee and ate breakfast. Then the mood became serious: After the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, the nearly 85 vets faced the American flag on a pole in the center of the diner, stood in military salute and thundered “God bless America!”
“It sends shivers down my spine,” Lyle said. “This, in my mind, is the heart of Jake's.”
Members of the veterans group, called the Bend Band of Brothers, say it never would have grown to its present size of about 750 without the support of Lyle and his wife, Judy. The couple welcomed the group when others didn't. They now block off most of the restaurant for the meeting — it can only include roughly 100 due to fire codes — and provide the food at cost.
Friends say it's typical for the Hickses. From giving to veterans causes to helping the homeless, the couple have made their business into much more than a restaurant; it's a community center, and the people who come through its doors are like family.
“Mr. Lyle and Judy Hicks have done such a good job taking care of the community and doing things for the community,” said Zin Watford, president of the Bend Band of Brothers. “Everybody loves them.”
Other groups have found a home at Jake's. Bible study meetings, the local Ford Model A club, the local ham radio club and others come every week for dinner plate-sized cinnamon rolls, four-egg omelettes and heaps of hospitality.
Throughout the year, the diner's calendar is filled with charitable events. Monday night poker brings in donations for Habitat for Humanity. A Fourth of July barbecue benefits the Vietnam Veterans of America. On Thanksgiving, Jake's prepares a full dinner for seniors.
Less obvious efforts include the winter clothing and gear drive. Jake's Diner brings roughly two boxes a week of supplies to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, which helps homeless veterans. The Hickses also regularly extend a hand to individuals down on their luck.
“They have a lot of concern and caring for those who are less fortunate,” said Chuck Hemingway, COVO's executive director. “A lot of their efforts are done very quietly with no expectation of recognition or reward.”
The Hickses say this is just how they believe business should be done. Giving back is part of a commitment to their Christian faith and their community.
“They've supported me,” Lyle said, “so I give back.”
Starting at Jake's
Lyle, 59, believed his future lay beyond Central Oregon while growing up in Gilchrist.
He left to join the Navy in 1971 and while stationed in San Diego met Judy, now 58, an Australian making a California stop on a worldwide trip. The first meeting, a blind date, could easily have been their last.
“On the second date he invited me to a concert I wanted to see,” Judy said. “So I went, and I liked him this time.”
Judy continued on her journey, but the two courted through letters for a year. She returned to the U.S. on a visa and the two married. They moved to Australia for three years and had two of their three children there. Then they returned to the U.S. in 1980.
But jobs had dried up in early 1980s California. Uncertain what to do next, Hicks brought his family north to Oregon.
He started classes at Central Oregon Community College and sought any type of job on the side to keep the family afloat. Jake's Diner and Truck Stop in south Bend, which at the time served the highway traffic that rumbled down Third Street, was willing to accommodate his class schedule.
The couple that owned the business, Jake and Virginia Wolfe, quickly learned Lyle was studying accounting and had other skills. They added responsibilities to his plate until he became the diner's manager. He stayed for 23 years.
Then a decade ago, rising fuel prices, the advent of the Parkway diverting traffic from Third Street and other pressures began making Jake's less profitable. In 2004, the family announced it would shut the business down and sell the land.
“We had no idea what we were going to do,” Lyle said. “I thought, 'Man, I'm 50 years old.' ”
Friends urged him to go out on his own. Needing to come up with the money within a matter of weeks, the Hickses put their house and savings behind the effort. Then they had to find a location and move within months.
The only building they could afford, obscured behind a car dealership, had housed a string of failed restaurants.
“I said, 'Why would you want to go there? That's the worst location in town,' ” Lyle recalled. “Everyone gave us six months at most.”
Lyle remembers the transition as a time of anxiety. Friends pitched in to crunch numbers, assist with renovations and move equipment to the new locale. Some contractors refused to be paid, saying they would wait for the business to turn a profit.
The new Jake's opened on an afternoon in April 2005. Lyle and Judy couldn't believe it as the seats filled up.
“At 5:30, that restaurant was full just by word of mouth,” Lyle said. “It stayed strong until the bills got paid. This is a story of redemption; we just were on the ride.”
'A great heart'
As the Hickses sat down for a bite after the lunch rush recently — he tackled a salad, she a couple of small tacos — a waitress stopped by the table.
“There are two new tables here,” she informed them, the cue to at some point stop by to say hi.
Word of mouth remains important at Jake's.
“We're off the beaten path, so if they come by, somebody told them about us,” Lyle said.
If they return a few times, Lyle and Judy will soon greet them by name. The duo have met many of their closest friends at the restaurant.
That's what happened to Wayne “Speedy” Morgan, a Sunriver resident who started dropping by the diner years ago. He is vice president of the High Desert A's, a Ford Model A club.
Club members felt like a nuisance at the establishment where they had been meeting. So Morgan suggested Jake's Diner.
“We found a home there, and it ended up that Lyle would join us for breakfast,” Morgan said. “Soon he bought a Model A pickup and joined our club.”
The friendship extends beyond the diner doors. When Morgan received a hip replacement several years ago, Lyle visited him every day in the hospital.
Longtime friend Frank Patka, who met the Hickses through church in the late 1980s, said Lyle shows empathy to nearly everyone. Lyle will talk with other vets about what they had experienced in wars or share his life through his blog, which he posts on the Jake's Diner website. They range from details of vacations to struggles with his health.
“He does take on the cares of the world,” Patka said. “The good thing is he does something about it. He's a guy who puts action to his concerns.”
Patka also knows the Hickses as people who like to have fun. Judy, although quieter, jokes with patrons.
Lyle, Patka said, is a walking jukebox with a baritone voice. The two used to surprise friends on their anniversaries: They would arrive unannounced and sing something they wrote especially for the couple, Patka playing guitar.
“He's always had a great heart,” Patka said. “I didn't know he had so much to give to the community until he opened his own business.”
Honored as heroes
Since 2005, Jake's has been the scene of family celebrations and funeral services. Photos of stars or musical acts that have passed through line the walls.
A wedding between one of the Band of Brothers and a woman who volunteered to serve them coffee happened not long ago. “They got married right there in front of the coffee pot,” Judy said.
Jake's Diner has been recognized a number of times now by organizations for its community efforts, most recently in March by the Oregon Mountain River Chapter of the American Red Cross at its annual Heroes' Breakfast.
They've been struck by what just a bit of effort can accomplish. For instance, a weekly Hold 'Em for Habitat poker night that requests $5 donations has raised about $35,000 for Habitat for Humanity since 2006.
Their reputation for good deeds is now as much a part of the establishment as the food. Lyle said customers will regularly hand him cash to put toward one of his efforts.
“Where that gets me is that they trust me,” he said.
Not that the restaurant life is always smooth. It has long hours, and the Hickses do hope at some point to retire and potentially turn the diner over to one of their sons who works at the diner. All of their children live in Bend, and Lyle and Judy have one grandchild.
“Every once in awhile on a Sunday, when it's so busy,” Judy said, “I sometimes turn to him and say, 'We should have owned a flower shop.' ”
But the Hickses say that right now, they're supposed to be running Jake's.
“I didn't understand what it was going to end up being,” Lyle said, “but it ended up being so much more than a business.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7828, firstname.lastname@example.org