Aug 18, 2007
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The bulletin wrote an article on the up and coming movie but they placed it on their pay per view part of their website. I am posting it here so that relatives and friends of mine from outside of the area are allowed to read it. I am very grateful to David Jasper of the Bulletin for his writing of this article.
Documentary chronicles a slice of old Bend
By David Jasper / The Bulletin
San Francisco filmmaker Shelly Roby made "Jake&'s Truck Stop," a documentary about the longtime Bend truck stop and the fight to save Jake's Diner.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin
Jake’s Diner survived the 2004 closure of Jake’s Truck Stop in south Bend. In early 2005, it moved to its present location, shown here.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin
Lyle Hicks, 54, stands outside the current home of Jake’s Diner. Hicks managed Jake’s Diner for 23 years before taking over as owner in 2004.
Patrons of the old Jake’s Diner can be seen in
“Jake’s Truck Stop,” a new documentary about the Bend landmark. The film screens Thursday at McMenamins Old St. Francis School.
Start of Article:
Back in 2004, when long-haul rigs still rumbled through the Jake’s Truck Stop parking lot and owner Kim Wolfe had not yet announced the sale of the property, Shelly Roby applied for a waitressing job at Jake’s Diner.
Manager Lyle Hicks saw her résumé, and her heavy background in television production for the likes of MTV and Oprah.
“Are you trying to Punk me?” he wanted to know.
Funny he should ask. Roby wanted to film something, just not for the MTV prank show “Punk’d.”
Roby had come to Bend from the Bay Area to be among friends and take time off from television and demanding 12-hour workdays. Her dream was to move into filmmaking, not to wait tables at the truck stop, although truck stops had long intrigued her.
What Roby really wanted to do was make a documentary about a day-in-the-life of a truck stop.
“As soon as I found Jake’s, I could not help but do a story on the place. When I meet interesting and inspiring people — like the individuals at Jake’s, or find a unique place like Jake’s — it lights me up inside, knowing I need to capture their stories and share them with the rest of the world.”
She received a green light for the project from Hicks and Wolfe. When not at the sales job she took at KTVZ, she worked on her slice-of-life film.
A few months later, in September 2004, Wolfe announced the sale of the property. In short order, Hicks vowed to save the diner, and the jobs of its staff.
Roby soon returned to her one-woman film project and ended up with a documentary completely different from her original vision: “Jake’s Truck Stop,” screening Thursday at McMenamins (see “If You Go”), is a film about a dying institution and the slow erasing of old Bend.
Roby’s film offers footage of trucks trundling at night through lonely parking lots, and monologues of bearded drivers who feel like society’s black sheep. There are heartbroken employees wondering aloud about what they’ll do next as they prepare for the inevitable closure.
In short, her film captures the death throes of the truck stop in all its ragged glory.
But it is also the galvanizing story of Hicks, his loyal crew and their ardent efforts to save the diner.
As one of the blocks of white text that pop up now and then in the hour-long film reads, “This is a story about loss and the human will to go on.”
End of an era
For years, long-haul truckers in need of diesel fuel, and hungry locals in need of a brawny burger and a mound of chili cheese fries, pulled off South Highway 97 for a refill at Jake’s Truck Stop and Jake’s Diner. Hicks says the truck stop dated back to the 1930s, and operated under a few different names, the last of which was Bob’s. It became Jake’s in the mid-’70s.
Business boomed in the 1990s, but began to decline in the early ’00s with the opening of the Bend Parkway, diverting truck traffic away from Business 97.
Another factor, says Hicks: High gas prices in general and demands by large trucking organizations for cut-rate fuel prices — arrangements that larger truck-stop chains could accommodate — also siphoned off sales profits.
The truck stop portion of Jake’s closed in October 2004. The diner held out for six more months in that space, then moved to the east side of Bend.
Today, you can drive by the fenced-off property that was Jake’s and never know it — or its 80 employees — had been there.
The six-acre facility, which stood for three decades as Bend grew up around it, was demolished in the fall of 2005. A large sign on the chain-link fence at the corner of Highway 97 and Badger Road advertises the future: Pioneer Crossing, with its retail space for lease.
‘A lot of drama’
That the restaurant continues in its new home off U.S. Highway 20 today, with much of the same staff and customer base intact, is largely due to Lyle Hicks. Hicks managed Jake’s Diner for 23 years before the sale of the property was announced in 2004.
Hicks had to decide if and how he would become the diner’s owner.
“I had four weeks to decide whether I could do it, how I was going to do it, and then make the decision. The actual decision to make the change and buy the restaurant was made a little over a week before the actual closing of the restaurant,” he says. “If you open a restaurant and six months later you close it down, you lose more than you put into it.
“I knew everything we had was going to be on the line.” He went home to his wife, Judy, and said, “Do we do this or not?”
“She didn’t even hesitate … she said, ‘Do it.’ Because she believed in me.”
A friend who helped him crunch numbers told him, “If you don’t do this, you’re going to regret it the rest of your life.”
In an arrangement with the original location’s new owners, he signed a six-month lease, and survived a tough drop-off in customers who mistakenly believed Jake’s Diner had also closed. “We were going to go down fighting,” he says.
There had already been “a lot of drama,” when it became apparent he was going to move the business at the end of the lease.
The only place he could find that was the right fit, and that he could afford, was, in his words, “the worst location in town.” The space is obscured somewhat by a car lot and is set across Purcell Boulevard from Costco. Before Jake’s called it home, the spot had been host — or perhaps parasite — to a quick succession of failed restaurants.
Seated on the deck of his restaurant recently, Hicks reminisced about the dubious move. What he remembered from the business classes he took 25 years ago at Central Oregon Community College was the importance of “‘location, location, location,’” he said. “It went against all of that.”
Still, he leased the spot, and a cavalry from his church arrived in pick-up trucks to help him move the diner in April 2005. Others dedicated their free time to helping Hicks refurbish the place, and would accept payment only when Jake’s became profitable in its new home.
The restaurant was immediately full when it opened on tax day in 2005.
“Now that it is developed, and people know it is here, we have customers all the time from out of town” who find their way to the restaurant, Hicks says. Truckers, as many as six at a time, have found their way to the diner for a slice of history and pie.
“Ninety-nine percent of people that come in here really, really are happy. There are still a few who come in and say, ‘I miss the old place.’ And I totally understand that.”
“But as (Judy) told me when we moved over here, it’s just time for us to move on. And this is our home. The more they’re here, the more they get used to it, too. I hear it less than I used to hear it. When I first moved over here, I heard it a lot, ‘Oh, I miss the old place.’ Especially when they were tearing down the old place. That devastated everybody.”
Earlier this week, Jake’s was full of customers, some eating a late breakfast, others arriving for lunch.
Seated next to a tray of cinnamon rolls bigger than a human face, Jim Brumfield, the restaurant’s chef, was eating the daily special during his lunch break, and told of how truckers used to get the cinnamon rolls to go, “and they’d munch on those for the next thousand miles. They wanted something they didn’t have to stop and get again. So that’s why everything’s a little larger.”
Obviously, Brumfield worked at the old Jake’s. He says the place is just “down my alley. It’s down-home. I’ve not worked for any better boss.”
He and Hicks agree on giving back to the community, doing things like hosting a poker night for Habitat for Humanity, and an annual low-cost Thanksgiving dinner for the elderly. The latter is something Brumfield had done when he had a restaurant of his own in California.
“You want to do things heart-happy,” says Brumfield. “It’s a sad situation when you see a place close. The worst part was when you saw how there was so much life in the (old) building. For so many years that place was a happening place.”
He didn’t know what would happen in the new location, but “it just took off. There was such community support. It was phenomenal.”
In what seems to be Hicks’ patented style, he is self-effacing about the success. The community is what saved the restaurant, he says, “that wasn’t me.”
He also credits his family, friends and longtime supporters of Jake’s for getting him to go through with the scary proposition of taking over the business that had supported his family of five.
“It’s impossible. No way could I have done it without those kinds of people. No way could I have done it without the community support, because I would have gone under very fast.”
“I don’t know as I could have done anything different,” he says. “How do I put this? I almost feel like I was guided by something higher than me. I am a man of faith, and I do believe in God. I took a ride. All I did was answer questions every day and work every day and survive.”
Hicks has seen Roby’s documentary, and says it’s weird to see himself on film, “It’s also in certain ways kind of humbling.”
There are moments in the film that he can not remember, due to the stress that he was under at the time.
Hicks says that in the process, Roby became “one of my biggest encouragers. She was constantly telling me, ‘I know you can do it.’”
Roby, who will soon enter film school at San Francisco State University, says she is interested in real-life storytelling, and there’s something palpably real about truck stops.
“I love real people, real stories, and I feel like truck stops, the people there are so real. Some of them are working two jobs, single mom, three kids. The truckers that come in are just trying to make a living. They’re just so American to me.”
Roby has no immediate plans to enter “Jake’s Truck Stop” in film festivals. She may base her decision in part on how it’s received Thursday at McMenamins. Her decision to donate the ticket sale proceeds to Bend-La Pine Schools’ art programs was inspired by Hicks’ own giving to the community.
Whatever happens with the film, says Hicks, “it’s tremendous to have it happen. And it’s just another part of the ride, if you know what I mean.”