This week's column header, "On the Road," is certainly appropriate as I returned Sunday night from a road-trip through Oregon. Some of the time was vacation, while four days were spent in Bend, Ore. attending our company's midyear meetings. Although the presentations at the meeting were interesting and informative I kept looking out the windows at the snow-capped mountains, green forests and raging rivers and many times in my heart I was out there climbing, rafting, biking or hiking.
Traveling back to a state I once called home, it was wonderful reminiscing about old times. I had the opportunity to visit several of my former homes and spend a lot of time with old friends, some of which aren't necessary old.
As I traveled around I did have a couple questions. Why does the price of a gallon of gas vary so much from state to state. Starting in Price at $2.06 a gallon, it was highest in Portland, Ore., where it topped off at $2.28, while in Boise, Idaho I pumped it for only $1.96 a gallon.
And I had forgot my frustration with drivers who insist on driving on the left side of the freeway. I remember my driver's education teacher constantly preaching to us over 30 years ago, that the left-hand lane on a four-lane freeway or highway is for passing only. There must be a lot of people who skipped that class or refuse to acknowledge that the right-hand lane is the driving lane, no matter what speed you are driving. It got to be such a bother that I considered making a sign to ask people to please get over and not hold up traffic by cruising down the left side 20 miles an hour slower than the posted speed limit.
Now that I have my gripes out of the way, the biggest highlight of my trip was dining at funky little restaurants in Portland, Ore. I spent three days there over Memorial weekend and although my friends and I did not initially intend on going to the out-of-the-way restaurants, we hit a couple the first day and then decided we would continue the trend the rest of the weekend. In most cases each eating establishment was not only out-of-the-way, but poorly marked (or didn't have a sign at all) and was often hard to find. In many cases it was even harder to find parking.
One place, miles from downtown, was called Laurelhurst and featured an incredible little band called the Kung Pao Chicken. We dined with the sounds of a fiddle, base guitar, and saxophone to music they called, French Jazz. The food was incredible for a small nightclub and the place was packed.
We had dessert and coffee one evening at an old Victorian House called Rinsky-Korsica Koffee, that didn't even have a sign in the front yard. The house has a reputation of being haunted and the decorations bordered on funky to weird as the men's bathroom resembled an underwater scene with fish and bubbles and treasurers strewn about. The weirdest part was the feet from a mannequin dangling from the ceiling. But guess what? The place was busy as a beehive and people of all ages seemed to be enjoying an evening of fine desserts and coffee.
Prior to the dessert we ate at a restaurant called the Montage, located under the Morrison Bridge, in the warehouse district. The closest housing development was a tent city, inhabited by hundreds of homeless people living in tents, a variety of cardboard boxes and blankets set up as their homes. Many of the people standing on the streets were tattooed and body pierced but as we drove up, the line to get in was around the corner and down the street. Incredibly strange art decorated the old building. The scenes looked like it had been finished by a staff from "trading spaces." But the food was incredible, service even better and prices very good for Portland. We dined on long tables, with new guests joining our group. Definitely different.
Rather than describe each of the other places, and there were at least six more, my whole thought around these incredibly interesting restaurants were there successes. They all served good food and provided good service, but these places were interesting, alive and had character. The atmosphere may have been a little weird and certainly strange from my standards and familiarity. But people were flocking to these for a number of reasons. So sometimes it's not location, location, location, or big, elaborate and expensive, enticing signs or appearances. The items on the menus were crossed out or even written over. But despite all this their business strategies are working.
It's refreshing to see successful businesses being different.