MCKENZIE BRIDGE, Oregon (STPNS) -- WALTERVILLE: Nine years ago a woman says a building in Walterville, “Just looked at me and said ‘Buy me.’” Apparently that’s happened again.
In 2005 the Log Cabin Inn Restaurant in McKenzie Bridge had been lost to a devastating fire. “Every time we wanted to go out to dinner we had to drive clear into town,” recalls Gena Lamere. “We needed a place that did good old fashioned home cooking and I said ‘Okay.’”
This year Heather Hernandez-Reja felt a similar impulse when she learned Aunt Ding’s Restaurant was available for sale - as she was sitting at a table having dinner with her husband and children. That caused her to follow Gena outside and make her case.
This wasn’t the first time someone had expressed an interest in buying the business. Gena said she’s been more interested in finding the right person rather than making a quick sale. Some people had approached her with plans to convert it into a pizza parlor or a Chinese eatery. Neither appealed to her. She feared they might fail in six months, causing her to have to come back and start over after the staff and customer base had both left. “It had to be the right person,” she says.
When the two women started talking, some common threads started to emerge. Heather had
been a frequent visitor to McKenzie River over the years, often visiting for the Fourth of July. “I loved Oregon. We’d visit family on Millican and I hated to leave,” she said.
A year and a half ago she and her husband bought a house in the Deerhorn area. Soon she was volunteering three days a week as a room mother for the first and second grades at the Walterville School. “The community is amazing,” Heather says. “That’s why we moved here. We live on a road that has 15 boys and they all go to the Walterville School. They can knock on a friend’s door - we don’t have to make a ‘play date.’”
That was the sort of community connection Gena said she was looking for. “Our customers are people you bond with. We’ve helped them get through hard times. After someone’s lost a spouse I’ve taken them to dinner or a movie. We’re all family out here. Aunt Ding’s was kind of a dream - to have a place people would enjoy and appreciate.”
Heather has an extensive resume that includes working as a marketing manager from London to Las Vegas - for firms like the Barbican Centre to Caesars Palace. In addition, she’s worked with her father, who owns four restaurants. Her brother and sister are restaurant owners as well.
Before deciding to sell, Gena decided to hire Heather as a manager for a month to see how both the staff and community reacted to her. That went well, she reports. Also helping make her choice to sell was, “When I saw the passion she had - an absolute desire for this business,” Gena adds.
There will be some changes - like a new name the “River Stop Restaurant and Sports Bar.” But Heather says the restaurant’s menu and service will remain the same. Her focus will be on building up other aspects of the business like the banquet room - starting with a New Year’s Eve party from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. with live musics by Heavy Chevy, a 5-piece band.
Gena says she’ll be moving closer to family near Sacramento. She’s already had job offers to work with either wounded warriors or the veteran’s hospital.
“To be perfectly honest,” Gena says, I believe everyone should have a dream and a right to realize it. I want to be part of that happening in Heather’s life.”
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