I had just returned to Oregon from Nashville after having spent several decades in the music recording industry there and in Los Angeles.
One day, I went over to my mothers house in the small unincorporated town of Lancaster, Oregon for a visit.
When I pulled up in the driveway I noticed my cousins car was there - my thought, "oh, my cousin is here visiting from Medford" I found her sitting with my mother having beers on her patio.
I immediately noticed she had brought a friend with her. A totally beautiful (not my cousin) babe, was sitting on my moms patio, what are the odds !! (I was very single at the time)
Little did I know this friend of hers would be in my life for fifteen years from that day to present. And become equal share business partners with me and have our beautiful daughter Alexa, who is now 13. I was also fortunate to inherit two other children that came with Kim. Nick now 26 and Ashley now 30, both live in Portland and are like my own.
The concept of The JUNKYARD began to take shape after our daughter Alexa was born. I knew that music was out of the question for the time being. Kim was a manager of a quite large bar and grill in Portland and later moved back to Medford to open a new restaurant with long time friends. She mentioned that she would like to have her own little place someday. That triggered some serious thought in me.
I had no idea what it took to run any type of restaurant and I was certainly no chef to speak of either, but I could learn from Kim. She started in her moms restaurants when she was eight, what could go wrong . . . . . . . . .
I remembered back when I lived in New York City, that the Sausages, Hot Dogs, Italian Food, and Pizza seemed to possess a magic that was not present on the West Coast menus.
Kim and I had discussed opening a drive-thru, exotic, burrito place or something like that, but decided that the best thing to consider was a Drive Thru, Walk-Up, dog, sausage place and import the dogs and sausages from the East coast. I borrowed a few bucks from my family and bought a custom built race trailer from a guy down the street that collected cool toys but never used any of them "go figure".
Anyway, I talked him into selling this trailer to us cheap and pulled it over to my mothers shop and Kim and I got busy. We took out all the cool equipment and sadly sold it all. Winches, Inverters, Top Hydraulics, Generators, etc. We then gutted the whole interior, replacing the wood paneling with White ,Slick Board and installed Service Windows.
Kim and I worked on that trailer day and night until it was outfitted and painted bright red with our logo we had designed on the side. It was really something when it was done. It was equipped with a giant hot dog roller grill, a sandwich prep table, a Sunbeam grill and a Presto Fryer we purchased from our local BI-Mart. Okay now what. We were running out of cash fast and had no location that made any sense.
This brings us to the the next segment in our story.
My mothers father bought the little town of Lancaster, Oregon - now Population 30, back in 1942 and now she is the owner. She suggested; "why don't you just start here"
We were concerned that we would not be able to withstand a location out in the middle of nowhere, Lancaster being halfway between Eugene and Corvallis, surrounded by large farms on highway 99 (a literal raceway going by out front), where cars speed by and pass us in the blink of an eye. . . . . . We had sampled many dogs, sausages and designed cool toppings with our older daughter Ashley and gave each a name. The project took one year to complete. We weren't going to open a Hot Dog stand we were going to open "THEE" Hot Dog stand with hand tossed buns, that had a shot at growth.
Junkyard Dogs was born.
May 18, 2006, we pulled our little trailer on to Lancaster proper, decorated the outside landscape with gardens and old car junk and set out tables and umbrellas on the walkup side and put a Drive-Thru sign on the other side, then turned on the "OPEN" sign. We were slammed in ten minutes with cars lined down Noraton Road.
We pulled the day off with help from a cart pioneer named Pappa Joe, out of Portland who showed up unexpectantly .The first day, our "super duper Hot Dog roller" was acting up and ejecting Hot Dogs literally in to the air - all over the place. Joe stood in back and was quickly catching them as they were launched airborne with one hand and was peeling onions with the other. Quite a sight to see.
Pappa Joe was also our meat supplier. We would meet him on I-5 between our location at Lancaster and Portland, about 60 miles for each of us and take delivery of his special brand of dogs and sausages. It looked like a scene out of Midnight Run every time we met for supplies.
Not very conventional but it would work for the time being. Our hours of operation were 11 to 7 six days a week. If Kim and I had any common sense we would have put out the "CLOSED" sign and sold the trailer. But we didn't. Now, our daughter Alexa was 4, so we set her up on the floor in the corner and had a little TV that played Barney shows and she played with educational toys we had there for her.
It would be dark out and she would be asleep in her jammies surrounded, in blankets, while I was cooking up some rocking dogs and sausages. All the while Kim was taking orders and helping me top.
It wasn't easy and I would not recommend starting any business like this. I wouldn't throw it in the," oh god why me" range, but it was pretty close. I questioned myself many times . . . . . .
When we opened the trailer we had no money at all, until the end of the day, we were all in. After a couple of years we were doing okay, but barely . . . . . . . Winters, were very, very rough to get through, but we persevered.
Our location, with the total lack of population and our groovy but unprofessional look was taking us down. It would be imperative to strengthen our menu, thus came the burgers. The burgers went into high octane design mode and the ideas kept coming, we started with just one. We had NO capital to advertise, so it was a slow burn to let the people know we had evolved.
Every day, at least 4 times a day someone would say, "I've been by here thousands of times and never stopped" After dealing with this day after day and losing hundreds of dollars a day to the Winter rain and cold . . . . . . . the worst thing that could happen, happened.
In year 6, the Lane County Building & Planning Department shut us down. A snoopy neighbor across highway 99 that was a little put out at our minor success, had called them to report "an illegal building" in Lancaster. "Live and learn".
The lean-to, we had just finished with a several thousand dollar remodel would never be seen by the public. The county officials were more than happy to deem it "unsafe " It was a funky and cool little space. Out of every cloud there is a silver lining.
So, we borrowed some money from a very dear friend and closed The JUNKYARD to build a dining room.
By the time the project was finished we were totally one hundred percent BROKE . . . . . again. While we were in the middle of our build out, people would drive up, get out, walk thru the saw horses and the contractors and try to order from a non operational kitchen.
I then realized that some people would eat at The JUNKYARD if it was being hauled out of the trunk of a rusty old car . . . . . but others would not.
At that moment Kim and I also realized that we had a sizable fan base following. We had no bad reviews, only Raves - in the newspapers and on-line, which is hard to do in this biz. We felt we had a chance to reinvent ourselves from a seemingly seedy roadside attraction to become a contender, in the game of different.
We went to work on design and filled the 20x20 dining room with themed shabby chic junk, art, antique collectables and just downright weird stuff - all clean, re-finished and "very cool". Upon reopening we introduced our new designer burger line and fried cheeses Then pumped up our brats, dogs and fries menu too..
We then rebranded ourselves to the new name of; JUNKYARD Extreme Burgers & Brats.
We were coming to the end of a successful Summer season and were praying we could sustain it over the Winter, with a closed patio. We did okay but still needed to be better.
It was June 2014 when my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the Chicago number. That was the day that would change everything . . . . . . .
ANSWERING: "This is Craig"
SHE SPOKE: Hi, this is Bianca from Triple D Productions. I froze thinking one of my buddies was hoaxing us having some gal call me to jerk my chain, knowing I watch and love the show and would die to be on it. As she talked I google searched her name and sure enough there she was an Associate Producer and Restaurant Screener for Guy Fieri's hit television series DINER'S, DRIVE-IN's & DIVE'S !!! on the Food Network.
Since the first day we opened we have heard hundreds of our die hard patrons, you know the kind - would rave about this TV show they watch and love. They just selflessly want the place THEY discovered to be in the game. They'd say; "You are perfect for Diners Drive-Ins & Dives" !!! They'd eat, take off, go home or back to work and email Triple D Productions about us and send them pictures too. ALL this, ultimately became an overload at Triple D Productions, Chicago asking "who the hell are these guy's", so they started investigating us.
Kim and i always dreamed of this moment but you get into the mindset after 8 years moments like these just happen to other people, other places, not in Lancaster, Oregon, population 30 (of which, we are 3 !!!). We don't butcher our own hogs and cattle on location, make our own sausages, dogs, grind our own burger. Grandpa is not out in the field mining salt, growing our own produce and pulling the livers out of geese. But we do" bring it" across the board in quality. Just because you make something by scratch does not always make it better.
We don't smoke hundred pound pork butts for 3 weeks either but we sometimes smell like we do . . . . We don't make our own ketchup, mustards, mayo, churn butter etc, etc, etc. I always wondered how they could keep up in a fast paced environment and God help you if you run out of something. Our thing is to deliver the best gourmet condiments, toppings and meats available anywhere.
Bianca explained to me that they had hundreds and hundreds of JUNKYARD fans write in as well as myself. I sent them a request to take a look at us 2 years earlier. She explained that they have never in there 7 years done a segment on anyone like us. She explained that we were doing things no one has done before. And doing it, in the middle of "Nowhere."
On this day . . . . . . . . our location became solid Gold for us.
She said they were looking at hundreds of applicants in the Oregon area and we would need to be selected. I could have thought right there that this was not going to happen. Instead I welcomed the competition, it was on. LET'S ROCK !!!
I hung up the phone and turned to Kim and said; "Kim, you ARE NOT going to believe who that was on the phone" she said; "who was it" I said: "Kim, you ARE NOT going to believe who that was on the phone"
Then I told her. She was stunned and about fainted, then went nuts. I called my mom and she started crying and my little girl wanted to know if Guy Fieri knew Emblem 3 and could get her backstage passes ? I explained before the champagne was uncorked that we would have to compete. I also explained that we will win our spot at the Guy table. In fact I promised my family that we would deliver and WE DID !!
We spent hours on phone interviews. They wanted 11 items to consider. It was time to bring the big guns out. Our 3 1/2 pound-BIG BLOCK with bacon, melded cheese skirt and their first look at grill fried cheese crust pizza EVER, one of my greatest creations.
Out of our whole list she said Guy was blown away by the innovative things we were doing with cheese. They were interested in our entire menu and wanted to shoot it all, but sure enough they picked our 2 big guns. We kept these 2 Menu items off the menu because of our nice, but limited kitchen and equipment. We also were waiting for our flagship restaurant to star them in. We were not a place that used a million ingredients just to make BBQ sauce. So we had to rely on . . . different.
We waited in limbo to hear our fate for two weeks. Basically, FOREVER !!!
Then THE CALL came.
It was Bianca. "Congratulations Craig, your in" !! Suddenly, all the blood, sweat, tears and gut wrenching, under funded, under staffed, repeatedly broke, crying, cold slow WInters, 80+ hour work weeks, all seemed worth it. 8 very long years flashed through my mind, I have to admit it choked me up a little . . . . . .
I broke the news to Kim. She went crazy on it all, right off the git go and we all went in to high gear, to say the least. Our 2 lead Crew Members Harley and Randee did a great job for us and never once doubted we would make the cut.
We talked with producers and crew and a went through a itinerary that was as sophisticated as the US tax code.
We could not broadcast that we were going to be on the show to any media, because they didn't want a Guy mob during the shooting. We had just two weeks to prepare for their arrival. Panic set in immediately. How will we put all this together for a TV series shoot to be shown worldwide?
Two weeks later, The entire production team rolled in to Lancaster.
The crew showed up a day before Guy. It was HOT out, in the 90's and we were stuffed in the little kitchen, trailer sweating like Troopers with the three air conditioners off so they weren't heard on their camera mics. We were also interrupted repeatedly by the Rooster next door. They said that was a first as well.
We kicked off the cooking features and beauty shots, at 9 AM and completed it at 9 PM that night. It's one of those things that when you watch these episodes, you can not imagine how much work goes into a ten minute segment.
Every summer we get all kinds of vehicles "and other", through the Drive -Thru side of the trailer. Horses,Tractors, Combines, Hot-Rods, Rat-Rods, Bicycles, etc. So Neil the Producer had us recreate these events in the first day of the shoot.
Friend, David Hansen brought horses. My cousin Jeff Haffner brought out a giant tractor, my mom brought out her ‘58 Thunderbird convertible and others came through in various nice Rods, Classics and Limo's.
We finally got home at around eleven that night. I sat on our deck with Kim and our daughter, feeling as if I died from exhaustion, I wouldn't be a least bit surprised.
We all woke up to renewed energy and a feeling of "Oh God what have we done". Today I had to cook with the most famed Chef and Critic in America for the biggest TV food show in the world and Kim would get her first acting debut on Worldwide TV !!!!
I have acting experience, modeling in New York, etc., from when I was a young man and was on many crowded stages in music but had never had the roll of "Chef" Let's keep in mind I am no Bobby Flay.
We showed up on location at eight sharp and the crew was milling about like Keebler Elves. Very professional and very friendly guys. We consider them all friends now.
After of a couple of hours going over what was expected of us and making back up items to be switched for what would take too long to watch cook, we were ready.
A large unassuming Semi Truck and Trailer showed up and out rolled Guys ‘68 Camaro convertible. They instructed me not approach Guy until they came to get me because they always spoof him first. I'm thinking, Guy must really look forward to that.
In our dining room is a life size, stud boy, mannequin that they dressed in a chefs coat and hat. They wheeled him into the kitchen with his back to the doorway. Guy arrived then and they told him they wanted to introduce him to me, the Chef. Guy walked in to the kitchen up to the back of the Dummy. He put his hand on its shoulder and cheerfully said "Hi Chef"
A second later, as the crew laughed at him nearly rolling to the ground, he stormed out of the kitchen saying you guys are sick. Well that isn't exactly what he said but you get it.
Then they brought Kim and me out and we met Guy Fieri. He was exactly and more like he is perceived on the show. I knew he and I were going to have some fun and we did. They were constantly stopping the camera because we could not stop cracking up on the funny stuff we created between us. Probably something else left better to the imagination and not written here.
He kept getting back to ,"let me get this right".
"Your mom owns this little town in the middle of nowhere and your kitchen is built in a race trailer and you're creating one of a kind, unique dishes, here"
"Yeah, pretty much" I kept saying. He kept coming back to this fact like he just could not grasp that it could be done or that this is actually all "real".
He was blown away by the "grill fried pizza", something he said he would have to see to believe.
When I completed it, he was a believer and declared the Guy Triple D BIG BLOCK Burger the best of the Big Burgers he had featured in 330 plus episodes since the conception of Diner's, Drive In's & Dives.
So, after a grueling shoot schedule, and Kim's acting debut was under her belt, it was "A Wrap" as we say.
The now amassed mob outside due to security leaks, posed in pictures with Guy. He was a real sport, but his contracted time was over. So his car was loaded for the next location and the crew said good bye and they were gone . . . . . . . . .
So that's it !! . . . . . . . . Well . . . . . . not exactly . . . . . . . . .
Now, we were in post-production shock. We were told we would receive a copy of the show to be aired on a DVD and notified of the broadcast debut, air date on The Food Network.
What seemed like "forever" started to set in . . . . . . .
Then, out of the blue, Harley, our JUNKYARD lead staff calls me at home and says; "A guy named Joe called and said" "Have Craig call me"
I was amazed because Joe, an old friend of over 30 years now, was the only "Joe" I know - whom I had been trying to find for years.
I called right away and low and behold - my Joe was on the other end.
Turns out he had been trying to reach me for years as well but always tried calling the JUNKYARD at night or on Monday, when we're CLOSED !!!
We caught up quickly and 6 years of no communications disappeared. Joe had thought we shut down and moved on. All he could find on the net were very old picts on the Google Street View, that does not show the new restaurant build.
Turns out to be perfect timing, as my old friend Joe is a film, television and commercial producer for 40 years+ with an extensive background in project development and MBA/Attorney level business plan authoring under his belt, which I have witnessed personally, many times.
Some of the names were not available so we had to pay premium prices to get them, but we got that done and Joe whipped up a basic page to get us up and on in time for the broadcast debut of The JUNKYARD on national network television.
We knocked heads on the business plan daily for the flagship restaurant build and Joe had us jump through some legal hoops with the state to get our names and entities registered under our new name. Then the call came in from Triple D Productions.
"We're ON in two weeks !! " Diner's, Drive-In's & Dive's, Friday Night 10PM, October 3rd.
Oh Boy, here we go . . . . . .
So, with the broadcast date known and now a TV debut party planned, Joe filled his Mercedes station wagon with his broadcast television camera, digital still equipment, digital recording studio, microphones, computers, printers, lights, stands and more and headed for Lancaster from California.
When he arrived, we were thrown into yet another heavy production schedule - AGAIN ! That's the way he works. All work and no play. He came for a 5 day production schedule. He was here for two and a half weeks sleeping on our living room couch. (a little difference from his luxury classic sailboat home)
Joe said we will produce massive amounts of content for everything, all at the same time and we did just that; TV commercials, page display advertising, web site, the new menu and beyond. We shot literally all of The JUNKYARD menu creations, the broadcast TV debut party, The JUNKYARD and a LOT more.
Hours of video tape, well over 1,000 digital stills, you get the picture. I thought we'd get the product shots in one day - Monday, our "Closed" day. That actually took over 5 days over the production time, but we got it done. We shot it all, in every which way you can imagine.
So, anyway, during Joe's visit, we had the TV debut party and shot that for one of our new features on the web site; "JUNKYARD TV" to be on our site with other shows, Diner's episode, the JUNKYARD and other fun stuff. All with our dining customer's too.
We were always busy in these days preceding the airing of the Diner's, Drive-In's & Dives, featuring us, but we had no idea what was about to happen to us . . . . . . . . .
The show aired.
The VERY NEXT DAY; IT'S A MOB scene at The JUNKYARD !!! We were immediately slammed beyond our max. The response from the TV show airing was overwhelming to say the least.
And this has been non-stop since.
We had to close the drive-up window and actually turn customers away due to the overload of people.
My deepest apologies to them all.
We shot comments of our customers and everyone raving about our menu items and leaving with BIG smiles. Kim and I are so grateful for this. We finally have seen some true recognition and appreciation for our work. It's a very good feeling.
We absolutely love our customers and make no mistake about it, they have helped make a success story and we can not thank all of you enough.
And now, people are stopping in both directions, blocking traffic out front taking pictures from their cars and others getting out to have their picture taken in front of the restaurant. So that's it ? Well not quite . . . . . . . again.
We started getting eMails that the show was on again ! And, not only on again, but 2 or 3 times a week at various times of the day and will probably be aired repeatedly through January or beyond . . . . .
And the customers are still coming in droves, from up to 500 miles away. Calling ahead to make sure they can get in. To go to the little place in Lancaster Oregon where guy ate. The Junkyard .
Well, with all that said, and a great story I feel it is, now, we embark on the "build of our dreams" that we have been working on for sometime now.
The JUNKYARD flagship restaurant. A large capacity junk themed restaurant with multiple themed dining areas to include drag racing, aircraft, classic car and general old American junk and memorabilia combined with a show room to do presentations and cooking shows for TV and live streaming and On-demand via JUNKYARD TV - all with our great menu of unique creations.
We don't know where yet, but one thing is for sure. It will be large, it will be fun, it will be loud, and the food will be off the chart. And hopefully add more JUNKYARD restaurants across America. Every one, unique unto itself.
Who knows, it's not an idea, it's not a start-up. It is, what we are now doing; spreadsheets, blueprints, investment contracts, fund raising campaign, etc. - the whole serious business thing. (and serving a lot of good food and making people happy, all day, everyday . . . . . . )
So stay tuned . . . . . . . . . .
Thank you all so much
Sincerely, Craig Zumwalt . . . . . . . . . @ the junkyard