To Lori Sickles and Laura Britton, The Boondocks is not a location far off the beaten path. Rather, their bar and grill is at the heart of activities revolving around Falls City.
The duo decided they were not ready to close The Boondocks’ doors forever after a month-long hiatus following Gov. Kate Brown’s “two-week pause” in November to curtail the spread of COVID-19 statewide.
“It had been a rough month and a half since they declared no indoors dining,” Britton said. “We decided to reassess what we really wanted in life and how we were going to go about getting it.”
With the bills still coming in, no additional income, a depleted life savings and unemployment running out, they decided to give it another go at opening The Boondocks to the community. They picked one of their more popular nights Jan. 7 to welcome back their customers — taco night.
Crystal Linwood, a 14-year resident of Falls City, was happy Boondocks was open again.
“I came to get tacos and Bahama Mamas,” Linwood said. “I’d always come here on Thursdays. It’s family oriented. It’s where everybody comes for good company and good food.”
Rachel Inman and her daughter Lillie, 6, were the first through the door and seated under a new canopy in the refurbished back patio.
They considered themselves loyal customers before Boondocks closed temporarily.
“We come when they have tacos,” Rachel said.
“And we come when they have ice cream!” Lillie added.
“We like to come walk down, because it’s close to our house. We’re glad they’ve reopened,” Rachel continued. “It’s nice to come down and see them just so they’d be open and get business.”
And business they got reopening night. Britton said turnout on reopening night was insane.
“We had 62 sales. That’s not huge, but it is for us,” Britton said. “And all those orders came in at once. There was an hour-and-a-half wait for food. But we got a lot of positive feedback on social media. They understand.”
She said one customer came in and helped tie down the tent when it got windy. And when it got really busy, another couple of her friends who work at Falls City’s other restaurant, Bread Board (which hasn’t reopened yet) started bussing tables for them.
“That’s the kind of people we have around here, they take it upon themselves to help us,” Britton said. “When I broke my leg not long ago, my wife (Sickles) was here by herself and got slammed. This customer started helping her. Bringing out cups, bussing tables. That’s the great thing about living in a small community like this where everybody knows who everybody is. It’s pretty amazing. You can’t beat it.”
That tie to the community was what inspired Britton and Sickles to take a leap from their screen printing business to purchasing The Boondocks from the previous longtime owners Ray and Debbie Waltz in 2013. Britton said Debbie had recently passed away and Ray was ready to move on to something else. It was both an opportunity and a “community service.”
“Now, we’re not so sure it was probably a good idea to take on when our daughter was only 8,” Britton admitted. “But we did and we made it.”
Boondocks’ success came thanks to a loyal community customer base and as a regular tourist stop for nearby attractions like the Black Rock Mountain Biking Trails and Valley of the Giants old growth tours.
When they first bought The Boondocks it was just a bar that served food. Britton said they turned it around into a restaurant that serves beverages, brings in the kids and made it more inviting. On a normal day, they had families in all the time, offering free Pacman and coloring books for children. Plus they sponsored numerous community activities.
Another key attraction to The Boondocks was their scratch menu featuring homemade Americana staples such as meatloaf, potatoes and gravy, roast pork, roast beef, lasagna and pizza.
Britton said their business model depends on making it past the slow winter months and picking back up with a busy spring. However, she said they barely survived the first shutdown last March due to the pandemic. They took a week off after that first closure.
“When we shut down before, spring is our thing. Winter time you just struggle by, hope you don’t go broke,” Britton explained. “Spring comes along and brings you back. Because everybody’s driving out in their nice cars and motorcycles. They’ve got spring fever. So they want to come out and take a drive. It really hurt last year. As soon as it was about to kick into high gear, it got closed. That really hurt us financially.”
The most recent shutdown in November set them back again when they had planned a lot of Christmas giveaways and events revolving around the holiday and Santa.
“This time in November we took a month off. Because it was just so crazy. Just before Christmas? Come on. It’s freezing. No one’s going to eat outside. We weren’t prepared,” Britton said.
Now with a revamped back patio with a canopy and space heaters, they’re better equipped to make it to spring. However, Britton worries if Oregon will follow California’s lead and ban outdoor dining during the pandemic.
“We could not survive on takeout alone, I am sure of it. I’d probably lease out part of the property. We have a lot of people that depend on us,” she said.
Britton added this is her and Sickles’ last shot at keeping The Boondocks open. She’s just had her knee replaced, Sickels needs her hip replaced and both have arthritis. Bottom line, they’re tired, but they’ll be okay if they can make it until their daughter goes off to college.
“So if we can make it through the next couple years, we’ll be fine. We’ll keep the place. Because we love the community. We love everything about it. What’s not to love?” Britton explained. “You can sit back here in the summer time, any time of year actually, listen to the birds, hang out. Even inside. Sit down listen to people. They’re laughing, having a good time. And that’s what makes it all worthwhile. It lets you know you’ve done something right.”
The Boondocks Bar & Grill
Where: 318 N. Main St., Falls City
New hours: Thursday and Friday, 4-8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 2-8 p.m.