A Short History of
"That Ice Cream Place"
In 1970 Ruth had an idea. And, although many told her this "idea" was ill fated, she couldn't help wondering "What if...?"
So, with assistance of an acquaintance, a partnership was formed, and the name K-R Drive Inn (for the first intial of each partner) took its place in Douglas County history.
Thinking of the name, however, was the easy part. A lot of hard work and planning had to follow the name getting before serving widows were opened, and that first cone was scooped.
The spot was chosen on the west side of the Rice Hill interchange. With the majority of the Rice Hill community on the opposite side of the freeway, this assured the K-R a first shot at any south bound travelers who detoured for a break. Being next to the only other west side business, a Chevron gas station, also assured the K-R a chance at those looking to use the major brand's gas pumps.
Next came the first building, a single wide mobile home that had been used previously as an office. Yet even though the trailer was nearly empty, there came a lot of days and nights of sawdust, paint, new flooring, new counters, serving windows and exhaust fans. Thank God for relatives!
With the help of his brother Cliff, Ruth's husband Ben sawed, nailed, and plumbed and probably did a lot of mumbling under his breath. But when they were done, they had something that looked like a real fast food restaurant. And, on December 18, 1970, the K-R Drive Inn opened its serving windows to the weary and hungry travelers on the I-5 corridor.
That first day's sales amounted to a whopping $29.95, with Ruth literally the chief, cook and bottle washer, (or cone scooper, as the case may be). The second day's sales weren't much better. Nor were the third's.
Ruth kept remembering what people had told her when they'd first heard of her crazy scheme. "You won't last a year...two tops. Rice Hill already has three restaurants. Travelers want a placed to sit down and eat... relax... take a load off. They aren't going to zip into some place for a quick hamburger. And Ice Cream?! Especially hard ice cream! Nobody wants hard ice cream!" Ruth hung in there, though, too stubborn to let them be right.
By summer, Ruth was starting to work of a sweat. And it wasn't from the heat, or worrying about business being too slow. She was worried that she might have to invest in a pair of roller skates! Her friend from the gas station next door kept saying "Don't worry, It'll slow down once school starts up again." 30 years later and she was still "waiting for school to start".
In fact, within a few months, husband Ben, who owned the Yoncalla Barber Shop at the time, found himself spending more time making shakes than cutting hair. He eventually traded in his barber's smock for a cook's apron, and sold the barber shop.
The Emry's had discovered that people DID want ice cream... lots of it. On one good Labor Day weekend there were 120 3-gallon ice cream tubs lined up by the back door at the close of the buisness day. That was for just ONE day's sales. Almost 400 GALLONS, or the equivalent of nearly 3,500 CONES! They hadn't started a business. They had created a PHENOMENON!!!
And Ruth just smiled. Apparently people did eat ice cream. But somewhere, a couple of people were eating!
A lot of things have changed in 42 years. In 1975, another mobile home was attached to the first to expand storage. And still another was added in 1980 for both additional storage and serving room. In 1977, 3 three-door freezers were added to increase ice cream storage. But these couldn't keep up with the still growing business, so a walk- in combination freezer/ refrigerator was built in 1984.
Ice cream wasn't the only storage problem. Cups, straws, napkins, and case upon case of ice cream cones. Where to put them?! If anyone suggested to Ben that "you need another trailer," he'd just look at you with "that" look (something akin to a visual growl) and walk away.
In 1986, a separate warehouse was added to store extra cases of everything from hot fudge topping to dill pickles. And miscellaneous maintenance supplies. The Emry's even expanded family participation by bringing their only daughter and son-in-law, Syd and Al Fisher, into the business in 1986.
All the while, new equipment was being added... some big, some small, and all much needed. Another grill and fryer were purchased because one wasn't enough to keep up with the demand. More shake machine. Another ice machine. And lots of new faces so Ruth could retire those roller skates.
Sales have grown substantially, too. In a good year the business can gross close to half a million dollars. So are Ruth and Ben now soaking up the sun in Jamaica? Not hardly. Almost half of the income goes right back out to locals in the form of Payroll checks. And most of the balance goes back to the Oregon economy for Payroll and Property Taxes, to Suppliers such as UMPQUA DAIRY and Wholesales, and, of course, the Utility companies. In one month, the K-R can pay more for electricity than most people pay for an entire year!
So a lot of things have changed over the years. The little trailer now looks like a triple-wide gone awry. The little gas station purchased next door has been leveled to accommodate the truckers and tourists with their travel trailers and motor homes. The partnership went wayside years ago, (about 6 months after it started) but the name that came out of the partnership, when Ruth had this crazy idea... It's still here... Somewhere...
You remember the name, right? Oh, you know...of "that ice cream place"... somewhere on I-5 between Eugene and Roseburg. Sweet Hill? ...or Rice Mountain? Just the little trailers with the big ice cream cones. Now, what was the name of the place?
*** 2006 - Ruth/2011 -
Ben have now passed on, but will all ways be remembered, we thank them everyday for creating such a spectacular family tradition.
The " Short History" of K-R Drive Inn was written by Owner, Daughter, and Friend; Syd Fisher.