Monday, November 09, 2009

photo by Kathy Plonka, Spokesman-Review

It was a crisp winter night in Athol. The Saddle Up Grill had closed for the night. Owner Howard White was in a hurry to get home to Post Falls. It was his and wife Suz’s 13th wedding anniversary. Normally, with the couple working 16-hour days, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, they stayed in a motor home behind the restaurant. Due to sewage disposal problems, they had to quit doing that for a while. Howard would sleep in the Saddle Up Grill, so that he would have an early start at prepping for breakfast.

Howard closed, locked the doors and headed home for a date with his bride. It was Dec. 17, 2008, just a little short of two years in operation. About 4 a.m., a fire broke out in the dining room, probably caused by a space heater too close to upholstery. Timberlake Fire District, just a few blocks down the street, answered the call quickly and limited damage to the dining areas, saving the kitchen, except for severe smoke damage.

At the opening in March 2007, a lifelong dream was realized as Howie and Suz cranked out the first of many succulent smoked prime rib sandwiches, slathered with Suz’s secret barbecue sauce, along with what Howie called the world’s biggest and best burger. Twelve ounces of choice ground beef surrounded by all the fixings. Out back is a 500-gallon smoker, where they turn out their food from scratch along with their made-from-scratch barbecue ranch-style beans.

There is little doubt that had Howard White stayed that night in the restaurant, as he normally did, he would have been overcome by smoke and killed. The date with his wife probably saved his life.

Armed with an insurance policy, the couple figured a few months to rebuild, then back at it. This is when things started to come unwound. They bought this historic building, first used to house recruits headed for Farragut Naval training base. When a train with recruits came in late in the evening, they were put up in the bunkhouse. Many years later, it became the Saddle Up Inn. It was an owner contract, with title still residing with the previous owner. When the insurance company paid off, it paid the loan off. That left the Whites with a small amount of cash and a paid-in-full deed to a commercial lot and a half-burned building.

Today the Whites are without an income, or a restaurant without a loan to rebuild. Howard White’s one thought was, “Why, with the billions of dollars the federal government has thrown at the banks to stimulate the economy, don’t the banks then use the money for that purpose, instead of socking it away to protect themselves from bad loans?”

The Whites are hard-working people who enjoyed working 16-hour days to make what was once a dream come true. Now, it has turned into a nightmare. They are looking for help.

Help either in the form of donations, which can be sent to P.O. Box 16, Athol, Idaho 83801. Or the best solution, White hopes, is for a lender to step up with an SBA loan putting him and his wife back to serving smoked prime rib dinners.

Reprinted from my story in Sunday's spokesman-Review.

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