Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sandpiper

Published in the Post Register in January, 2010.

One of the iconic experiences of summer in eastern Idaho is dinner on the deck at the Sandpiper Restaurant, live music in the background, Snake River in the foreground and good food on the way.

On most nights, manager Ron Obendorf will be in the mix as well, schmoozing the guests and making sure things run smoothly. Obendorf has been a part of the Sandpiper for most of its 35-year history, both in Boise and Idaho Falls, eventually bringing together more than 30 investors to buy the Idaho Falls and Pocatello restaurants in 1995.

He’s tried other things. In 1979 he was running a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and goofing on a sailboat, but by 1980 he was back in Boise.

He says the artificiality of southern California brought him back to Idaho.

“Down there they were all pretend people, they weren’t real people."

He taught school in Boise for a couple of years (supplementing his income waiting tables), but he kept coming back to the restaurant business, taking a break when he’d burn out. By 1995 he was working for Nonpareil Potatoes.

“I would sit there all day and think about how I ought to get some people together” and buy the Sandpipers in Idaho Falls and Pocatello, which is precisely what he did. The list of owners is a who’s who of eastern Idaho business people.

It would be safe to say that the Sandpiper is eastern Idaho’s highest profile restaurant, boasting 35 years anchoring motel row on the west bank of the Snake River. The Sandpiper has stayed successful by serving good food in a pleasant atmosphere and keeping customers happy.

“We’ve had a history of ups and downs, like everybody,” Obendorf says. “We try to be consistent and we try to be fair. If your meal’s no good you don’t have to pay for it.”

Years ago, fried catfish was the favorite dish on the Sandpiper menu, but tastes have changed. Prime rib is still a big draw, but Obendorf’s personal favorite is the Hawaiian crunch halibut, a recipe brought to the Sandpiper from New Orleans by local chef Dave Musgrave, who ran the Hawg Smoke CafĂ© until health problems forced him to close it. Ahi tuna, which used to be an occasional special, now has a permanent place on the menu.

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