WENDELL • Cooks grabbed tickets left by the waitresses and waiter on a rotating metal carousel, each piece of paper an order to be filled.
The lunchtime crowd descended on the Farmhouse Restaurant, table by table, until the room nearly filled up.
Wendell’s Farmhouse Restaurant (1955 Frontage Road S.) is next door to a gas station just off of Interstate 84, and its customers consist of locals and interstate travelers — people grabbing a bite before they take to the Interstate again or drive back to work in Wendell and Jerome.
On Sept. 21, a dry erase board showed the day’s pie selection: lava cake, butterscotch cream, pecan and cherry. Near the door a tall glass case displayed slices wrapped in plastic.
There was no time for dessert for Ron and Sharon Weaver of Pocatello, who stopped in before making their way north to Seattle that day — as they do every time they travel this way.
“We always stop in here for breakfast,” Sharon said.
“If the food wasn’t good we wouldn’t stop here,” Ron added.
As waitress Beth Heitzman brought their receipt, clearing plates emptied of sausage, eggs and hash browns, she wished them a safe trip.
“I’m so glad you guys came in. Drive safe,” Heitzman said.
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The Farmhouse Restaurant, run by 34 employees, has been owned by Stephanie Otero for the past four years.
Otero started working here 12 years ago, busing tables. She didn’t apply for the job. Otero was just lending a helping hand to a friend who worked there; the owner saw her and offered her a job. Over the years she has been cashier, waitress and now owner.
“I’ve been here since I was 18 and never left,” Otero said.
The restaurant has been a mainstay for homestyle meals for more than 30 years. It also features a small store selling Idaho souvenirs and a coffee shop with a drive-up window to order coffee and to pick up to-go orders from the kitchen.
But for those who have the time to sit and dine, Heitzman might be the waitress taking your order. She scurries about the room, checking on families sitting in booths and men drinking coffee alone at tables.
“You doing okay here, guys?” she asked a table of three, then paused to greet a little girl in a highchair.
“You are just so cute,” Heitzman said before she dashed away to grab plates of burgers and fries from the metal counter that connects the dining room to the kitchen.
Heitzman grew up in Wendell but lives in Jerome; she has been a waitress and manager at Farmhouse for four years.
“My favorite thing is interacting with people and getting to socialize with the travelers,” Heitzman said. “I also love my crew.”
For 10 years, Heitzman has worked as a waitress in Wendell and in Oregon. She graduated from Portland State University with a bachelor’s degree in business, where she also worked as a bartender and waitress.
“It put me through college,” Heitzman said. “For me, personally, it’s not too hard of a job. I like the interaction with customers.”
One day Heitzman would love to open her own restaurant someplace she has never been. But today she is happy knowing her customers are happy.
“All right you guys, here you go,” she said as she set down plates of food in front of three customers in a booth.
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E.P. Moseley sat at a nearby table eating a patty melt. Moseley eats at the Farmhouse Restaurant on Fridays and Sundays.
“I like the waitresses, they’re real nice,” Moseley said. “Sometimes I’ll come over on afternoons and eat a slice of pie and coffee.”
Moseley is from Jerome but doesn’t mind driving the 10 miles, especially on Sundays.
“There’s no place to eat in Jerome on Sundays,” he said.
Moseley smiled and chatted with Heitzman as she checked to see if he needed anything else. After his meal he walked slowly out the door. He would be back in two days.
Heitzman said there are about five regular coffee customers — or “adopted grandpas,” as she calls them. She enjoys their visits when they come in for coffee or the daily special.
At the Farmhouse, the daily specials are well-known in the area, just like the Basque bread — a thick slice of white bread that can be served as toast or French toast. Otero said it’s like Texas Toast but way better.
Kitchen manager Joe Napples, who sat at a table taking a short break, is responsible for cooking the specials. His specialties include Wednesday-night pot roast and Friday’s beer-battered halibut.
“I make 60 percent of the soups from scratch, nothing out of the package for the soups,” Napples said.
He also got his start in the restaurant business at a young age. He was 11 when his stepfather gave him a job as a dishwasher in his restaurant in Utah. More than anything, Napples said, he loves knowing that his customers enjoy his work, even stopping him at the grocery store.
“‘Hey that was a good special you had,’” Napples said he’s been told. “I’m in it because I enjoy it and not because of the money.”
As the lunch crowd started to dwindle, leaving behind tables full of dirty dishes, Otero lent a hand clearing the plates and wiping tabletops.
“You know when you keep taking my job I have nothing to do,” waiter Stephen Mulgrew said.
Otero laughed and jokingly apologized, but continued to clear other tables.
“I’ll forgive you this time,” Mulgrew said.