Friday, April 13, 2012

A taste of history at Herm's Inn

Cache Valley can sometimes seem to be a trip through to the past. With structures like the Latter-day Saint tabernacle across the street from historic restaurants like the Bluebird, Main Street is home to many buildings that have resided in Logan for decades.

 Off of Main Street, near the mouth of Logan Canyon in a neighborhood known as “the island,” resides Herm’s Inn. For years it was a dilapidated building, a reminder of days gone by and a landmark to those in the neighborhood. A few weeks ago, after over 60 years of neglect, a remodeled and renovated Herm’s Inn opened for business.
 A private donor who grew up seeing the remains of the old restaurant funded the restoration of the building.
 “We’ve been open about seven weeks,” said Ryan Bird, co-owner and manager of Herm’s Inn. “[The donor’s] parents would always talk about Herm’s Inn and kind of reminisce what it was. So this building sat here forever, he always wanted to see it become something.”
 Herman Johnson founded Herm’s Inn in the depression era, offering “last chance lunches” for travelers heading up the road through Logan Canyon. To those returning through the canyon, the other side of the building welcomed them with “first chance lunches” before returning to town.
 Honoring its roots and its founder, the original signs still hang on the wall in the new Herm’s diner emphasizing the feel of a bygone era.
 “We want to have an accurate portrayal of what went on,” said co-owner and manager Heather Senti. “We still have customers who can remember as they walk in the door having the nickelodeon on and dancing down the aisles here in the nighttime.”
 Punctuating the colorful history of Herm’s Inn are his famous slabs of steak, fresh vegetables from the garden out back and even stories of a secret bootlegging operation in the basement.
 “They bootlegged the whiskey downstairs to get through the depression,” said Jeanie Johnson, a great granddaughter of Herman Johnson. “The people could pull up to the gas pump, buy a gallon of gas and then buy a gallon of whiskey. They both came in glass jugs and they looked identical.”
 “This place on the surface was a nice restaurant that sold dollar steaks and twenty-five cent pie,” Senti said. “Below us was a whiskey operation in the prohibition days.”
 Although the stories are legend among those who work at Herm’s Inn, for now they remain just that – stories.
 “You hear so many different stories,” Johnson said. “I really don’t know a lot about it, in actual facts.”
 Building on this history, and Herman Johnson’s reputation for a delicious meal worth leaving town for, has been the focus of the new restaurant. Bird emphasized their commitment to making much of their food fresh in-house, including their gravy, biscuits and hamburger buns.
 “Our approach is more about being fresh,” Bird said. “We don’t use our freezer; almost everything comes in and within a day is on the table.”
 For Senti it isn’t the food or geography that distinguishes the restaurant – it’s the community.
 “It’s a unique place because we are lying right in the middle of the community,” Senti said. “I mean, how many places do you know like that in Logan?”
“We are kind of a little hidden gem that no one has discovered yet,” Senti said.

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