Celebrating a Prineville icon
When Erland and Dorthe Westberg hosted a grand opening for their new Prineville diner on Saturday, March 16, 1957, they gave away free coffee, donuts, root beer and ice-cream cones. Sixty years later, Tastee Treet owner Jana Rhoden once again celebrated by giving away ice-cream cones.
"We're just saying thank you to Prineville for supporting the business for 60 years and how much we appreciate it," Rhoden says. "Without them, we couldn't be doing this."
Rhoden planned the celebration for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12, which she believes was the first day Tastee Treet opened at Third and Elm streets.
The "noon special" included a student burger, fries and a drink at the old-time price of $2.
"We picked a fun number that everybody can afford it," Rhoden said.
Eberhard's Dairy donated some of the hard ice cream, which Rhoden said is a huge treat.
"Most people don't do the hard ice cream for free," she pointed out.
On Sunday, waiters and waitresses wore their Tastee Treet T-shirts and capris, and the ladies wore their hair in bobbing pony tails. There were contests and drawings, and patrons won hats, T-shirts and gift certificates.
Classic car owners cruised in to show off their rides and order the noon special, and local band Outlaws N' Heathens played their bluegrass tunes.
"Everything went really well," Rhoden said after the event. She estimates they served 600 burgers and had about 900 people attend the celebration.
Danette Rockwood brought her mother, Dalphene Thomasson, and ordered burgers — this time from the other side of the counter.
Rockwood worked at Tastee Treet for 16 years, and Thomasson worked there as a cook for 24 years — from 1973 to 1997.
Thomasson is as much of a symbol of Tastee Treet as the giant ice-cream cone sign.
"It was very special, and the people that came in, they were the nicest people, and they came every day. They became our friends," Thomasson said. "It was a great place to work, it really was."
She said she mainly cooked, but she also washed dishes, cleaned, waited on customers and dipped ice cream.
"We did it all," she laughed, adding that they served breakfast as well as hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream, three meals a day, seven days a week.
Her Tastee Treet career outlasted several owners.
"They said I went with it," she chuckled.
"I started working for a fella by the name of Ken Smith, and he sold it to Enola and Marvin Jackson, and they sold it to Don and Rose Kaiser. They sold it to Dallas and Beverly Steinhoff. They sold it to Punky and Jerry Baggett, and that's when I retired," Thomasson recalled.
She still goes down for the noon special.
"If it's busy, I just bring it home. It's still good," she says. "It was a great place to work, I'll tell ya. It was a friendly place. Good people."
Rhoden says Thomasson helped create the Tastee Treet legacy.
"The guys that hung out here from the time it opened until now — some of them are still alive — Dalphene was everything to them," Rhoden said.
Connie Gregory was only 7 when her parents, the Westbergs, left Drain, where they had owned the Tastee-Freez for four years, and moved to Prineville for a dryer climate than the Willamette Valley.
"When they moved over here, she wanted to keep that name, the Tastee-Freez," Rhoden said. "They wouldn't let her, so she changed it to Tastee Treet, and that's the way she chose to spell it — to just kind of be different."
You could buy a small Coke for a nickel, and they served soft ice cream, burgers, fries, milkshakes and pop. They were open seven days a week until 10 or 11 at night.
"They'd take a week off for Christmas, and they'd go back to Wisconsin, that's where they were from," Gregory remembers.
She never worked there — although she does remember helping make the French fries once in a while – but her two older sisters worked in the ice-cream stand.
She came in for lunch during the 60th anniversary celebration on Sunday to reminisce about her childhood days and have a burger. Her parents ran Tastee Treet until the late '60s when they sold it to Willard and Novella Hammack so they could focus on their other business, neighboring City Center Motel.
A few improvements
While the Hammack family owned it in the 1970s, they added the extra room, what they call the side, with the booths.
"He had four teenage daughters, and he added that side for the kids to have a little hangout over there," Rhoden said. "There was a jukebox and strobe lights."
Rhoden bought the restaurant from Punky Baggett in May of 2005 after a career in the dental field.
"The doctor I was working for retired, and at the time, Prineville was supposed to be starting to boom a little bit, and Tastee Treet came up for sale, and I thought maybe I should just buy it for the investment of the property and the business," Rhoden said. "I didn't want somebody to come in and tear it down and put in a Carl's Junior or something like that. It's an icon, and I did not want it torn down."
Over the last 12 years, Rhoden has done some remodeling, added a drive-thru window, had the historical ice-cream cone sign refurbished, and added some new menu items. She employs as many as 20 and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"We only close this place two days a year, and that is Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day," Rhoden said.
She says their regular customers, great food and friendly service has kept Tastee Treet going for 60 years.
"I like the history about it. I love Prineville, I was born and raised here," Rhoden said. "I just wanted to again thank the community for their support for the last 60 years, and I hope to be here in another 10."
Owner: Jana Rhoden
Address: 493 NE Third St., Prineville
Facebook: Tastee Treet