The restaurant has many loyal customers, some dating back to the 1968 founding in Sandy

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Don and Marie Eklund founded Heidis of Gresham restaurant 50 years ago. The line to get in Heidi's of Gresham restaurant snaked outside the door Wednesday morning as the venerable establishment served up lunch at the prices it charged in 1968, the year it opened. Eager diners could get a hamburger for 95 cents, a French dip with salad for $1.95 and finish off with apple pie ala mode for 55 cents.

Barbara Lloyd, a Heidi's regular, was considering the prawns, served with a salad and fries for $1.95.

"And the pie, definitely the pie, for 50 cents," she said. "I've never had anything here that wasn't wonderful."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Barbara Lloyd, a Heidis regular waiting to get in for the anniversary celebration, said she has never had a meal at the restaurant that wasnt wonderful. Terry Mitchell and her brother stopped in for the $1.95 Reuben sandwich. She said she comes "occasionally" to Heidi's at 1230 N.E. Cleveland Ave.

She added that she was not surprised the restaurant has been around for 50 years.

"It feels like it has been here forever and will be here forever," she said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Terry Mitchell was waiting for her Reuben sandwich to arrive and said she is not a bit surprised that the restaurant has been serving customers for 50 years. Don Eklund, founder and former owner of Heidi's, was expected to make an appearance after the special 11 a.m. opening. After 50 years, Eklund still comes in to the restaurant office most days of the week. But he admits that at 92 years old, he's starting to ease out a bit.

Don and Marie Eklund, who farmed in the Gresham-Sandy area for 20 years, got tired of the farm routine and opened a drive-in cafe where Highway 26 and 212 intersect in August 1968.

That first restaurant seated 54 diners before it burned down.

"But we still owed money on it," Don Eklund said, "so there was nothing we could do but turn around and go to work."

The couple rebuilt and kept adding on until it also included gift shop, bakery, boutique, clock store and candy shop. That restaurant, called Heidi's Swiss Village, seated 150 diners.

Marie Eklund's family was originally from Switzerland and the first restaurant was on the way to Mount Hood, so a Swiss alpine theme seemed just right. Waitresses still wear flowered dirndl outfits and pictures of snowy scenes are scattered around the store.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - This is the Eklund family back in the day with their sleigh, which now hangs high in the lobby of the restaurant at Cleveland and Burnside. The sleigh that hangs overhead in the lobby was a sled the Eklund family actually used when it snowed, as photos in Don Eklund's office — which he still maintains as a former owner — show. The Eklunds, married 71 years, have five grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

The restaurant was a family affair, with Eklund's three kids and other family members pitching in. Many employees have been with the family business for decades. Bookeeper Cheryl Weaver started as a hostess in 1978 and was quickly promoted to bookeeper.

In the late 1970s, the Eklunds started thinking about moving to a busier location.

"This place was owned by Tebo's. I came in, sat there and looked out. Burnside was a busy, busy, busy street," he said, "and I said to myself, 'gosh, this would be a good spot.'"

They remodeled and opened the restaurant at Northeast Cleveland Avenue and Burnside Road in 1980. Again, they added on multiple times to include the gift shop and banquet facilities. There now is room for about 300 customers.

Linda Hinshaw, who has been with Heidi's for 45 years, became the general manager in 1989. She and her husband bought the business in 2008.

Hinshaw said Heidi's feels like a family business — and the Eklunds are family.

Hinshaw plans no changes at Heidi's.

"We're just rolling along here," she said. "You know, if it's not broken, don't fix it."

Despite his almost daily appearances at the restaurant, Don Eklund admits, "I've slowed down a lot." He and Marie count the friends they've made among employees and customers as the most important legacy of the 50-year business.

So it seems fitting that they'd celebrate this milestone by giving their loyal customers the gift of the elusive (almost) free lunch.

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