Calamity Jane's Restaurant flips final burger, closes unexpectedly Nov. 11

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN  - The Modjeski family opened Calamity Janes in Sandy in January 1981. For skiers, tourists and Sandy-area residents alike, Calamity Jane's has been a destination for nearly 40 years. But on Monday, Nov. 11, the long-time Western-themed burger joint closed its doors.

"It was just getting harder and harder to pay the bills," said owner Michael Modjeski. "We've had a bad autumn. Many years people started skiing by Nov. 15 and we depend on the skiing in the winter and the tourists in summertime. When we started to have to put money into it to pay the payroll and bills, we thought it was time to do something."

The Modjeski's made their decision to close on Nov. 10. By Tuesday, Nov. 12, customers were greeted with a letter on the door of the Highway 26 eatery, saying "It is with heavy hearts that we must close the doors to Calamity Jane's Restaurant.

"We are so thankful for your patronage over the last 38 years, and even more so for the friendships forged during these years," the letter explained. "We have been blessed to be a part of your camping trips, skiing traditions, dates, family outings, parties and even weddings. It's been a pleasure to serve you."

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN  - Calamity Janes was best known for its eccentric burger combinations and milkshakes. Modjeski has spent a large portion of his life working in the food industry. Before he brought Calamity Jane's to Sandy, he owned Mr. Burger, a fast food place in Portland. When people liked his burgers, but requested he also serve beer and wine, he moved his operation to Highway 26.

"For a long time, we operated Calamity Jane's ourselves with our kids, then we turned it over to management," Modjeski said. The restaurant has been employee run since about 2004. "That's a harder way to go in a lot of ways."

Modjeski and his wife also own a car lot in Milwaukie, which takes much of their time.

Though customers from all over the region know Calamity Jane's for its eccentric burger combinations (like the marshmallow fudge burger or peanut butter bacon burger), Modjeski said the joint just "was never as much of a success as we wanted it to be."

"Everybody comes in once in a while," he said. "We have customers all over the state, but they may only come once a year."

One of the most difficult parts of closing, Modjeski explained, was having to let go of their 27 employees. He said he and his family added breakfast on weekends back in October in an effort to increase traffic. They also considered obtaining an OLCC license to serve mixed drinks, but in the end the cost was prohibitive.

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN  - The tradition of signing dollars to plaster to the ceiling at Calamity Janes came about in 2004. Many are still up there to this day."We feel really bad about laying all of those people off," he said. "We didn't want to close. It was a hard decision to make. There are a lot of faithful employees who've been here a long time.

"And we feel bad we're letting some of our customers down," Modjeski added. "Because of the location, we'd meet people from all over the world. I think the fact that we're family-oriented was a big draw. People felt they could bring the family here. One of the reasons we never put lottery in is we felt it would portray the wrong image. We always wanted to be a family friendly place. (Being in the food industry) has been crazy, I guess. I like the people. We got to know a lot of people over the years (and) watch a lot of families grow up. I don't know why we're popular for sure, but I think for the most part we have good food."

The Mojeskis are looking to lease the building that housed Calamity Jane's.

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