Thursday, April 25, 2024

Man was on a mountain oyster mission

| December 4, 2020 1:00 AM

Three disconnected life events helped form Tom Richards' son, Tom:

• He was the first baby to occupy the nursery of what would later become Coeur d’Alene Bible Church. And he grew up a church kid.

• He was the last general manager of the old Atlas Building Center.

• In May 2015, while in his last days as a missionary in Seoul, Korea, he bought his favorite North Idaho restaurant, the Snake Pit at Enaville.

Tom wasn’t supposed to become a Christian missionary and then a social studies teacher and now a restaurant owner.

He was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of influential timbermen who helped build this area. He attended the same schools as his father: Hayden Elementary, Coeur d’Alene High, and Stanford.

Most figured he would follow in his father’s footsteps.

To his credit, W.T. “Tom” Richards tried only once to dissuade his son from becoming a restaurateur. Early on, the paterfamilias asked friend Ray Gillette of Cedars Floating Restaurant to talk some sense into his son. Ray told young Tom of the long, consuming hours that are part of the restaurant business.

“Ray tried to scare me off,” Tom told Huckleberries. “The more he talked the more interested I became.”

Tom dreamed of doubling as a restaurant cook and a rock star as his peers in the Stanford Economics Department donned suits and applied for jobs with Goldman Sachs.

He became a missionary to Japan, Vienna, and Korea instead.

Credit his mother, Sheila, and his future wife, Kirste, for that.

In Christian parlance, the late Dr. Jane Gumprecht led Sheila to the Lord soon after Tom’s birth. Sheila went all in afterward. As for Tom’s fiancée, Kirste always assumed she would become a missionary.

Before their marriage, Tom and Kirste ate at the Snake Pit, the quirky Enaville restaurant, which sprang from the rough-and-tumble railroad construction crews living on the site in the late 1800s. Reputedly, the restaurant and bar once housed prostitutes and bootleg whiskey.

Kirste’s food that day was subpar. But that didn’t stop Kirste from telling Tom that his favorite eatery was for sale. Tom and Doug Johnson, owner of Fire Pizza, closed on the Snake Pit on May 15, 2015. Tom coveted co-owner Doug’s expertise as he restored the Snake Pit to its former glory.

“I love being at the Snake Pit when the place is full, live music is playing, and everyone is having a good time,” Tom said.

Business is booming this fall as COVID limitations are chasing Washington residents across the border.

Quips Tom: “I should send a thank you note to (Washington Gov. Jay) Inslee.”

And that’s how a church boy with timber industry pedigree found happiness selling Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull balls) at a historic bar once known for illegal whiskey and “girls of the morning.”

Huckleberries Past

My former Spokesman-Review colleague Jess Walter wrote the definitive book about the Ruby Ridge shootout, “Every Knee Shall Bow.” Jess, who covered the August 1992 standoff for The Spokesman-Review, provides the details and lets his readers draw their own conclusions. Twenty-five years ago, “Every Knee Shall Bow” was gaining traction with the public when the Shoshone News Press listed it among the new books at the Wallace Library. Only the paper referred to the author as “Jim” Walter. My former SR colleague didn’t mind. On a national tour of that day, he was called “Jeff Walker” several times. Everyone gets his name correct today, now that he’s written a series of award-winning novels, including “The Beautiful Ruins,” a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and my personal favorite.


• Poet’s Corner: Someplace the days are sunny/and someplace skies are clear;/someplace the buds are blooming;/but someplace sure ain’t here — The Bard of Sherman Avenue (“Someplace”). The weather was harsher in December 2012 when the Bard penned this.

• The zany boosters at the Center of the Universe are making good on their promise to celebrate the 100th anniversary of local-girl-turned-Hollywood-bombshell Lana Turner. Party hardy Wallace will toast the 1940-50s star with “Lana Palooza” from Feb. 8-15. Julia Jean Turner was born in Wallace on Feb. 8, 1921. Fans plan to unveil a plaque honoring Lana at the Liberty Theater, where she first performed at age 6. Stay tuned.

• Bumpersnickers (on black pickup on McFarland Avenue): “Family. Faith. Friends. Flag. Firearms. 5 things you don’t mess with.” If that doesn’t get the point across, a second sticker announces: “If this (U.S.) flag offends you, I’ll help you pack.”

• Some will debate the merits of feeding bread to ducks and geese. But one thing is certain. Those who feed the plentiful waterfowl along the Dike Road shouldn’t toss the plastic fasteners on the ground after they open their loaves. Dozens have done so. It doesn’t make sense to feed the ducks and geese and then spoil their habitat.

Parting Shot

I’ve heard of the term “snowflake.” I knew it was derogatory. But I didn’t pay much attention to it until Mrs. O pointed out the wording on a snowplow blade at Dalton Gardens Tuesday. In white lettering on red, the plow announced support for “Trump 2020” and then: “Pushing Snowflakes Aside.” I looked the slang word up on Wikipedia, which said “snowflake” implies that a person has “inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions.” Sounds like “snowflake” could define the fringe on each side of the political divide.

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You can contact D.F. “Dave” Oliveria at


Photo courtesy of WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Lana Turner