Sharon Bannon holds up one of the beloved homemade pies made by her business partner Ray Hage. (the Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)
VALE – After 13 years in the hands of Sharon Bannon, the Starlite Cafe may come under new ownership this fall. The restaurant is up for sale, with one pending offer from a local resident.
But if the deal doesn’t go through and the Starlite is unable to find a buyer, Bannon said she’ll have no option but to shut the doors.
“We’re a little bit ahead, but we aren’t enough ahead to make it through winter,” Bannon said. “We have to think of something fast before the end of hunting season or we’ll be gone.”
The restaurant is selling for $299,000.
Bannon said she’s had the Starlite up for sale on and off for 10 years, but it’s Oregon’s minimum wage increases that have finally made it too costly to keep running. Bannon is also looking to retire to take care of her ill husband, and move closer to her family in Idaho.
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The minimum wage rate will climb to $12.50 in the state’s nonurban counties by July 1, 2022. It’s currently at $11 in the state’s rural areas.
Bannon said she could no longer afford to absorb the costs.
“The first year they took all my profits, the second year I cut as much as I could, the third year I’m struggling,” she said.
Last October, Bannon was forced to downsize from 23 employees to 11. Next came the hours. She started closing at 5 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. Then came the food. Rather than serving prime rib twice a week she cut it from the menu. All these changes helped her come out ahead financially, but Bannon was upset to have to put people out of a job. The changes also left her customers disappointed.
“It’s been a social hub for so long, I would hate for them to lose that,” she said of the Starlite.
On any given day you might find regulars hunched over homemade pies talking about the cowgirls of their youth, or waitresses promising to restock one customer’s favorite jam: strawberry.
Frozen custard, whipped cream and marionberry and peanut butter chocolate are among the pie flavors that have been sold at the Starlite Cafe. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)
Beneath the vintage newspapers that cover the countertop, there are spots worn from use. Customers who sat at the same stool for years literally left their mark.
Cattle brands belonging to local families line the space where the walls kiss the ceiling.
Bannon remembers one customer who broke out of Pioneer Place in her wheelchair to roll all the way to the Starlite for French fries.
The restaurant is known for all-American comfort food. And the pies, made by Bannon’s business partner Ray Hage. The flavors include peanut butter chocolate, old-fashioned custard, whipped cream and marionberry.
“You don’t find that in the frozen section,” said Bannon.
She’ll miss the place that helped introduce her to the community.
When she and her husband bought the Starlite along with another couple in 2006, Bannon had already been living in Vale since 1991. But it was while working at the restaurant that she got to know people.
Bannon believes those connections will be harder to make in the future.
“There aren’t that many mom and pop places that are open in Oregon,” said Bannon. “They can’t make it. We’re not the only place that’s struggling like this.”
News tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: 541-473-3377 or [email protected]
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