Last Sunday, we loaded 10-month-old Emma Pearl in the back of the SUV and headed off for her first visit to 1000 Acre Dog Park on the Sandy River Delta. Non-stop, Chuck-it fetch madness ensued. Finally, having revved her engine to an ear blasting 200-RPM pant, we traveled two more miles down the road and back in time to Tad’s Chicken ‘n Dumplins in search of soothing sustenance. I first learned about Tad’s from my Uncle Norm, a no-frills traditionalist born in 1909—pre-empting the historic Columbia River Highway roadhouse by nearly two decades.
As everyone always does, we waited eagerly in line for the behemoth neon sign to light, the heavy front door to open—precisely at four o’clock. Then, like fireflies to a lamp, we were drawn in to the magical aura. Tad’s was just as I had remembered it. A welcoming cornucopia of nostalgia, coved wood ceilings, Sandy River views, and a juke box that no longer plays but you can still hear the music in your head. We sit, we order—bring on the towering mounds of steaming chicken and dumplings served up in metal bowls, 14” self-serve spoons daggered in the sides. Your just-warmed dinner plate waits to be fed. It’s all such a ceremonial feast—one that begins with the presentation of a tiny ice-chipped relish dish of carrot and celery sticks topped with a single miniature corn. Warm French rolls with accompanying Mothers Butter follow. Creamy broccoli-cheddar was the soup of the day, but I opted for the green salad with a humble Dixie cup of Thousand Island on the side. Course by course it came, each bundled in attentive service and sealed with a gentle smile.
Tad’s Chicken n’ Dumplins is a distinctly unique brand built on heart, not business plans. Sadly, after a 90-year run, the business is for sale.
Will the new owners embrace and nurture this iconic brand? Or will the death march begin with video-screen credit-card swipers bolted to the tables? Next time I go, will I find the tower of chicken and dumplings is just a little less towering? Will the throw-back relish dish have quietly slipped away? Perhaps the juke box will be gone to make room for another four-top. After all, it didn’t work anyway. This is what happens when new owners calling plays from a business plan don’t understand the essence of a brand. Customers intuitively know: it isn’t just about good food or good value; it’s about how the brand makes you feel inside. Walking into Tad’s I felt embraced by sincerity and warmth in a suspended moment in time that will draw me back again and again. Next time, I’m saving room for the bread pudding with whiskey sauce…and maybe (probably) a marionberry cobbler chaser.
In memory of iconic brands that have passed:
Yaw’s Top Notch (1926-1982)
Henry Thiele’s (1932-1990)
The Crab Broiler (circa 1940-1985)
Rose’s Restaurant and Delicatessen (1956-2011)
In admiration for iconic brands that live on today:
Huber’s Café (since 1879)
Jake’s Famous Crawfish (since 1892)
Skyline Restaurant (since 1935)
RingSide Steakhouse (since 1944)
Saylor’s Old Country Kitchen (since 1946)
Clyde’s Prime Rib (since 1955)
Goose Hollow Inn (since 1967)