Sweet Home’s Cedar Shack signs off

By Sarah Brown
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Breaker, breaker: Venerable family-operated restaurant closes after more than a half-century

After nearly 58 years serving burgers and milkshakes, the Cedar Shack Drive-In is “over and out.”

According to manager Jan Hufford, the family closed the venerable eatery for the holidays on Dec. 18, 2022, then, in the interim, decided not to reopen.

Her parents, Tom and Leah “Mardy” Hufford, opened the Cedar Shack at 4102 Main St. in February 1965. Situated on part of an original donation land claim that’s been in Mardy’s family for more than 100 years, the restaurant was known for taking orders from truck drivers over citizens’ band radios.

“We opened the Cedar Shack because the lakes were supposed to be a big tourist draw, and to keep us kids out of trouble,” Jan Hufford said. “Farming was not making enough money. We used to raise cattle and sheep. The property was originally about 25 acres. We had a huge garden and grew our own tomatoes for the Cedar Shack.”

The Logger’s Special was a favorite over the years. Photos courtesy of the Hufford family

The Sweet Home landmark offered the “Logger Special,” a deep-fried breaded veal patty served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and the Huffords’ special sauce, with a side of fries. Also on its menu: the Chipper Burger and, following the timber decline of the 1980s, the Spotted Owl Burger.

Clearly, the menu was a nod to one of the area’s most important resources as well as Tom’s stake in the timber industry. He owned logging company Dundon Hufford & Peck, and drove a log truck after returning from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II until he was 87 years old.

“I’d drive a truck, then work at the Cedar Shack at night,” Tom told The New Era in 2005. “I’d jump in bed and roll out the other side and go to work in the woods.”

Tom, affectionately known as “Grampa Tom,” passed away in 2014. Mardy died in 2020.

Jan has worked at her parents’ restaurant since childhood (alongside siblings Diane, Tommy and Teddy) and has served as its manager since 1985.

“I wasn’t very old, but I could sack fries,” she said about her start in the business. “All they would let me do was sack French fries, which I hated because I wanted to work the window. We used to hand butter all the buns, using melted butter and a pastry brush.”

Jan and Tommy stayed with the restaurant to its end, providing jobs for the community, Jan’s kids and grandkids, and Tommy’s granddaughter.

Customer Dustin Dodge fondly remembered stopping at the Cedar Shack with his dad, Mike, when accompanying him to work in the woods. At the time, the original building’s signage was in big letters below the walk-up window.

Walk-up windows were part of the restaurant’s allure. More than one child used the D in the “Cedar Shack” sign to access the service windows.

“Being too dang short to wave at the servers, I’d have to climb right up on the D so that I could see in,” Dodge said. “It was a bummer when the original caught fire, but I was extremely happy to see the family rebuild to where I was able to take my kids and watch them enjoy the same food I once enjoyed as a little kid.”

Many in the community remembered when its burgers were four for $1, but others recalled getting 10 for the same price. They recounted memories in recent social media posts of dining inside or stopping by the restaurant during road trips. They shared stories of birthday parties and car shows, placing orders over a CB and simple moments with grandparents and parents that are now cherished memories.

“While pregnant with both of my children, I craved their burgers with extra pickles and their fries,” patron Kristen Lee said. “They were the best. Both kids ate their first burgers and fries there.”

Cedar Shack was the site of Madison McGrath’s first date and her wedding.

Edward Warner remembered when the restaurant first opened. He was one of the first patrons to eat there daily with his friend (and brother-in-law) O’Dean Hall. The Logger’s Special with a large Coke was their favorite order.

Warner said he would pick up his evening meal at the restaurant on his way to work at the Stock Lumber mill, but after he no longer worked there, Diane Hufford let him “charge it.” He ran up a $67 bill that took two or three months to pay back, “as $67 was almost three quarters of my paycheck from Willamette Mill in Foster,” he said.

Grampa Tom Hufford examines the paint job on a 1930 Ford Model A, winner of the 2011 Participants’ Choice at Grampa Tom’s car show, owned by Robert Stone of Sweet Home. File photo

For 20 years the Cedar Shack was the site of Grampa Tom’s Get-together car show, and for about a decade it became the location where a giant yule log was made for the community each Christmas season. Jan said the tradition began with another local family and continued at Cedar Shack. The yule log was made from popcorn and melted marshmallows, then covered in chocolate, sprinkles and candy. The original logs were made from 12-inch rounds and were later built into four-foot sections.

A fire in 2004 destroyed a 1971 addition to the original building and caused smoke and heat damage to the rest of the restaurant. The incident put a halt to the Huffords’ plans to promote their pizza parlor and rent videos.

Marne Rae Ringheimer and Steven Jayne were charged in connection with the Cedar Shack fire after Police Chief Bob Burford determined that Jayne burglarized the restaurant, brought the stolen items to Ringheimer’s residence, then set the fire to conceal his crime. Ringheimer pleaded guilty to six counts of identity theft for using a credit card taken from Cedar Shack, and Jayne pleaded guilty to first-degree arson and first-degree theft.

Marv Wilson pours cement for the Cedar Shack’s new footings. Friends and family pitched-in to help rebuild the restaurant. File photo

The Huffords were able to collect $50,000 from insurance for the destruction, but found it was only enough to clean out the building, not rebuild. A 2005 benefit helped raise funds for the latter, and the new, larger Cedar Shack reopened in 2008, reviving its traditional menu and the ability to order by CB radio.

Word spread quickly when Cedar Shack turned on its “open” sign that year, and what was intended as a soft opening turned into a much busier day than expected. As such, supplies were used up that day.

In 2009, the Huffords received the Landmark Award from the Sweet Home Planning Commission for rebuilding and reopening the Cedar Shack.

Current and former Sweet Home residents praised the Hufford family in social-media posts for their kindness, generosity and involvement in the community.

The Cedar Shack Drive-In opened in February 1965. Customers partake of its wares here circa 1970.

Jessie Friend said Jan would let her and her friends clean the restrooms in exchange for meals when they were kids. Tracy Goodwin said she picked up trash in the parking lot for a free ice cream cone or burger. Michele Carter said Jan should be “famous for her generosity to any and all in need, her knowledge of the history of Sweet Home and for her dancing spirit.”

Jan shared her own favorite memory: working with her sister Tommy from beginning to end. She cited Tommy as the reason Cedar Shack survived so long.

“We had many great people who worked for us and with us,” she said. “They were the heartbeat of the Cedar Shack. Thank you.”