WALLOWA — A Wallowa institution is closing up shop Dec. 23, as Jay Hinds retires after operating the Blonde Strawberry for eight years of serving breakfasts, lunches, specialty drinks and unique, made-to-order cakes or pies.
Time to hang it up
He said Thursday, Nov. 3, that it’s time to retire, “Because my wife said so.”
Hinds said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll be doing in retirement.
“My wife hasn’t told me yet,” he said.
Hinds is known for breakfast, lunch, pastries, breads and cakes at Blonde Strawberry — he also used to do dinners — but he’s also known for his “stupid dad jokes.”
Hinds, always eager to see a smile on customers’ faces, is always ready with his jokes.
“Do you believe that dreams have meanings?” he asked. “I dreamed that I was a muffler. I woke up exhausted.”
He also expands his jokes to architecture.
“What’s the tallest building in the world? The library. It has the most stories.”
Then there are the animal jokes.
“When does an elephant not matter? When it’s irrelevant.”
So who is he going to tell his jokes to in retirement?
Wife, Debra, is the target.
“But she’s already heard them all,” he said.
Still, she may regret her insistence on his retiring.
“She doesn’t have a choice,” Hinds said.
The future?Hinds said he’s not exactly sure where the business’ name came from, other than it was already on the building when he bought it.
“It would’ve cost $500 to change it, so I thought, that’s a good name,” he said.
He was emphatic that he’s not selling the business, and the building’s owners — from whom he leases — haven’t revealed their plans for it to him.
But it’s a solid building. During the Aug. 11 hailstorm that clobbered the town, it stood up fairly well. A couple of west-facing door windows withstood the hailstones.
“The windows in the basement all got broken, but the windows in those doors — whoever made that glass should be making glass for everybody,” Hinds said. “My wife and I were in here when that was going on — we’d just closed — and we were getting pelted by golf ball-sized hail and we were sure they were going to break, but they did not.”
He said the building’s roof does need to be replaced, but that will be done after the Blonde Strawberry closes.
His house is a different story, he said. It sustained $135,000 in damage that is still being repaired.
Enjoyed the businessAlthough the Blonde Strawberry is a full-service restaurant with a full espresso bar, Hinds’ real passion has been baking tasty and elaborate cakes.
Everything on the cakes is edible.
He makes cakes depicting dragons, snakes, fish, horses, flowers, jack-o’-lanterns, campfires and about anything else he or a customer can dream up, including traditional wedding cakes.
Referring to his dragon cake, Hinds can’t get away from the jokes: “How come dragons can’t have birthday cakes? Because they can’t blow out the candles.”
Hinds said he’s enjoyed running the Blonde Strawberry and he’s hearing from customers that they wish he’d still be around.
“Yeah, they’re saying we are a staple,” he said. “The tourists who come through that we get every year are going to be upset that we’re not going to be here next year. It’s tradition for a lot of people to stop here on their way to the lake or on their way home.”
In the past he’s emphasized that he wants a smile on his customers.
“My philosophy is if you come in here grumpy and you leave grumpy, it’s your own fault,” Hinds has said in the past. “And don’t come back because I don’t want grumpy money.”
He said he’s particularly enjoyed the customers — most of them.
“A lot of good people come through here,” he said. “A lot of people who aren’t so good try to come through here. I don’t believe the customer’s always right, and those who are entitled learn really quickly that they’re not and I show them the door.”