Glen Damewood remembers his high school football coach urging his players, “Go until hell freezes over. And after that, fight on the ice!”
Damewood, 60, lives by his coach’s straightforward advice as a businessman.
“That’s how I operate… to never give up,” he said.
Damewood owns and manages enterprises under the name “Wooden Nickel.”
He has a catering business; he oversees three local pub-restaurants – Wooden Nickels in Silverton and Sublimity, and Mac’s Place in Silverton; and he operates the Willamette Valley Event Center in Mount Angel, hosting concert series to wedding receptions.
Like other industries in Oregon’s current economy, times are hard in the restaurant business.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and when the economy gets bad, people don’t have the resources to go out,” Damewood said. “Restaurants are a luxury.”
“It’s not the first time I’ve had this experience,” he added, “and (I know) you have to make things affordable for them to come out.”
So, he sends out emails to his customers advertising specials at each of his restaurants. Pizza at Mac’s might be half-price. On Tuesday evenings at Wooden Nickel there’s all-you-can-eat Southern-fried chicken and Thursday nights, come in for all-you-can-eat St. Louis-style ribs.
Damewood doesn’t stop there, however.
“We’ve revamped the menu at Mac’s,” he said.
In mid-July, he persuaded former chef Thomas Johnson to return to Silverton from New Orleans to change things at Mac’s.
Johnson’s created a menu combining Pacific Northwest fresh with Southern style cuisine.
“It’s not uncommon to see frog legs or fish,” Damewood said. “Almost everything is fresh there. He’s all over the map with what he does.”
He depends on chefs Duane Huber in Silverton and Mauricio Carbajal in Sublimity, working closely with him to run his kitchens at both Wooden Nickels.
Both chefs have made changes to their menus.
“It takes a lot of the pressure off me and lets me do a little bit better job at everything else,” Damewood said. He said the slant is “fresh, local and less expensive.”
To produce lower prices, he works out deals with his suppliers. The high volume of food bought for his three restaurants gives him better buying power.
He also saves money by smoking turkeys and making sausages, for example, rather than buying them cooked by someone else.
For greater efficiency his staff does the ordering and other details, leaving him to work on menu development and search for new products.
Asked to describe his style, Damewood comes up with “It’s most important to do a good job.” Pushed further, he says, “Do your share in the community. Do everything you can afford in this economy.”
His goal as a businessman is not only to do a good job, but also “get the bills paid on time and keep it interesting for your customers, because otherwise it gets boring.”
A Silverton High School graduate, Damewood started working in construction in his underground utilities business.
He got started in the restaurant business when his former brother-in-law, Rick Rollie, and he became partners in the Silverton Wooden Nickel in 1980. The partnership lasted a year, but Damewood decided to stay with it.
The catering aspect developed when he was on a softball team as a younger man. The team kept winning games and, as a reward, having picnics where Damewood was the barbecue man.
“It grew into a business,” he said. He can point to a stable of barbecues on wheels that are pulled by white Wooden Nickel trucks to picnics and parties throughout the region.
Damewood ventured into the event center in a leased former brewery at Mount Angel about two years ago.
“The economy made it really hard to survive,” he said. “Right now there’s nothing special going on there.”
After 30 years in the food industry he says he’s learned by his mistakes, not college classes, and it helps to have horse sense.
There aren’t any high points he can recall, just “the little catastrophes that make it a little more challenging every day.”
His children work with him in the business, Brian in special events and catering, and Adrienne as the catering manager.
Damewood dreams of retiring someday to travel and spend time with his family, ideally outside of business pressures and deadlines.
For now his fun is “to go out to eat and check what others are doing.”
A former business partner, Bill Schmidt of Silverton, who once owned the Nickel and Mac’s with him, analyzed Damewood’s success.
“The difference with Glen is he’s always with his customers,” Schmidt said.
“He knows what they like and want, and he’s always researching. He goes to New Orleans one or two times a year. I’ve never met anyone as creative as him, and he’s got more guts than anyone I know.”