Continuing a tradition: Poppa Al’s new owners eager to serve

July, 2016 Posted in Business

By Mary Owen

A Mill City landmark has new owners who are working hard to keep it the best “burger joint” in town.

“Knowing we’ve purchased a real piece of Santiam Canyon history, we are very committed to preserving the Poppa Al’s name and reputation,” said Kevin Muniz, who bought the restaurant in April with long-time friend Ellen Murphy.

“The previous owners have done a great job of building a good reputation and you just can’t buy that,” Muniz added. “You have to work to keep it.”

Muniz said the restaurant will have the same name and menu. “We’ve been very lucky to keep most of the same employees that have helped build a very loyal customer base.”

Like Poppa Al’s, Muniz and Murphy have a long history. The two met in high school when she began dating one of his best friends. “Ellen and that best friend of mine went on to raise a family, while I did the same with a gal I met at work,” he said. “My friend and I kept in touch, and we would often get the families together and go on outings.”

Years past, children grew up and moved out on their own, and then both couples grew apart. “But we all remained friends, and I continued to keep in touch with Ellen through my best friend, her ex,” Muniz said. “Ellen had relocated to Salem several years ago. I had to quit work a couple of years ago to have neck surgery. After that, I took an early retirement and moved to Oregon last winter. After years of wanting to escape the big city, I’m so glad I’m here. I love it, rain and all!”

Muniz found himself “too young and to poor” to retire. With just a little money and a lot of time on his hands, he searched for a way to start his own business.

“Also looking for a place to live in the general Salem area, I came across an ad showing that Poppa Al’s was up for sale on the back of a real estate magazine,” he said. “Having stopped there before myself in my travels between the Valley and Central Oregon, I said to myself, ‘Hey, I know that place! Mom-and-pop burger stand, hum, I can do that!”

Muniz contacted a real estate agent and that resulted in forming a business partnership with Murphy and taking over on April 1.

“It’s been a wild ride ever since,” Muniz said.

The new partners have done some minor sprucing up of the restaurant and purchased slightly used but much more modern and efficient refrigerators and freezers. Muniz said they have plans to remodel the restaurant and expand the outdoor deck after the summer season.

“Right now our focus is gearing up for a very busy summer on Highway 22,” he said. “The lake is full, the weather is going to be great, and there are just more and more people discovering all the great resources we have here in the North Santiam Canyon. So aside from opening back up our newly repaired outside dining deck, we don’t plan on any other major changes until after the busy season.”

Muniz said visitors to Poppa Al’s love the famous homemade hamburger buns served with all signature burgers, including the Poppa Al and Momma Al burgers. Fan favorites include the milkshakes, chicken dumpling soup and Hillbilly burger.

“We’re getting great feedback from the locals, from first-timers and from dedicated folks who have made Poppa Al’s their stop whenever they travel to Detroit Lake or through the Santiam Pass on their way between Salem and the Bend/Sisters area,” Muniz said.

Since moving to the area, Muniz and Murphy have become involved with local business owners, nonprofits and government agencies working with Travel Oregon to promote tourism in the North Santiam River area. Muniz has joined the Eagles lodge, too.

“Taking on this venture has been challenging, scary, rewarding and fun all at once!” Muniz said.

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