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Lifetime Achievement Award: The Home Place Restaurant – a true community hub

By Stephen Floyd

For many Silvertonians, The Home Place Restaurant represents a rite of passage.

It’s where they got to have their first big birthday party, where numerous teenagers got their first jobs, where generations of athletes gathered for pre- and post-game celebrations.

Co-owner Debbie Bennett said the establishment is old enough now that customers bring their own families, talking about how they enjoyed coming as a kid.

“We love hearing stories from customers that their parents brought them here to celebrate when they fill-in-the-blank,” she said.

This abiding community impact is the reason The Home Place and owners Debbie and Don Bennett are receiving the Judy Schmidt Lifetime Achievement from the Silverton Chamber of Commerce.

The award is scheduled to be presented Saturday, Feb. 17, during the annual First Citizen Awards Gala.

The Home Place Restaurant first opened in 1978 and Bennett recalled going there as a kid with her family.

“I remember sitting in a booth and thinking how fancy the salad bar was,” she said.

Like many others, Bennett got her first part-time job there while in high school, working on the pizza parlor side of the restaurant. She said they’re still the first employer for many young Silvertonians and teach the basics from work ethics and leadership to how to read a pay stub and understand a 401k plan.

“While we love it when our best employees stay on with us long-term, we understand that for many it is just a short stay in their employment journey,” said Bennett.

While on the job Benentt met her future husband, Don Bennett, who was working as a manager. Don bought the restaurant in 1991 and in 1998 the two married. Debbie said she eagerly embraced her new role as co-owner.

Though technically in charge, Debbie said she still enjoys working the front counter and the to-go window because that’s where she gets to connect with people and be part of their lives.

As one example of meaningful interaction, Debbie said a young man once called the restaurant years ago while stationed with the military across the country. He explained he was from Silverton and couldn’t reach anyone on his family’s phone, so he called The Home Place because he wanted someone from his hometown to talk to.

In another story Bennet recalled a customer who shared that her husband had recently passed from a long terminal illness and had struggled to eat anything. One day he seemed to know his time was coming and he summoned a hankering for chicken fried steak, and the woman said it was The Home Place’s food he chose to enjoy during his last hours.

“These kinds of stories draw us into customer’s lives,” said Debbie. “It feels good to know you matter.”

The restaurant endured its own rites of passage after multiple disasters struck the area starting with COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. 

Debbie said, for around 12 months, they “were in a constant pivot” between lockdowns, partial reopenings and safety protocols. Meanwhile the restaurant kept workers employed and customers fed from its drive-through window, which got around strict dine-in restrictions. 

Then that September a massive wildfire threatened the area and many Silverton residents evacuated. She said one woman in the drive through had a vehicle full of personal belongings and pet carriers who said The Home Place was her last stop for food as they were leaving town.

Then during the ice storm in 2021 the restaurant didn’t have power for around a week due to damaged power lines.

She said these events were “a crash course in adapting” and, despite these challenges, their goal remained to provide a good product at a good price without being “flashy or fancy.”

Debbie said they were humbled to learn about the award and her first reaction was, “Oh, gosh! I’m going to have to say something publicly.”

Tammie Sakai, who nominated the restaurant and the couple, said the honors are both well-deserved and long overdue. Though nominated for Business of the Year, the Selection Committee considered them for the Judy Schmidt Award and Sakai’s nomination expressed why their impacts have been felt over lifetimes.

“The Home Place is Silverton’s gem, that is a must-stop for anyone that grew up here and no longer lives here,” she said. “…The owners are humble and kind and have managed to keep the business relevant and thriving since 1978!”

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