Milestone for restaurant

By Observer Upload April 18, 2013 01:29 pm

 

Sandy Sorrels stands in front of Ten Depot Street, a restaurant she opened 25 years ago. Sorrels acquired the restaurant and bar in 1987, a place then known as Chrisís Woodshed. Following an extensive remodel, the place re-opened in April 1988 as Ten Depot Street. Bill Rautenstrauch photo
Sandy Sorrels stands in front of Ten Depot Street, a restaurant she opened 25 years ago. Sorrels acquired the restaurant and bar in 1987, a place then known as Chrisís Woodshed. Following an extensive remodel, the place re-opened in April 1988 as Ten Depot Street. Bill Rautenstrauch photo

Ten Depot Street owner Sandy Sorrels and her employees are gearing up for a

25-year anniversary celebration set to unfold Saturday from 5 p.m. to closing time 

by Bill Rautenstrauch/For The Observer

Ten Depot Street in downtown La Grande is marking its 25th year in business this month, with its owner saying she’s pleasantly surprised by her long and successful run.

“I can’t believe how fast it went. When I first started, if somebody had told me I’d still be here 25 years later, I’d say it was impossible,” said Sandy Sorrels, a woman who started out waiting tables during college, and wound up as one of La Grande’ best-known restaurateurs.

Sorrels was raised in Tri-Cities, Wash., but took her higher education in Colorado. She attended the Colorado Women’s College in Denver and later went to Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. She was an English major who turned out to have a flair for preparing and serving fine food.

Sorrels and her family are avid skiers, and that’s what brought her to Northeast Oregon. The family once tried the slopes at Anthony Lakes in nearby Baker County, and liked the experience so much they bought a cabin nearby.

Sorrels herself became a full-time La Grande resident in 1982.

“I was looking for a place to open a Mexican restaurant, and
La Grande didn’t have one at the time,” she said. “I’d worked in two Mexican restaurants, knew the food, and I decided that’s what I could do in La Grande.”

Her first venture was Mamacita’s, situated in an old and historic building at 110 Depot St. Sorrels mainly served up south-of-the-border fare, but didn’t limit herself to that. She instituted “international nights,” offering food dishes from many other countries.

The nights were a hit from the start.

“We’d pick a different country and have somebody local who knew the food come in and help. We always sold out,” Sorrels said.

Eventually, Mamacita’s outgrew the location at 110 Depot and Sorrels started looking for another place to do business. The City of La Grande owned a building on Fourth Street, adjacent to Max Square, and had put it out to bid. Sorrels acquired the spot and moved Mamacita’s there in 2003.

By that time, she had become the owner of a second downtown eatery. In 1987, she acquired the restaurant and bar at 10 Depot Street, a place then known as Chris’s Woodshed. Following an extensive remodel, the place re-opened in April 1988 — 25 years ago — under the name Ten Depot Street.

“We spent eight months remodeling. The whole thing had to be gutted,” Sorrels said. She said the work included construction of a new kitchen, new dining room and a spacious new barroom.

“We haven’t had to change much since. Our décor here is antique, so it never looks dated,” she said.

Ten Depot is a nicer-than-average sit-down restaurant that features live entertainment a couple of nights a week. Sorrels squirms, however, when she hears the word upscale used to describe it. She said it’s always been her goal to have an attractive restaurant that serves home-cooked food at affordable prices, a place that appeals to everybody.

Not long after Ten Depot opened, the country slipped into one of its periodic recessions. To fight back, Sorrels added a blue plate special to the menu, a dinner most anybody could afford. The tradition continues today.

Five years ago, Sorrels decided to sell Mamacita’s and concentrate on Ten Depot operations. It’s a big job at that. Thirty-five people including management staff, wait staff, cooks, bakers, bartenders and dishwashers work for her.

Sorrels and all her employees are presently gearing up for a 25-year anniversary celebration, scheduled at the restaurant Saturday. Festivities will begin when the restaurant opens at
5 p.m., and continue through the evening. There will be dinner specials, free birthday cake and live entertainment by the Depot Street
Syncopators.

Sorrels said she looks forward to the party, and also to the chance to thank the many people who have supported her restaurant and helped make it a success.

“I love all my employees and our customers. It’s kind of like a family,” she said. “I’m very glad I picked La Grande as my hometown. It’s been a wonderful 25 years.”