LA GRANDE — The Flying J restaurant and truck stop just southeast of La Grande now is under the ownership of the nation's largest travel center chain.
Brian Waldrop, son of local fuel kingpin Don Waldrop, owned the Flying J off Interstate 84’s exit 265 through the limited liability company Mountain Valley Investments, according to public records, and Mountain Valley on Nov. 4 sold the property to Pilot Travel Centers — which does business as Pilot Flying J — for $10. The corporation claims to operate more than 750 locations in 44 states.
The Union County Assessor's Office pegs the real market value of the property just off Interstate 84 at milepost 265 at almost $2.4 million. There could be other parts to the transaction the public is not privy to, but no one involved would talk.
Brian Waldrop did not return a call seeking comment. Don Waldrop said he did not know what was happening with the property. John Bogue, Pilot’s regional manager, said the corporation's publicity department worked up a release about the La Grande purchase and would send it as soon as possible. The Observer did not receive that by deadline.
The interior of the store already boasts new shelving and goods, but the restaurant has been dark since Nov. 3 at 4 p.m., according to the notes taped to the front doors.
“As part of a pending sale, the restaurant will be transformed into something new and the store will be expanded,” those notes state. "Many of our team members will be transitioning to the new concept and the rest have chosen a path outside of our facility.”
Tony Magee is one of the former employees of the Flying J. He confirmed the sale to the corporation but would not say more on the matter.
The restaurant was a popular local dining and meeting spot for years. Laura Eckstein, chair of the Union County Republican Central Committee, said no one from the business notified the committee it would need a new place for its regular gatherings.
“I’m kind of mad they closed,” she said.
Mike Boquist, La Grande’s city planner, said Pilot Flying J’s corporate office contacted the city about applying for a business permit to document the change in ownership. The corporation submitted the paperwork Oct. 22, and the city approved the permit Nov. 7.
The corporation also submitted renovation plans for the restaurant to the city’s building department. The 63-page document outlines everything from paint sheen to the installation of showers and new food and beverage equipment. Pilot Flying J also plans to add a Subway restaurant and a Mama Deluca’s pizza place, thus doing away with a space for gatherings.
Boquist described the project as a total gut-and-replace job that would make this Pilot Flying J similar to others in the chain. While the revamp comes with an $800,000 cost estimate, according to the city’s building department, the plans show a price tag of $340,000.
Boquist explained the lower figure is for the purposes of his department and does not include costs such as repainting and replacing toilets and pipes, among the myriad details in the renovation. That work is part of building maintenance, he said, while he is focused on more substantive changes.
“I’m only looking at permanent building expansion and permanent alterations,” he said.
The plans make it clear in this case the building’s total footprint will remain the same. La Grande building inspector Joe Fisher said the restaurant's remodel is on par with last summer's renovation of the local Walmart, and since the building department gave its OK for the plans, Pilot Flying J can proceed when it wants.
Boquist also said because the use of the building will remain the same and there are no requests for re-zoning, the project does not go through public hearings.