Brigham City • Over the past 100 years, the Idle Isle Cafe has soldiered through the Great Depression, several wars, a new freeway — and most recently a pandemic — all the while creating memories as enduring as its 1920s marble countertop and wooden booths.
“As a business, the Idle Isle is a lot more than just the food,” said Travis Porter, who took over the shop in 2015 with his wife, Jana. “There’s a rich history of struggle and determination. A will to survive. It’s an honor for us to continue to do business in Brigham City. It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of people.”
Utah has longer-running restaurants that were founded before Idle Isle, including Snappy Service Lunch inside the Megaplex Theatres in Sandy (which originally opened in 1902); The Oaks in Ogden Canyon (1907); the Bluebird Restaurant in Logan (1914); and Hi-Mountain Drug in Kamas (1918).
But Idle Isle has continuously operated in the same location — and kept much of its original decor — on Brigham City’s Main Street. Only Hi-Mountain Drug can boast a similar kind of consistency.
How does a business make it for 100 years?
Here are some significant dates and events in its 100-year-old history:
May 1921 • The Main Street institution initially began as an ice cream and candy store run by Verabel Call Knudson and her husband, Percy C. Knudson. Percy worked at the Bluebird Cafe in Logan to learn the ice cream and candy business.
1929 • Over time, the store added homemade soups and sandwiches and eventually expanded into a full-service restaurant with the help of Verabel’s brother David Call and his wife, LaRita Call, who joined them as business partners. Percy managed the business, David ordered supplies and made the candy, Verabel ran the kitchen, and LaRita helped with the cooking and pie-making.
1930s • Notable celebrities such as Wallace Berry, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Paulette Goddard are said to have visited the Idle Isle on their way to Sun Valley.
1950 • Business deals to bring the aerospace engineering company Thiokol (later Orbital ATK; and now Northrop Grumman) to Box Elder County were struck in the original handcrafted wooden booths. Six decades later, county officials would meet at the restaurant with leader of Procter & Gamble to lure the consumer goods company to the area.
1969 • The State of Utah celebrated the Centennial of the Transcontinental Railroad and the driving of the Golden Spike, which was highlighted with a visit from John Wayne. “The Duke” had visited the cafe on a handful of occasions for hunting trips and during movie shoots in the state.
1971 • The Knudsons’ grandson Richard Van Dyke joined Idle Isle as an assistant and learned the candy-making business from David Call.
1974 • Percy and Verabel Knudson retired from the business.
1984 • Van Dyke assumed ownership of Idle Isle.
1994 • Van Dyke decided to split the businesses, focusing his efforts on Idle Isle’s hand-dipped chocolates and candy business while Idle Isle Cafe was sold to Kim and Ann Jeppsen, who embraced the homestyle, made-from-scratch recipes that Idle Isle was known for.
2004 • Idle Isle Candy operations and sales moved across the street to 41 S. Main St., where it continues to operate under owners Shari Van Dyke (Rich’s wife) and Julie Gailey (Shari’s sister).
2015 • When the Jeppsens retired, their daughter Jana and her husband, Travis Porter, became the owners of Idle Isle Cafe. Travis had managed Idle Isle Cafe from 1998 to 2007, so his return marked yet another homecoming for Idle Isle.
2019 • Food Network and Matador Network recognize the cafe’s famed Idleberry Pie — a blend of blueberries and marionberries — as the most iconic pie for the state of Utah.
2020 • During the coronavirus pandemic, Idle Isle’s place in history was uncertain. “I wasn’t sure if we would make it to 100 years,” said Porter. “We had a lot of things that went right for us because we didn’t give up. And to me, that’s the legacy that’s gotten the Idle Isle to where we are today. You can’t be in business 100 years without being a little stubborn, without having the determination to make it there with a lot of support.”
2021 • The Porters are moving ahead on a project to restore the facade of the cafe to its original 1920s look. With grant money from the state, the doors will be shifted to the center and transom windows will fill the entire front as they once did, when the Aremeda Block became one of Brigham City’s earliest commercial blocks.
“It’s a pleasure to represent the Idle Isle and continue to carry that banner,” Porter said. “I have no family affiliation to the founders, but it’s a business that’s gotten under my skin and it’s an honor for me to share in the legacy and on the cafe portion to carry the business forward.”
Idle Isle Cafe • 24 S. Main, Brigham City; 425-734-2468 or idleislecafe.com. Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.