By Aaron Bowen
Sizzling onions pop off the grill, right onto a plate with a prime rib dip, or maybe inside of a meat lover's omelet. Soft jazz wafts from the walls, setting the mood for a relaxing meal. The aroma of the grilled onions overwhelms the senses, swimming around the diner and latching on to anything it touches. This is what a diner should look, sound and smell like.
The walls of Ferguson's diner are decorated with black and white photos of movie stars of old. Humphrey Bogart sneers down at the tables, daring customers to sit by him while Marilyn Monroe beckons for customers over to sit under her.
Expect a greeting from Tom Adolfson, who owns Ferguson's with his wife Terri. Tom Adolfson will also be taking your order, cleaning your table, taking out the trash, bringing your food, and he will be your cashier when you are ready.
"As a working owner, I'm always putting out fires," Tom Adolfson laughs. "I enjoy having direct contact with the customers but it can get a little hectic. Hold on," he says as he greets and seats new customers. Only three people are working in Ferguson's today, and the lunch crowd is just starting to come in.
Tom Adolfson's daughter Kirsty works in the kitchen, tirelessly slinging out orders faster than they come in.
"Kirsty is the heart and soul of this place, she knows it inside and out," Tom Adolfson said. She has been known to correct him when he brings back an order that she knows isn't right. "She can hear someone's voice from the kitchen and know what they want, exactly how they want it."
Ferguson's has been a constant in their customers' lives. They have been there through the happy and sad times. "If we see a regular get out of their car, sometimes we'll call back their order and try to have it on their table as they get sat as a joke," Tom Adolfson said.
"You get to know people's birthdays, their kids, you just become a part of their lives," Kirsty Adolfson said. "When people come in here they feel known, kind of like celebrities, like this is their place to be."
Even with the trendy new chain restaurants coming in and out, Ferguson's has been a constant in the Northern Spokane community since 1936. Originally operating under the name Sander's diner, and changing to Ferguson's under new ownership. Tom Adolfson retained the name Ferguson's because it was how people knew the restaurant.
"I came here because I know they have good soup," said Joyce Sleeth, a longtime customer. "I used to work across the street and come here for lunch, but that was a very long time ago."
First-time customers have no problem finding something they like about Ferguson's. David Allen recently walked in the door for the first time and said he was thrown back to the 1950s. "This place reminds me of the places I used to go with my family after church," Allen said.
The nostalgic feeling felt by Allen is no coincidence.
"We haven't tried to change the diner. Part of the appeal is people revisiting memories from their past," Tom Adolfson said.
Evaline Sanders, the original owner of the diner still eats at Ferguson's. "She's told me so many different stories about this place, she's still sharp as a tack" Tom Adolfson said.
The Garland community holds an attitude of family between its business owners. They help each other out. Instead of competing for customers, they share them. The Brown Derby used to use Ferguson's as a makeshift caterer. Tom Afolfson could be seen carrying plates over on Sunday mornings during football season.
"I used to call the Brown Derby Pub our smoking section," he said.
The sense of community also applies to competitors. Even with The Milk Bottle, another diner next door, Tom Adolfson holds fast to his principle of helping neighbors.
"I tell my customers that they have great ice cream and they tell theirs that we have awesome sandwiches, I have the greatest neighbors you could ask for. We are all very supportive of each other, and that's the way it should be to succeed" Tom Adolfson said as he rushed off to help another customer.