The History of our Building & Business
1965 | The Tumalo Emporium
The Tumalo Feed Co. Steakhouse is historic both in actuality and in spirit. The original building was erected in 1965 by Marshall and Kathy Swearingen and was designed to evoke the spirit of the old wild west straight out of the 1880’s. Back then the building was known as the Tumalo Emporium and was used as an antique business. By 1967 the business evolved to become a well-known landmark restaurant known for its buffet dinners, lavish waitress attire of long gowns out of the 1800’s, and a 1950’s style soda fountain. Many of the treasures from those days never left the space and are still displayed in our dining room to this day including the marble topped soda fountain, antique treasures, and the old signage used to promote the business. By 1970 the management of the business was passed over to Ann and Dave Rasmussen (Daughter and Son in Law of Marshall and Kathy) and was owned by the family until 1986. Between 1986 and 1991 the business changed hands several times until it was purchased by John Bushnell and Robert Holley.
1991 | The Tumalo Feed Company
In 1991 John Bushnell and Robert Holley purchased the Tumalo Emporium and made it into the more recent destination restaurant known as the Tumalo Feed Company where they specialized in steak, seafood, and rocky mountain oysters. The Tumalo Feed Company evoked the family fun spirit of the 1990’s complete with waiters and waitresses singing birthday songs dressed in cowboy hats and boots all while serving up incredible steak dinners on wild west cowhide print table cloths. Many of the memories from these times can be seen in the vintage poloroid collection displayed in the entryway of the business. After owning and operating the business for 27 years Bushnell and Holley passed the torch to Mitch and Jen Thisius who took over ownership and management January 1st 2018.
2018 | The Tumalo Steakhouse
In January of 2018 Mitch Thisius and Jen Voth took over management of the business and commandeered the task of restoring the building and Tumalo Feed Co. brand to bring this locally cherished iconic restaurant into modern times while also keeping its incredible nostalgic spirit alive.
In August of 2020 the management of the business was handed off to Lyndsey and Ben Budavari. This historic place and business has always been rich with Central Oregon history and offered Northwestern Hospitality with a smile. The Tumalo Feed Co. Steakhouse welcomes you to become part of our history and partake in our tradition of serving up great times and great food for many more decades to come!
Tumalo & Laidlaw History
A Town Called Laidlaw
In the first days of the 20th Century, a Portland real estate developer by the name of W.A. Laidlaw came to Central Oregon and platted out the small town of Laidlaw (adjacent photo shows Laidlaw), which is now known as Tumalo.
Logging to Build the Reservoir
Central Oregon was then not much more than a logging center dotted with small villages and encampments. In 1910 construction was completed on the Reservoir at Bull Flats, which is 2 miles west of Tumalo, up on the rim rock behind the Tumalo Feed Company Steakhouse. The reservoir required a massive logging effort, with the huge logs being pulled out by horse-drawn wagons. The reservoir would dam Tumalo Creek, and would be huge. The hope was that it would provide much needed irrigation water, altering the dry high desert landscape into an oasis of green fields brimming with crops.
At a Loss for Water
The reservoir failed to hold water, however. The volcanic, rocky soil beneath the water was far too porous, and water vanished from the reservoir into ancient underground rivers as fast as they would fill it up. The dam still exists, and a small reservoir sits at the extreme east end of the original site. The vast Bull Flats is now criss-crossed with horse trails and dotted with sage.
The Promised Railroad
W.A. Laidlaw had helped to build the reservoir and had profited handily from it. But that was not the source of his great wealth: he had platted out the town of Laidlaw, and with a snake-oil salesman's fervor, sold the lots to unsuspecting victims. Laidlaw spoke of the Santiam railroad that was planned to come through town and intersect with the North/South railroad, also under planning. He spoke of the reservoir that would turn the surrounding area into lush green fields. The small town of Laidlaw would become the commercial center of Deschutes County. (adjacent photo shows the town of Laidlaw welcoming the Railroad to Central Oregon)
New Beginnings as Tumalo
But, alas, there was no Santiam Railroad being planned, and the North/South railroad eventually came through the even smaller town of Bend, turning it into the bustling city of the future. Laidlaw was hanged in effigy twice, and run out of town. According to the newspaper stories of the time he got away with $100,000, which was a small fortune in those days. Shortly after he left, the post office closed and the town changed its name to Tumalo.