Owl Cafe goes dark, property up for sale

One of the landmark go-to restaurants in Hayden has shut its doors in the hopes of selling.

The Owl Cafe, a longtime fixture on Government Way, is quiet. The usually full parking lot that accompanies the bustling crowd inside the breakfast beacon is now empty.

Ownership did not reply to requests for comment, and the phone number listed for the restaurant rings without answer. A sign by the parking lot entrance announces the property is for sale. Out front, a message from the window reads, “Closed, Thank you for 26 years.”

Those 26 years represent the latest stretch from the current ownership. In actuality, the restaurant had been open far longer.

J.T. Corcoran, the Coldwell Banker/Schneidmiller Realty listing agent for the property, said the Owl Cafe dates back to 1940.

“It started out as a gas station,” he said. “They’d converted it to a restaurant in the 1950s. The owner added a small restaurant in the early ’50s, and it became what it is today in the late ’50s.”

Robert Singletary of the Museum of North Idaho checked the museum’s records and found a phone number tied to the Owl Cafe dating back to the early 1960s. That number would come in handy for take-out orders in the decades to come, but never more so than in 2020.

Before COVID-19, the Owl was one of the busiest breakfast restaurants in the area. But after Gov. Brad Little issued stay-home orders last spring, restaurants across the state closed their doors for more than a month before re-opening to curbside-only take-out and diminished capacity seating.

Those limited capacity restrictions continued through the Owl’s last days, with fewer tables on the restaurant floor and spacing requirements keeping fewer customers from getting served.

The Owl Cafe’s long history, however, was also a complicated one.

Richard Butler, the notorious white supremacist who moved to the Hayden area in the 1970s shortly before founding the Aryan Nations, was a frequent customer of the Owl Cafe, occasionally using the restaurant as a meeting site for his followers. Butler was usually accompanied by a crowd of neo-Nazis.

As his popularity waned and the Aryan Nations went bankrupt, Butler’s followers slowly dispersed. In the last years before his death in 2004, Butler was spotted sparingly at the Owl, often eating alone.

The death of the Owl Cafe, meanwhile, might only be temporary. Corcoran said the property — listed at $650,000 — has seen a number of interested parties, and the Owl’s popularity might very well see new owners who want to continue the restaurant’s success.

“I think you’d be shocked to see how many people in Hayden go there every day,” he said.

Mayor Steve Griffitts, who contends the Owl Cafe retired with the trophy of World’s Best Biscuits And Gravy, noted the struggles restaurants like The Owl have faced since the onset of the pandemic, saying he hoped it would return to form after the sale.

“The Owl Cafe has been a wonderful part of Hayden for many years,” Griffitts said. “These past months have been so difficult for many of our businesses. We wish the owners of the Owl Cafe the best.”