Robinson is not above getting down in the trenches
with his co-workers to cook, clear tables and tend bar. But he
doesn't like to dwell on the problems he and his crew face while
trying to cope with heavy summer traffic and the winter doldrums.
"They're problems but I don't like to be negative about them.
We just try to get out there and do our best, regardless of the
time of year or the size of the crowd," he said.
"We realize that the lodge is kind of unique
in that we're a public establishment -by law- even though the
Ranch is oriented toward owners rather than the general public.
But no one has ever explained to me how you can tell--for sure--an
owner from someone just off the highway. I try to treat everyone
who comes in here just as I want to be treated when I eat out," Robinson
And at 6-2 and more than 245, Robinson is the first
to admit he has first-hand knowledge of most Oregon restaurants.
On the day of this interview, Robinson arrived in his office
at the customary 11 a.m. He had worked until "only" 10
o'clock the night before. "I ran the bar here last night
because Larry (Larry Sherrer, Robinson's assistant) cooked. Larry
had to cook because we're short in the kitchen, since our new
chef, Franz Dutzler, broke his foot while skiing. "I cut
out early last night so maybe I'll cook tonight and let Larry
run the bar," Robinson
"That's the way we do things around here," Robinson
don't believe in a restaurant operation being dominated by one
person. In my experience, it doesn't work out well. You're selling
two things in a restaurant, food quality and service quality.
If the people performing the service--the cooks,
the busboys, the waiters, the waitresses,--if they don't feel like
they're really a part of the organization, it's much harder to
motivate them to quality performances. We try to do everything
together here," he
Robinson also stresses thorough training of restaurant
especially important for us because we do work together as a team
and because the size of our staff changes so much from summer to
winter," he explains.
Robinson, who has been the lodge manager since it
opened in 1971, got into the food business by working part time
at a Non-Commissioned Officers Club while in the army. In 1970,
after managing a restaurant in Yokohama, Japan, he returned to
the United States and started as a bartender at the Benton Hotel
in Corvallis. He then moved to the Illahe Country Club in Salem
as assistant manager before taking the Black Butte Ranch job.
Robinson got into the food and beverage business
by backing out of his main interest in life--music. "I was in an Army band
during the first part of my service tour. In the mid-1960's it
was good duty. We would practice five or six hours a day, give
a few concerts every week, and lay around on the beach at Carmel.
I just got tired of all the march music after awhile and volunteered
for the quartermaster corps," he said.
Robinson studied music for 11 years--primarily trumpet--and
two of his instructors, Ollie Wagner and Lee Barker, played for
Louis Armstrong and Kay Starr, respectively.
While Robinson is now only a "listener," each of his
five children plays the organ and studies music. Robinson, his
wife, Valerie, and their five children, Patience, 1, Jon, 7,
Duke, 12, Pixie, 13, and Kelly, 15, live at Tollgate, a Brooks
Resources project near Sisters.
As to the Black Butte Ranch menu, Robinson says, "All of us
on the staff make suggestions about the menu. We want to serve
a limited number of items and make each one of them super. We solicit
comments from the entire staff. Twenty-one minds produce better
ideas then just one mind."
According to Robinson, 1968 was the turning point
in the American restaurant business. "It seemed like up until
then, a lot of restaurants were just 'cruising-getting along,
serving average food in an indifferent manner," he said. "But
things started to tighten up after that and people who ate out
became more critical. That put the pressure on. We think, too,
that we've put the pressure on a lot of Central Oregon restaurants
by the way in which we operate," Robinson said.
"Sure, we're not perfect. Sometimes a steak
will get more done than the customer likes or something like that.
But we know we've got two things to offer people--quality food
and quality service--and if we don't please people on those two
counts, they won't come back," Robinson said.
If you are at the Ranch for dinner in the summer
months, Robinson will usually be the person who asks if you have
a reservation and then probably give you the bad news that if you
don't have one, you'll have to wait awhile. "We've never failed to serve someone
if they wanted to wait," Robinson said. "I feel just
as bad as they do when I can't seat them right away." "And
we really want the public but preferably with a reservation." he