After 10 years of ownership, Bill and Helen Houts are passing the torch to Steve Miller at the Meet Market Pub.
Of life at the Meet Market, Bill said, "I will certainly miss the people the most. We had a great bunch of customers."
Miller was one of those customers until he purchased the restaurant. Having owned The Round Butte Inn of Culver, Miller knows the restaurant business. With the Meet Market, Houts and Miller both see the operation as a community apart from themselves. Ownership will not break up the continuum of service that Madras patrons have come to know over the years.
"No changes. It's been the Meet Market since I was in my twenties," said Miller who intends to maintain the status quo of the Market. Miller said, "The reasons why I bought it? Well, the obvious reason is to make a living. The second reason is that it's a very comfortable place for me." The third reason Miller said is that, "it was time for somebody to buy it."
Bill shares Miller's views about what's best for the Meet Market. "He (Miller) brings in new energy and effort. That's what it needs right now," said Houts.
Houts also explained that it was time for he and his wife to pass it on. "It's been a very good business up until the last couple of years. We're 65 now and we cannot go anywhere. It's a job you stay with day and night. Our family health has been a huge issue and we can't get back to take care of our kids."
Cancer has caused the Houts family to shift their attention to their son. "Brad really needs us right now."
Brad Houts is in the middle of a life threatening battle with cancer in Kentucky.
"Last year we had to put all of our catering events on hold until our family is better," said Bill. He and Helen then made the decision to realign their priorities, which put their old haunt, The Meet Market, on the outside.
Bill came to Madras with his family in 1949 and started the fourth grade. In high school he claimed that he'd like to try and run a restaurant. Not until after years of being a developer did this high school day dream come to fruition for Bill in 1994.
Originally, The Meet Market was a meat market. In the bar, the rails used in processing the meat can still be seen running along the ceiling.
When the Houts acquired the business the building had been gutted. After an initial investment of $40,000 and 90 days of remodeling The Meet Market looks as it does today. Bill and a friend did all the wood work. Bright Wood supplied material for the table tops and Bill designed and created the unique arched bar.
"I'm an arch person. I've got arches in my home and in fact the arch on the front of the Columbia River Bank is my design," Bill said.
Eventually the carpet downstairs was replaced with a dance floor. Then came floods and a karaoke machine.
"I can remember one night it was pouring so hard outside that water ran down Highway 26 and crossed over the east side of the highway and down Cedar Street. It crossed into my parking lot. It hit both of my doors and was running in the front door, the back door, and through the restaurant, down the staircase. We ended up with about four inches of water down stairs," said Bill. But that didn't stop the karoake machine or the dancing. Folks rolled up their pant legs and continued to make waves.
"It was raining so hard that nobody could really leave and the karaoke equipment was up on the stage so they just kept dancing in the water," he added.
The Hot August Nights were some of the most memorable nights for Bill because The Meet Market would draw up to 600 people a night. "It's fun to see people have a good time," said Bill.
Despite the cancellation of Hot August Nights in `04, Miller has committed to doing them in the future.
"It's just like a town party," said Miller enthusiastically.
For Bill, the hardest part of leaving The Meet Market will be missing the people.
Some of the Houts' regulars at the Market have expressed that their sorry to see them go. Evidently, both Bill and Helen were there frequently and would visit with their guests.
"It's a Cheers bar. It's where everybody comes and knows everybody. People can walk in that place and the bartenders know who you are. They'll have your drink ready for you before you get your coat off.
While the Houts's were familiar fixtures at the restaurant, they missed the freedom that they enjoyed previously. "We haven't been to the coast for eight or nine years. We went New Year's Eve," explained Bill.
Bill never intends to go back into the restaurant business and is considering going into real estate sales.
The transition for The Meet Market from the Houts's to Miller is intended to be smooth. "It doesn't need much. This is already a good solid business. I've got my 20 something crowd on Friday and Saturday nights. We're just trying to revitalize the place," Miller said.
Miller is going to add parking for motorcycles. A "Buddy Bar" for six occupants is planned and Steve Miller's famous Prime Rib is offered Friday and Saturday. There's also the promise of the Hot August Nights tradition continuing this summer.