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Whatever happened to ... Famous Dick's Cafe?

Published May 21, 2015 8:38 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Editor's note • In this regular series, The Salt Lake Tribune explores the once-favorite places of Utahns, from restaurants to recreation to retail. If you have a spot you'd like us to explore, email whateverhappenedto@sltrib.com with your ideas.

St. George • When Dick Hammer started an eight-stool hamburger stand in 1935, St. George Boulevard was "only one thin line of hardtop," as the Washington County Historical Society describes it, "with plenty of dust on either side."



From that humble beginning, the late Hammer built The Famous Dick's Cafe at 100 East 100 North into a longtime landmark that contained seating for 200, a barber shop and a curio store.

Art Hale, who began working at Knell's Barber Shop inside the building in 1970, recalls watching as the cafe served as a set for "The Electric Horseman," starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, in the late 1970s.

He could see the movie trailers just outside the window where his barber chair was placed, he said.

"Jane Fonda would come to the window," recalled Hale, who now cuts hair at his own shop about a block away in St. George. "I would wink at her and she would wave at me."

The crew spent four days filming scenes at Dick's.

"It was real interesting," Hale said. "Redford and Fonda were never there shooting a scene together. They used stand-ins. It was being filmed from the outside, looking in the dining room. Redford would get through his scene and then Fonda would come in with his double to say her parts."

John Wayne became a close friend of Hammer, according to the historical society, and stars such as Jane Russell, Gabby Hayes and Slim Pickens all dined at the cafe. Hale remembers providing haircuts to former Utah Govs. Calvin Rampton and Norm Bangerter at the old building.

Mostly, though, longtime residents remember the cafe as a gathering place.

"My dad [Clair Sorensen] had coffee there every night," recalled Sommer Shipp of Santa Clara. "Those were the days before cellphones. There were so many times when my mom would ask, 'Where is dad?' and then tell us to call his office, Dick's Cafe, to have him sent home."

Shipp loved the gift shop inside the cafe where her dad would buy her old-fashioned Western dolls and hot chocolate.

It was a place where there were so many regulars that waitresses usually instinctively knew what many customers would order when they walked in the door.

"All the coffee drinkers in St. George sat around that old horseshoe counter," said Hale. "I knew all the characters in there."

Hale said frequent diners often purchased a lunch card that could be punched for five days and was good for a daily lunch special.

"The hot turkey and gravy was always good," he recalled. "They had good steaks. Breakfast was typical like an old hometown cafe, a ma and pa shop. You could get anything you wanted."

One of the things Famous Dick's Cafe was known for was its movie and rodeo memorabilia.

Sharee Jones, who has preserved many photographs of the cafe and the barbershop where Hale, her father, worked, said she remembered the John Wayne memorabilia that seemed to be everywhere.

"The old cowboys would sit around the bar and eat breakfast without their wives' knowledge," she recalled. "There was a great family atmosphere."

Learn about her book of images of the cafe here.

According to the historical society, Hammer came to St. George from California when he was 29, first working at the Beaver Dam Lodge in nearby Arizona and then at the Liberty Hotel in St. George.

"From his profits and savings, Hammer expanded the site into Dick's Cafe with its horseshoe counter and two dining rooms accommodating more than 200 customers," according to the society.

The Western theme fit Hammer's interests. According to his obituary, published in the Deseret News after his death on Jan. 3, 1997, at the age of 94, Hammer was an accomplished horseman and cowboy who worked in many Western movies as an extra and stunt man.

Knell said Hammer served as an announcer at the Dixie Roundup Rodeo and was an expert horse cutter. He had a statue of his prize horse in the parking lot.

According to his obituary, Hammer served as president of the Intermountain Quarter Horse Association, director of the American Quarter Horse Association, president of the Utah Restaurant Association and was a lifetime member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association.

Hammer's support of local tourism earned him spots in both the Utah Tourism and Utah Restaurant Halls of Fame.

Hale said that Hammer never owned the building or the property Dick's Cafe was located on until the late 1970s, when silver prices skyrocketed. Hammer collected silver dollars from barbers and customers. He used those to buy the building and property.

The cafe was closed in 1999 and demolished. The site is now the location of the Cache Valley Bank building.

Hale said some of the photos and memorabilia that used to hang at Dick's Cafe can now be seen at the Wagon Wheel Cafe in St. George.

As for Famous Dick's Cafe, it's just a good memory these days, though one that can be enjoyed by watching "The Electric Horseman."

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton —

For more information about photographer Sharee Jones' upcoming book about Famous Dick's Cafe or to order prints, visit www.shareeart.com. —

Some previous 'Whatever happened to...'

Fred's Burger Chalet

Normandie Roller Rink

Nu-Crisp Popcorn Co.

Bratten's Seafood Grotto

The Terrace Ballroom

The chicken restaurant with the racially charged name

The Tampico

Casa Melinda in Bountiful

Johnny Quong's The Hawaian

Wasatch Springs Plunge

 

 

 

 

 

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