The Big Foot Inn: ‘Where everybody knows your name’

Restaurant and bar is a Business of the Year

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Jerry and Berta Knott have owned the Big Foot Inn for 27 years. The popular local tavern and restaurant has been named Business of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce.

In Washougal, the Big Foot Inn is the place “where everybody knows your name.”

And that’s just the way the tavern’s longtime owners, Jerry and Berta Knott, like it.

The couple, who recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary, have owned the Big Foot Inn for 27 years. They attribute at least a portion of the restaurant’s success to maintaining its “hometown hangout” qualities.

“I think part of it is us being here,” Berta said. “We visit with our customers, we acknowledge them; we know them by name. They know where to come to get their bacon cheeseburger. People like that. They like the recognition.”

And in recognition of the Big Foot Inn’s success in and contributions to the local communities, it has been named a 2013 Business of the Year.

“It was awesome,” Berta said of learning they had received the award. “We were really surprised. I thought, ‘really, are you sure?’ It brought tears to my eyes.”

Berta said the local hangout at 105 17th St., in the heart of downtown Washougal, has been open since the 1940s when it was called Carlos’ Bar and Grill.

As the story goes, the name was changed to the “Big Foot Inn” in the 1960s after a patron returned from a trip to Skamania County claiming to have spotted the mythical hairy beast. In the 1970s, a mural featuring “Big Foot” was painted on an inside wall of the tavern, where it remains today.

“I wish I had written down more of the historical facts about this place,” Berta said. “Now, all of those old-timers who know that stuff are gone. Now, we’re the old-timers.”

Jerry, 65, and Berta, 64, moved to Washougal from Northern Minnesota in 1983. At the time, Berta’s sister, Mary Wallace, owned the joint. The Knott’s worked at the Big Foot for three years before purchasing it in 1986. Neither had any business ownership experience, but Berta had worked as a bar employee.

“You just learn as you go,” she said.

At the Big Foot, Berta has assumed most of the business responsibilities, while Jerry has worked for the Clark County Road Department since 1989.

“I am her support system,” he said of his role. “She cries on my shoulder when she needs to.”

The Big Foot has weathered its share of challenging economic times. From the impacts of downtown construction to changes to public smoking laws, owning a restaurant isn’t easy, but they take everything in stride.

“It’s just the things you have to deal with in life,” Jerry said.

Some of the Big Foot’s biggest draws are its familiarity and nostalgia. The interior decor and the menu have remained relatively unchanged over the years. The tavern is known for its hamburgers, all-you-can-eat fish and chips on Fridays, and Berta’s homemade soups (she said potato is the customer favorite).

According to customer and friend Linda Busch Pfeifle, of Camas, it’s a place where friends, families, former classmates, business associates and politicians gather regularly.

“In the many years that Jerry and Berta have owned the Big Foot Inn, they have created a friendly atmosphere where everyone feels welcome to come in and enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as beverages,” she said. “Some of the words I use to describe Jerry and Berta Knott are friendly, loyal, generous and two of the hardest working people I know.”

Over the years, the business has sponsored softball, pool, golf and bowling teams. A decade ago, it hosted its first Harold W. Busch Walkers dinner and auction to benefit Alzheimer’s disease related causes. The annual event has been held there ever since. It’s a dedication that Busch Pfeifle, the fundraising group’s leader, is thankful for.

“I am forever grateful to Jerry and Berta Knott for opening up their ‘house’ at the Big Foot Inn and allowing my Alzheimer’s fundraising team to hold events there each year,” she said. “They’ve helped us with our crab feeds, golf tournaments and our annual auctions. 2013 is their 10th year of doing so, and I simply cannot thank them enough for all they’ve done for us.”

Berta said she is starting to “slow down,” and hopes to retire in the near future.

“It’s like we’re part of the furniture, we’ve been here so long,” she joked.

The adventure of owning her own business has been both challenging and rewarding.

“I have enjoyed being around the people, and being excited with them about what is going on in their lives and in the community,” she said. “I enjoy seeing people have a good time, no matter what’s going on. We’re glad we are here to provide the space to do that.”