After 62 years of running Sykes’ grocery and restaurant, Doug Wise, 90, still doesn’t have a retirement plan.
He simply says, “Oh, I’ll sell the place one damn day.”
His wife Judy, 79, shakes her head, laughs at him and offers to give an “edited” version of his comments. She seems skeptical.
After all, Doug’s been at Sykes’ since before she first met him. He started working there as a teenager, then took over the market and lunch counter in 1945. Judy came to work there in 1950. “Never marry the boss. You’ll never leave work,” she jokes.
And Doug, who comes into work at 4 a.m. to prep the kitchen, hasn’t slowed down much. On a busy weekday afternoon he alternates from the kitchen to the butcher counter where he cut large slabs of steak. Judy works in the business office, a small room filled with two desks and stacks of papers. The office walls are covered with service awards from various community groups and photos of members of the couple’s large family – they have seven children, 23 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
No, the only talk of retirement comes in the form of Judy’s plans: “People say I’d be bored if I left. Oh, no, I wouldn’t. I have 57 years worth of stuff piled up in my house to sort through and get rid of.”
That’s good news for those who frequent Sykes’ for everything from their daily breakfast to medication, groceries and friendship. Home to 10-cent coffee – something Doug says he’ll never change – and giant cinnamon rolls, the restaurant isn’t where people come to eat alone or be in and out. “It’s my day off and I came here to eat,” waitress Diane Jacobson said. “It’s the only restaurant where I can come in alone and sit down at just about any table to eat with friends.”
Doug and Judy’s business plan: “We treat people like people. That’s it,” Doug said.
There are the regulars – school teachers who meet for breakfast before school, a large table of retired men, who Judy jokes must meet each day to “settle world affairs, I guess.” Many patrons are of an older crowd – there are five senior apartment buildings within three blocks – but the business attracts all ages.
And then there are those who never set foot in Syke’s, but benefit from the Wise’s services and friendship. The store makes grocery runs to housebound individuals every Monday and Friday. For the past 25 years, they’ve hosted a free Thanksgiving meal for the community. This year around 500 people attended; another 300 people received meals at their home.
It’s a no frills type of environment, where the diner-style restaurant serves hearty, simple dishes and in the five-aisle grocery Milwaukee Best sits in a cooler next to the milk. Patrons, including Doug and Judy, seem so comfortable some appear part of the overall environment – settled into their chair enjoying both a mouth and ear full.
Tobey Schule, a pharmacist at Sykes’ Pharmacy and last year’s Montana Pharmacy Association Pharmacist of the Year, has worked at Sykes’ for the last 11 years and has a community reputation for dedication to elderly and mentally ill patients.
“I just feel like if you give it, it comes back to you,” Schule said. “That’s how Doug and Judy do things too, and it’s certainly worked out for them.”
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