ASTORIA — Customers admired the bright red Model T Ford sitting in the middle of the restaurant, or sat at small tables eating Column Fries and River Dogs with a nighttime view of a Coast Guard ship docked in the Columbia River.
The crowd of roughly 30 customers sampling the trademark offerings of Life in the Slow Lane - spiral cut french fries and hot dogs encased in sleeve-like buns. The patrons of the Astoria restaurant were there for its soft opening, an event nearly two years in the making.
Donna and Tracy Black opened the restaurant for a trial run in mid-February, inviting a group of customers to sample their food and give their feedback. The event was meant to give the couple an idea of what service would be like after the Feb. 26 opening date. A separate grand opening event is planned for March 19.
Customers at the soft opening were given a survey to rate their experience in four categories — Speed of Service, Quality of Food, Value for the Money and Overall Impressions. Patrons could then rank items on the restaurant’s menu on a scale of one to five.
Rosemary Johnson, who worked with the Blacks during her tenure as a planner with the city of Astoria, brought up the need for more employees to speed up service — something other patrons echoed throughout the night.
“I think the food tasted good, I think the prices are great,” said Rosemary Johnson. “They’re going to have to get some help. I think they’re going to be overwhelmed, because I think this is going to be a good magnet for young people.”
The night largely went well, Tracy said, and the couple didn’t have any plans for major changes between the soft and grand openings. There were calls for some small changes, like an extra trash can in the restaurant, but the call for more personnel was the only large request from customers.
“The feedback we got, most everything was pretty good,” he said. “Obviously we need to hire people so it’s faster.”
The feedback from customers to speed up service wasn’t a surprise, he said. The Blacks have known they would eventually need to hire additional employees to help run the restaurant - and have planned to do so - for months.
While they wouldn’t have employees on staff yet for the Feb. 26 opening, Tracy said multiple volunteers would be helping to keep wait times down for customers.
As to his expectations for the grand opening, as of Feb. 24, Tracy said he assumes it will be a busy day, but he’s optimistic.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he said.