Unexpected closure may be attributed to falling profits, rising competition

John Darling

Mystery surrounds the sudden closure Sunday night of a much-loved Medford restaurant, J.J. North's Grand Buffet. Part of an Oregon-grown chain, it opened 47 years ago and was host to regular luncheons for many local organizations.
North's corporate controller, Charlie Shalba in Medford, would only say it was "a difficult decision, but we finally came to the conclusion we had to close and it's not a good feeling."
Owners James North, an Ashland ReMax real estate broker and John North of Eagle Point could not be reached for comment. Their parents, John and Evelyn North, started their first buffet in Eugene in 1953, using Evelyn's home recipes &

8212; and the sons took the 20-outlet chain over in 1973, according to the firm's Web site,

"It looked like their business was declining an awful lot and maybe their profits, too," said Chris Dickerson, a member of the local NARFE (National Association of Retired Federal Employees), which met there monthly for many years.
Rich Moyer, of the Oregon Hunters Association, which also met at North's monthly, said "it's kind of sad to see it go. It was good food, but I have noticed (business) was way down." Brenda Baldovino, who works at nearby Lithia Motors on Riverside Avenue, said, "It's like Kim's, my other favorite place that closed down. I guess I'll have to go to HomeTown Buffet. It was good food, it saved you from cooking, it cost only a little more than fast food and the whole family liked it."
She and other former diners cited HomeTown, at the south Medford interchange, as a factor that took business from North's.
HomeTown general manager Kokaun Foo said "it was a surprise to all of us" &

8212; and that North's employed and trained HomeTown founder Dennis Scott, who founded his 168-outlet chain in west Medford in 1989 where Roadhouse Grill is now. "We all learned our trade from them (North's) and we're grateful to the Norths' organization. They were an institution in this town to all of us."
About the sudden closure, NARFE's local president, Evan Shriner of Trail said, "I don't like it. We've met there 40-some years and they gave us no notice. It was all of a sudden, closed, bang and now we have to hunt around for another place. I have no idea why they closed. We were happy with everything."
J.J. North's in 1997 sold seven outlets in Washington, Idaho, Utah and Oregon to CKE Restaurants of Anaheim, Calif., but the Medford and Grants Pass shops remained with the North family, according to Mail Tribune archives.
The local buffet housed a Medford Sports Hall of Fame, maintained by the Medford Linebackers, a booster group for local sports. Member B.G. Gould said his group has met there since the 1960s and was well satisfied. It wasn't immediately clear what would happen to the local and national sports memorabilia housed in J.J. North's lobby.
North's pioneered buffet dining in the Northwest, promised fresh, local ingredients with unique recipes and became popular with seniors because of discounts.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.