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Say goodbye to Medford icon

After serving meals to truckers and locals for 54 years, Witham Restaurant on Biddle Road will close Feb. 6.

“I’m going to miss it,” said Debbie Valnes, a 66-year-old long-haul trucker from Vancouver, Washington. “I just order the steak and eggs all the time.”

She said it has become increasingly difficult to gain access to the restaurant after the north Medford interchange was reconfigured, and the former truck stop no longer shows up as a truck stop on her GPS.

“If I’ve got the time coming through Medford, I’ll stop,” Valnes said. “I’m often not able to stop because it’s not a quick off and on.”

Before the restaurant closes, it will be open longer hours, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. to give local residents a chance to visit this once-popular eatery.

Brenda Francis, manager of Witham Restaurant, said the current owners, Joe and Chris Stella, have operated it for 25 years, but the closure of the gas station last September sealed the restaurant’s fate because it made it less inviting for customers.

“That was the last straw,” she said.

She said the owners decided against closing the restaurant earlier each day because it wouldn’t be wise to leave the building vacant for so many hours at night. Also, the building needs extensive remodeling. The property on which the restaurant sits is owned by L and V Properties LLC.

Francis said there are many more restaurant options in Medford that have popped up in recent years, creating a much more competitive market.

In its heyday, Witham’s was easy to access off Interstate 5.

In 2001, the late Rod Witham, owner of the truck stop, challenged the Oregon Department of Transportation’s north Medford interchange project, which changed the access points around the truck center.

The Witham connection with automobiles can be traced back to 1923 when Witham’s Battery & Electric, the region’s first automotive electric store, was launched. Later, the business was called Witham’s Super Service, and at the end of World War II, the family began selling trucks and became known as Witham’s Parts and Equipment. The truck stop was opened in 1965, and the remainder of the operations were moved next door in 1968.

Francis has fond memories of the restaurant that she’s worked at for almost 20 years.

“I was hoping to see my 20th year, but I didn’t quite make it,” she said.

The restaurant opened in 1964, with a grand opening in 1965.

Some of the employees will move over to the Stellas’ other restaurant, Joe’s Sports Bar and Grill on Roberts Road in Medford, Francis said.

David Ford, a 73-year-old Medford resident, has been coming off and on to Witham’s since 1964, with a long hiatus when he went into the military.

“I’ve been coming here pretty steady since 1990,” he said. “You can’t beat it. I like the waitresses.”

Some of his favorite menu options include the hot roast beef sandwich, chicken fried steak and the pancakes.

“The prices are just right,” he said.

Despite the decades that have passed since it first opened, Ford said not much is different.

“The menu is about the same,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.