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Chevy's is long gone, but billboard lingers

I’ve always assumed that it costs money for billboard advertising, but apparently on Riverside Avenue, it’s free. For the past roughly 12 years that we’ve lived here, there’s been an ad for Chevy’s Fresh Mex on Highway 62. As a fan of Chevy’s, I remember getting excited the first time I saw it, but I’ve long since given up my hopes. Any idea why that billboard persists in its proclamation, and why that owner has foregone 12-plus years of revenue?

— Alan R., via email

Those of us who remember Chevy’s fresh-made tortillas share your disappointment, Alan. However, we must dispute your claims that the tattered billboard has been up for more than a decade.

That billboard in the 600 block of North Riverside Avenue is definitely older than 12 years old, but we have definitive proof that it hasn’t been blighting our streets for that long.

It’s not anywhere close to a year, in fact.

Back in May of this year, the billboard across from Sunset Inn advertised a personal injury law firm that’s still very much still in business, according to a search on Google Street View.

If you check it for yourself, you’ll find no tattered references to the “freshest chips in town.” Instead, the Google search showed a modern ad — made of digitally printed vinyl stretched over the billboard.

There was, however, graffiti on it.

We’re no experts on the “broken windows” school of criminal justice, but we imagine vandalism is one reason the printed vinyl was removed — apparently leaving behind the last sign pasted on the old-fashioned “wallpaper” way.

So, how old is that ad anyway?

Well, Chevy’s Fresh Mex opened in September of 1998, according to Mail Tribune archives. At the time, it was the 90th outlet for the chain based out of San Francisco.

We don’t have much info on the chain’s history because the “About Us” portion of the chain’s website is blank, but we know there’s far fewer than 93 locations these days. The company’s website shows only 23 locations in the United States — nine of which are in Northern California.

Back to the Medford restaurant at 3125 Crater Lake Highway: It had seating for 300 people in the 7,000-square-foot space built for the restaurant. A story at the time of the restaurant’s opening said it hired about 125 people — with many of the positions to accommodate its scratch-made menu.

According to Tempo dining review archives, our critics liked the restaurant’s attention to freshness and unique approach to Tex Mex cuisine — with menu items such as an asparagus and portobello mushroom burrito — but dinged the spot for poor service when it first opened and a drop in food quality in the spring of 2000.

By the latter part of 2002, when news spread of plans to convert the restaurant into an Olive Garden , archives show residents were ready to look to the future of chain casual-dining restaurants, with locals quoted as saying “it’s about time” Medford got one, and a real estate agent said she’d had out-of-state clients asking when the chain Italian restaurant was coming to the Rogue Valley.

It’s worth noting that this was a time well before #Foodie culture — or even Instagram. Italian-American stand-up comedians such as Nick Dipaolo and Mike Birbiglia were just warming up their bits about the chain restaurant’s authenticity.

Here’s a bonus fact: Did you know that the Olive Garden and Red Lobster got their starts as a part of General Mills? It’s hardly the cereal company’s most interesting former division. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, at one point in the 1950s, a then -ery diversified General Mills invented the flight recorder and sold it to Lockheed Aircraft Company.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

Since You Asked is a column giving readers answers to their burning questions, big or small.