Out on the edge of Boeing Field, Randy’s is the kind of classic American diner that was endangered in the Seattle area even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time I went there, on a cold night this past February, the coffee was hot and the refills came along at exactly the right moment, with the regular sitting at the counter getting one more cup just in time to catch his bus. The grilled cheese at Randy’s looked like a picture you’d take of a grilled cheese to show someone who’d never had that most basic, beautiful pleasure. When a plate of fish ’n’ chips got polished off but the 3-D confetti of peas, corn kernels and carrot cubes remained, the server observed, entirely amiably, “Nobody’s eaten their vegetables.”
And as it had for decades, Randy’s still went far above and beyond the call of dream-diner duty — the interior of the circa-1970 former Denny’s was filled to its pitched rafters with hanging model planes, while cabinets and cases and walls held more aeronautical memorabilia than could be believed. Randy’s was still open 24 hours then, and a late supper in an orange-and-pink-upholstered booth felt like a cinematic special occasion, so simple, specific and good.
Now, after Nov. 15, Randy’s will be closed forever. “Not that we want to … ” co-owner Lucia Roadenizer said Monday. “We lasted as long as we could.”
It’s safe to say there’s nowhere like Randy’s, a quietly amazing retro testament to Seattle’s time as the Jet City. It’s layered in not just artifacts, photos and maps, but also in the memories of countless pre-shift breakfasts for Boeing machinists, innumerable visits with children agog, untold post-bar-time stops for sodden sustenance, a lot of great dates.
Lucia and her husband, Richard, bought the restaurant in 1981, taking it over on April Fools’ Day. “I’m going to be 78 … ” she said. “It’s half my life.” Many places are in the same boat, she noted. She said she felt too emotional to say much more.
Business was flagging even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Richard said. With Boeing cutting tens of thousands of local jobs, the nearby Museum of Flight operating on a limited schedule, and the coronavirus surging, customers became more and more scarce. Keeping the place going, even with curtailed hours, just wasn’t working.
“Out on the farm, we used to say, ‘Don’t beat a dead horse,’” he said and laughed. Born in Minnesota and raised in Iowa, he spent three years in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and 17 years in the Air Force. He built many of the model planes himself, while customers contributed their own along with other collectibles over the many years. “They had it in their closet — or, ‘Oh, my father had this, I don’t know what it is,’ so we’d research it.” Randy’s became stuffed with compasses, maps, World War II canvas flying helmets, a white silk fringed scarf, medals of commendation, a whole section of antique escape and evasion spyware. Crammed in by the first booth rest the controls from a B-52 courtesy of a customer who was shot down in Vietnam; another booth has what looks like a coronavirus plexiglass guard, actually a radio operator’s window from a B-17 shot down in 1944 over Italy.
The Roadenizers have begun the daunting task of clearing the place out, some shelves already emptied. “It’s not that we want to,” Richard said. “But we will.” Customers have put dibs on favorite treasures, and a garage sale will likely happen in a couple of weeks. “She won’t let me have too much at home!” Richard said, laughing. “Our house isn’t big enough!” Lucia said, laughing too.
Randy’s may not be traditionally romantic, but the Roadenizers’ relationship caring for the place has created the kind of time machine in which certain kinds of people fall in love, and more than one first date has led to marriage here. One such couple telephoned Monday to ask for a pair of coffee mugs to be mailed to them, their own Randy’s memorabilia.
As for life after decades of Randy’s, “We’ll go day by day,” Richard said. He denied any relaxation would occur, saying he planned to start a website with a friend. “Hopefully, I’ll be busy every day. I’m too young to retire!
“We’ll miss it,” he said, “that’s for sure.”