Family is everything to Jeff Linterman.
And with six kids and five grandkids, he could be considered an expert on the subject.
So, as the owner and general manager of Country Inn, 620 Valley Mall Parkway in East Wenatchee, it just makes sense to him to treat his customers like family. That means doing whatever he can to make them feel welcome.
“We serve home-style cooking in a family-friendly atmosphere,” Linterman said. “Our philosophy is simple — treat customers like family and be grateful they show up at your door.”
For long-time customer Becky Morrison of East Wenatchee, that simple business philosophy is what keeps her and her family coming back.
“The food at the Country Inn tastes like good, home-cooked meals,” Morrison said. “The menu is varied and it’s easy to find something for everyone when we go as a family. It’s just a darn good, all-around restaurant. I love that all of them know us by name.”
That personable approach has worked well at the Country Inn since it first opened in 1975. Originally built as the Shakey’s Pizza building, Linterman’s parents leased it that year and immediately converted it to the Country Inn. They bought the building three years later. The name of the business reflects the sense of warmth and the feel of home, Linterman said.
Country Inn’s menu features traditional favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but Linterman changes things up throughout the year with various themes and menu items to keep things fresh. For Hawaiian Days in the winter, Linterman and his staff tap their creative side and decorate the restaurant in a Hawaiian theme. He also adds menu items with a Hawaiian flavor. The same thing happens for Mardi Gras Days in March and Western Days in November. And every other year, the Country Inn features a special salute to the Olympics.
But a year-round staple every Friday and Saturday night is the restaurant’s popular certified Angus beef prime rib.
Country Inn is tucked between East Wenatchee’s main drag and the rocks along the eastern edge of Highway 28. It has no wi-fi or Internet access, but it has dabbled in social media. Linterman admits the restaurant is old-school, but says that suits him just fine.
“We’re in a small isolated island that’s cut off from everything,” he said. “Everything’s gone modern, but utilities are hard to get here. It’s cost-prohibitive now to upgrade our systems.”
The lack of access to modern technology doesn’t seem to bother Linterman or his customers.
“You don’t need all that stuff to take care of your customers,” he said. “The idea is you take care of them and they’ll come back. But we do have our eye on the future in the social media trend.”
What Country Inn sacrifices by not being connected to the world via the Internet is made up by offering reasonably priced but satisfyingly filling meals that may leave no room for dessert.
Dessert at Country Inn is likely one of Linterman’s popular pies, but he says it’s hard to sell pies to someone who already has full stomach.
“Our meals are big, so a lot of our pies are sold ‘to-go’ for later,” he said.
Linterman credits his mother and her Canadian heritage for his culinary success.
“Cooking for me takes no effort,” he said. “Anything I do, I got from my mom.”
That includes details such as pie crust.
“We make our own pie crusts from scratch — a third-generation Canadian recipe from my mother’s side,” he said. “I learned a lot about cooking from my mother, and to this day, I still make many dishes just like she used to.”
Linterman, a self-described meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, has been in the restaurant business his entire life. He moved to Wenatchee at the age of 5 and is an Eastmont alumnus. He attributes the longevity of the family restaurant business to the lessons he learned from his parents. One of the most important lessons was taking good care of customers.
“You have to honestly appreciate your customers to survive in this business as long as we have,” Linterman said.
Jeff Sandback, regional sales manager for Sysco Food Services, has been working with the Linterman family for more than 20 years. He views the County Inn from a different perspective and with an appreciation of its longevity.
“You can’t argue with the success Linterman has generated for his business,” Sandback said. “There are only a handful of people who have survived in the food business as long as the Lintermans have, and there is a reason for that. Country Inn is one of the top 3 businesses in the region for Sysco, and it’s because they are extremely focused on providing a high level of customer service.”
But providing good customer service isn’t the only lesson Linterman’s parents instilled in their son. They also taught him the importance of supporting the community.
“The Linterman family is extremely charitable, but they’re off-the-charts humble about it,” Sandback added. “I’ve seen the family’s generosity consistently for the 20 years I’ve been doing business with them.”
That generosity over the years has often manifested itself through community involvement. Linterman’s father was active with the YMCA and youth soccer programs, and his mother was involved in youth softball and bowling programs.
The County Inn continues to sponsor youth sports programs today, and Linterman simply considers it payback.
“This valley has given so much to us, and giving back to the community has always been, and will continue to be, a big part of the business,” he said. “I have deep, heartfelt warmth and appreciation for what the Wenatchee Valley has given our family.”
Linterman is optimistic about the future of the Country Inn, but doesn’t plan to try to fix a business recipe that doesn’t need fixing.
“We represent quality in everything we do,” Linterman said. “We are not perfect, and I don’t pretend to be. We make our mistakes. But I do believe we have the perfect effort.”
That perfect effort centers on the business’s attitude towards its customers.
“We always do what we can to make our customers happy,” Linterman said. “We are here to serve.”