A familiar dining establishment among locals closed its doors on Sunday after serving customers for almost 40 years.
The Cock-n-Bull Restaurant stood preeminently with a cow mounted atop a sign on South Taylor Street since the 1970s when the business became the hottest place to go for food, dancing or gambling.
Combined with the Great Recession of six years ago, however, and the ages of the owners, 86-year-old Lee Garner felt now was the time to close the doors and sell.
“That (age) was the main factor,” said Garner, who bought the building in 1975. “But it costs a lot to run a business, but I have been wanting to get out for some time.”
Garner also said his son and daughter are not interested in taking over the cafe.
Prior to housing a restaurant, Churchill County Museum researcher Bunny Corkill said the building began as Minnie Blair’s Spudnut Shop, and for 65 years the corner establishment became a part of the Fallon community.
“The past few years have been a struggle for Lee and Luella … but it is still the place that the old timers and farmers gathered to kibitz and coffee up,” Corkill said.
Garner agrees that the Cock-n-Bull was the “in” place.
“We had a good customer base, and so many were known on a first-name basis,” Garner said.
During the past decade and especially the last six years, Garner said business dwindled, beginning when the Nevada Department of Transportation installed a concrete divider in front of the business on South Taylor Street. Although the state removed the divider six years ago, Garner said business was beginning to wane. He said even the car counts recorded by the state were declining.
Garner doesn’t think people are traveling U.S. Highway 95 as much as they used to because the number of snowbirds driving from Idaho and eastern Oregon has almost disappeared. He said the motels are also down on occupancy.
Furthermore, when Fallon experienced a housing boom in the 1990s and into the new millennium, he said construction workers frequented the restaurant, but when the jobs were finished, the workers disappeared.
But the Cock-n-Bull wasn’t the only businesses suffering from the recession’s effects. Although some days were good for business, others were not so good.
“I’d hear it from the salesmen,” he said. “There’s no continuity. Restaurants are struggling here and there. It’s widespread.”
Garner also noted that food prices kept increasing, but to keep the restaurant open, he and Luella made the decision to serve only breakfast and lunch.
“We would have some good days and some not worth a damn,” he added.
Also what didn’t help was the Cock-n-Bull losing its gaming license. The area that once housed slot machines and other games has remained dark. Investigators had filed a complaint in July asking the Nevada Gaming Commission to revoke the casino’s unrestricted gaming license citing several violations of regulations ranging from not filing a surveillance plan to not repairing broken slot machines. Those alleged violations date back to June 2011.
Prior to the final day, the Cock-n-Bull had a skeleton crew of about eight employees. During its heyday, Garner said he employed upward to 26 people.
Waitress Jody Peterson said everyone was sad that the Cock-n-Bull was closing.
“A lot of customers like the homey feeling,” she said, adding that many regulars were surprised the restaurant decided to shutter. “It’s a sad weekend, but I understand Lee and Luella wanting to retire.”
Several groups of customers gathered during the early morning hours on Saturday and Sunday. Some talked about the farming business, while others reminisced about the restaurant’s history.
“It’s sad. I remember when I was a little kid and stopped there when it was the Spudnut shop,” said one longtime customer who did not want to be identified.
Kathy Ross was one of a handful of people sitting at the counter eating breakfast.
“This is an end of an era,” Ross said. “People won’t realize what they’ll miss. I’ve been coming here since the late 1980s when we’d drive in from Reno.”
After relocating to Fallon in the early 1990s, Ross was still a regular at the Cock-n-Bull. Ross, who makes a stop at the restaurant at least once a week, said she will miss the good food and camaraderie. When the restaurant was thriving, she would come in for dinner and dancing.
“It’s one of the places all the locals, all the farmers come. The regulars are here all the time, and sometimes we would get the truckers here,” she said. “This is where we’d get the farmers market report.”