Tollgate Store & Restaurant draws potential buyers

Tollgate Store proprietor Jeff Pinsker holds a copy of a Bigfoot cast that was given to him by Clifford Barackman, star of the Animal Planet show “Finding Bigfoot,” at his store in Tollgate in this January file photo.

The Tollgate Store & Restaurant is drawing interest from potential buyers after closing permanently earlier this year.

Located on Highway 204 between Weston and Elgin in Umatilla County, the Tollgate Store was the only place on the mountain to stop for food, drinks and supplies until owner Jeff Pinsker decided to close its doors in June.

Pinsker is trying to sell the store, which he ran for 10 years by himself while his business partner, Dylan Van Dyke, lives in California. Ultimately, Pinsker said the day-to-day operations were too much for one person to handle.

“I want it to be successful,” Pinsker said. “I just got burned out on it.”

The store is not sold yet, though Pinsker said there are “several” buyers interested. He is optimistic about a deal happening soon.

“It’s going to be awesome for whoever buys it,” he said.

The 1.95-acre property includes a main store and restaurant, two-bedroom home upstairs, four rental units out back and a shop building. It also has two fuel pumps, though they have been out of service for at least three or four years.

Bryan Wagner and Jacqueline Boutell, of College Place, Washington, have expressed interest in buying the store, with their goal to create local jobs and provide badly needed services in the Tollgate area. Tollgate is a haven for outdoor recreation in the Blue Mountains, featuring everything from hunting and fishing to a downhill ski area.

“I see that it can service a lot of people in the area, from the Forest Service to the campgrounds,” Boutell said. “It does have a lot of potential.”

But first, Wagner said there are a number of logistical hurdles to overcome — not the least of which is the asking price of $450,000. Umatilla County appraises the property’s value at $272,430, according to an assessor’s report.

Wagner said he is trying to schedule a meeting with all partners involved to come to an agreement on price, and is willing to wait it out if necessary.

“It isn’t a matter of if or when. It’s a matter of at what cost,” Wagner said.

Even if they are able to purchase the store, Wagner said there are other issues that could tie up development for years. He figures the project could easily take 10 years and $1 million to do everything they would like to do with the property.

“This is like opening five businesses at once,” Wagner said.

For starters, Wagner said they would look to move the grocery store into the separate storage facility, stocking their shelves with fresh, locally grown food from the Walla Walla Valley. That, in turn, would allow them to have a larger family-style restaurant and bar.

Wagner said they would also like to put the fuel pumps back in service, which he acknowledged would not turn a profit by themselves but would help bring in more customers off the highway while providing an element of convenience for residents on the mountain.

Future phases of the project may include adding more rental cabins, Wagner said. He is confident each new service would go a long way toward reinvigorating Tollgate economically.

“I definitely think it’s going to kick it back off,” he said. “People who are invested in Tollgate are not leaving ... It’s their relief from the working life.”

Together, Wagner and Boutell have been researching the property for nine months after discovering the store for sale last summer. Wagner, who for years lived in Bellevue, Washington, does own his own investment group, though he said this particular project — if it comes to fruition — would be handled through a private lender.

If the deal gets done, the community appears more than ready to welcome the reopening of the store.

Dottie Carrell, who serves as secretary of the Tollgate Trail Finders snowmobile club, said she has had conversations with other property owners about fundraising and donating labor to help with repairs and renovations at the store.

“We just need some (services) on the mountain,” Carrell said. “Everybody’s motivated on this issue.”

Carrell said they intend to hold a community meeting at the snowmobile club lodge, right next to the store, sometime in October to discuss what they can do.

“We’re hoping something happens soon,” she said.


Contact George Plaven at or 541-966-0825.

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