Originally Published: November 7, 2013 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - It didn't take long for the word to get around this week about the impending closure of one of downtown Prescott's mainstays.
A stream of customers approached Kendall Jaspers over the lunch hour Wednesday to ask about the decision to close Kendall's Famous Burgers & Ice Cream. As he walked through the Cortez Street restaurant, Jaspers responded to numerous well-wishes and choruses of "You're closing?"
"Between phone calls and people coming by, I've had more than 100," he said.
After contemplating the closure over the past year, Jaspers said he opted to make the move before the approach of winter, his slow season.
He informed his employees late last week that Nov. 10 would be the final day for the business. Sunday's service will close out a career for Jaspers, 63, who took on operation of the restaurant in his late 30s.
For more than a quarter century, Kendall's Famous Burgers has been the go-to spot in downtown Prescott for any number of treats: ice cream cones, shakes, fries, onion rings, and, of course, hamburgers.
Coupled with the fun menu was an entertaining décor of retro movie posters and Coke signs - making the restaurant a sure draw for kids and adults alike.
Obviously emotional about the end of an era, Jaspers said his professional situation combined with financial matters to make this the right time to shutter the business.
Several years ago, he took on a part-time job as executive director of the Prescott Downtown Partnership, and Jas-pers said it was getting more and more stressful to handle both jobs. "I'm at a time in my life when I'm slowing down," he said.
In addition, continuing on with the restaurant would have required significant investments - both for needed updates, and to get through the coming winter.
The recent recession did not help matters. "The amount of money people are spending has been static at best," Jaspers said. "And at the same time, there has been food inflation. We've been getting squeezed."
Even so, Jaspers said he is appreciative of the legacy of the restaurant. "It's been really good to me; the town's been really good," he said. "It's been a great place to raise kids. What kid doesn't want their dad to have an ice cream shop?"
Jaspers' roots run deep in the community. After attending elementary, middle and high school in Prescott, he graduated from PHS in 1968. He went on to Northern Arizona University, and spent his early career working for a large food-service company that contracted with colleges and universities around the country.
Jaspers was working as the food service director at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in the 1980s, when he and his wife Amy began looking for a more family-friendly home.
The search brought Jaspers home to Prescott, where he ultimately landed at the site of the former Dent's ice cream parlor. He opened Kendall's in 1987.
Through the years, the building has seen its share of local history. In 1971, it served as the location for a scene in the movie "Billy Jack," in which a local bully dumps flour over the heads of children from a nearby school.
One of Jaspers' high points came a few years back when Billy Jack actor Tom Laughlin stopped by while in town for a Prescott College event and reminisced about the filming of the scene.
Another memorable moment occurred early on, when Jaspers was preparing to open the restaurant. He had promised his daughter Kate that she could have her fifth birthday party at the new restaurant. Despite a March snowstorm that interrupted his food deliveries, Jaspers said he was able to pull off the party. "That was a good way to start," he said.
Jaspers also has fond memories of the many young people who have worked at Kendall's. "I think there have been more than 1,500," he said, adding that he is helping to find other jobs for the eight current employees.
While the historic Cortez Street building is owned by a trust, Jaspers said he has fielded a number of inquiries about purchase of the business.
But one thing is certain: After Sunday, it will cease to be Kendall's Famous Burgers. "What I want to do is an asset sale," Jaspers said. "I don't want to sell my name."
Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.