“It’s a Corvallis institution.”
That’s how Karen Levy, one long-time patron of the whimsical, welcoming vegetarian restaurant, described Nearly Normal’s.
The eatery has been serving the community fresh, local food since 1979. Now, after 40 years, the Corvallis institution is saying farewell to its restaurant patrons. The building has been on the market for the past two years, and with COVID, the restaurant has been closed for months as a result.
Siblings Barb, John, and Todd Eveland, along with Marcia Babel and Tom and Deb O’Connor founded Nearly Normal’s all those years ago. The idea was born after Barb and John spent many weekends at the Eugene Saturday Market selling their food. Tired of the cold and the fact that the market was only open for half the year, Nearly Normal’s was established.
Barb Eveland said, “We just all felt like Corvallis could use a veggie restaurant.”
Nearly Normal’s has been a hit for years, and it’s hard to imagine Corvallis without it. However, the owners made the decision two years ago that it was time to sell, all wanting to retire and spend more time with family and friends.
This year, when COVID hit, Nearly Normal’s was not a stranger to the struggles imposed on small businesses: they didn’t have enough patronage or staff to sustainably continue during the pandemic.
Now, with the eatery closed, many Corvallis patrons are reminiscing about their best moments spent at Nearly Normal’s, which has been home to countless first dates, anniversary dinners, birthday parties, and reunions with friends.
Levy remembers Nearly Normal’s being one of the first restaurants she visited when she first moved to Corvallis in 1996, and she has loved it since the beginning. “It felt like sitting in the breakfast nook at home but at a restaurant with your friends,” she said.
Levy has one outstanding memory in particular – in 2003, while eating lunch at Nearly Normal’s, she went into labor with her second daughter. After experiencing some contractions at the table, Levy barely recalls asking staff to take their food to-go. Her baby was born just an hour later.
Another Corvallisite, Rachel Kohler, had a life changing OKCupid date at Nearly Normal’s. She and her date sat upstairs in an area partially obscured by a tree and talked for hours.
“We’re still together, and we go to Normal’s to sit in that upstairs booth every November for our anniversary,” she said. “I’m sad to discover that last year was our last visit.”
Lisa Shepard remembers her Orthodox Jewish friends feeling the safest eating at Nearly Normal’s because there was no meat in the kitchen. She also remembers her kids throwing tantrums at Normal’s and the staff being understanding despite one even breaking a glass. Now, Shepard’s kids are in their 30s and are sad to see the restaurant closed.
Shepard is sad, too, “Too many meaningful memories to count,” she said. “One of those places I could not imagine my life to be without.”
Randy Bronner worked for Normal’s for 13 years on and off. Each time he left the restaurant to pursue other opportunities, only to have them not pan out, Eveland would take him back. “She [Eveland] always went the extra mile to work through problems rather than replace people,” he said. “That made us all feel like family.”
Eveland and Babel have been reflecting on their favorite memories at Normal’s as well.
One of Babel’s favorites is of how the restaurant got its name. While coming up with ideas, someone said, “Well it’s only going to be a nearly normal restaurant.” Thus, the name Nearly Normal’s was born.
Babel and Eveland also both remember Thanksgivings and Christmas dinners at the restaurant fondly. They were times they spent together as a family, cooking for each other and sitting down for a good meal.
Memories with those they employed also stick with the pair. Many of their past employees are still in contact with them, and the owners had the chance to employ their children. They appreciate the opportunity they had to teach young people how to be employees – for many, it was their first job ever.
“We trained a lot of people to be workers,” Eveland recalled.
After 40 years, Eveland and Babel have many people to thank, including the farmers who provided fresh food, the craftsmen who kept their building standing, all of the friends who believed in them over the decades, and of course, the community and all who patronized Normal’s.
“We’ve had a really loyal clientele and made lots of friends over the years, too,” said Babel.
“Good food for our community has been a source of our pride. We hope that the spirit will live on in other food vendors in our community and that our vegetarian food niche is filled with our friends,” Eveland said. “It was a safe place for vegetarians to come and get a meal and feel confident in what they were eating and appreciate the variety they had to choose from.”
However, lucky for the Corvallis community, it’s not the complete end of Nearly Normal’s. The owners started a wholesale business in 2008, which they plan to keep up. Through this venture, they are able to continue selling the products we all know and love at other local businesses. So, while we all mourn the loss of the Normal’s restaurant, you can still pick up some of your favorite products at the university dining halls on OSU campuses, the First Alternative Natural Foods Co-Op, Market of Choice, and more.
Eveland and Babel are more grateful than ever for the loyal patrons of Corvallis, and for now, they are still unsure of the future.
“We keep saying never say never,” said Eveland. “If this place doesn’t sell, who knows what we’ll end up doing.”
By Cara Nixon