It has always been common among men to desire the freedom and the right to choose their own path in life; to march to the beat of their own drum, to break away from the pack and to have one’s own identity. Most of us will search for our identity at some point in our lives. It’s usually at a turning point or at a fork in the road when a decision needs to made of which path we should choose and proceed. Kelly Blair, owner and operator of Kelly’s Roadhouse in Stoddard, is no exception to this search for indentify and purpose.
In Kelly’s Roadhouse, there is a picture that hangs behind the bar of an Australian outlaw of the 19th Century named, Ned Kelly. This single picture seems to tell his entire story. There’s something about that image hanging there behind the bar… maybe it’s in the way the eyes are drawn that it somehow captures his fight for freedom and for justice.
Ned Kelly was quoted in part as saying, “…I am the last that carries public favor or dreads the public frown.” He is a folk hero to the people of Australia and a symbol of standing up for what one believes. In this case, the picture represents the perseverance that Kelly Blair maintains as he makes his way on his chosen path.
Kelly also has an ancestor to whom he can turn to for an example of this. This ancestor also followed her heart and made a brave direction-changing decision to go a different way than the mainstream. It was Kelly’s grandmother, Elizabeth Blair. She was one of the first Mormon pioneers to cross into Utah territory.
Like others that came West, Elizabeth chose to leave the comforts of home and walk alongside a hand cart across the long and difficult plains. Like the other pioneers, she came seeking a new life for herself; a life where she could worship freely and practice her self-chosen faith without persecution for going a different way than the norms of the time.
Like his grandmother, Kelly has been motivated throughout his life to follow his inner voice. Regardless of the opinions that those around him have had, he has traveled down the road which he felt was right for him. So, how did Kelly Blair end up here in Morgan County?
Kelly used to post motorcycle event posters at the old Stoddard Inn while operating Kelly’s Roadhouse #1 in Evanston, Wyoming. He always thought that the place could be so much more. “What a great little out-of-the-way place…a diamond in the rough,” he remembered thinking to himself. When he had this thought, he didn’t know that the future held an opportunity for him to transform this little place into what he had envisioned.
Kelly grew up in the post World War II era in the Rose Park subdivision of Salt Lake City. Rose Park held a diverse population. “It was the ‘motor head center’ of Salt Lake City,” Kelly said of the area. It was also where Kelly first took an interest in motorcycles.
After he graduated from West High School in 1965, he attended the University of Utah and Weber State University. When he was just shy of finishing his degree in business, he stopped the pursuit. He realized then, in that last leg of his higher education, that a life in a suit and tie was just not for him. Instead, Kelly chose to follow his heart and pursue his interest in motorcycles. Kelly Blair became a mechanic.
Kelly continued working as a mechanic, service manager, and parts manager throughout the years preceding the restlessness he would later discover. The restlessness came from having an unfulfilled dream that needed to be realized. Kelly called it his ‘mid-life crisis.’ “I had a good job at the time,” said Kelly, “but, I wanted something different…something of my own.” So, he set out with the American entrepreneurial spirit guiding him, and he never looked back.
The Bear Tooth Café, a small restaurant at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone Park, seemed like the perfect place to begin his journey. Kelly and a partner bought the restaurant and opened it in 1981. The business was very successful, and it grew from modest beginnings with just two employees to where he had twenty-two employees. Kelly decided it was time to move on in 1999.
A year later, he opened Kelly’s Roadhouse #1 in Evanston. This time, he was completely on his own. After five years in Evanston, the opportunity to purchase the Stoddard Inn presented itself. Because most of Kelly’s customers in Evanston were people coming from the Salt Lake area it made sense to take the opportunity. In 2005, the Stoddard Inn became Kelly’s Roadhouse #2. The property included a trailer home behind the tavern where Kelly now lives. “It’s a short commute,” Kelly jokes.
Getting right to work, Kelly put in a new kitchen, changed the menu, and redecorated the place, putting a new spin on the interior design. He also added an outdoor seating area complete with a stage for performers to entertain guests on busier days.
There is also a place inside where musicians play the guitar and sing. For the more adventurous spirits, patrons (age 21 or older) can give it a try, and “sing for their supper.” They can come in, use the guitar and the microphone provided, and give it a whirl. Besides the fun they have, if they are any good, they get a free meal to top it off.
The customers consist mainly of local farmers and out-of-town bikers. On the weekends, the parking lot is full of motorcycles; Harleys being the most popular. Fritz and Karen Fisher of Bountiful have been long-time customers of Kelly’s. “We ride with a group of about eight other couples,” said Karen, “and we always stop at Kelly’s…here, everyone has something in common.” Fritz, Karen’s husband and a retired Marine, said “I know these guys all look pretty rough…but most of the rides we go on are to raise money for a charity.” If you’ve ever tried to look smooth after riding some miles on a motorcycle, you understand the rough and disheveled look.
Kelly’s charity of choice, which he started himself with the help of his furry friend, Rascal, is named “Bikers About Rascals Friends” or the memorable, B.A.R.F. The charity was organized to help homeless animals by raising money for the animal shelter, “No More Homeless Pets.” Kelly adopted Rascal, a Hinds-57 dog in 2002, and began raising money for the shelter in 2007. He raises about a thousand dollars a year and has raised about three thousand dollars to date.
On a recent weekend, during Kelly’s busy time, the business was full of black-leather-wearing patrons. Some were sporting the rebel badge, long hair and full beards, while others had no hair at all from shaving their heads, but there is one thing they all share in common in Kelly’s Roadhouse; the mellow and comfortable nature of their conversations as they visited and enjoy each other’s company and the one-of-a-kind peanut butter burgers.
The loud appearance of these freedom riders certainly didn’t match their low-key personalities. In fact, the most rowdy moment was when two local teenagers wanted to demonstrate their skills to the rough-looking crowd, and pulled mile-long wheelies on their dirt bikes down the street in front of the tavern.
During a much slower time at the roadhouse, local farmers and ranchers come. They are on typical farmer’s hours and arrive between 5:45 a.m. and 8 a.m. At this time of day, instead of motorcycles, the parking lot is full of trucks. The “coffee club” as they call themselves, meets every morning for some conversation and hot coffee. They discuss the latest news, politics, and of course, some good old-fashioned town gossip.
The boys let themselves in because Kelly doesn’t open the restaurant that early. Smokey Dillree is usually the first to arrive and unlock the door. He has his own set of keys. “This used to be a pretty wild place,” said Smokey, referring to when the business was still the Stoddard Inn, “but Kelly has got that all under control. There used to be fights here every weekend. Kelly don’t put up with that stuff.”
On any given morning, there may be between five to twelve coffee club members who are gearing up for their day. Ron Porter, a horse rancher from Morgan, is a member of the coffee club, but he also comes during regular hours for the food. “You can’t get a better hamburger anywhere in the state,” he said.
Kelly has created a successful business that he enjoys owning and operating. He was able to ultimately choose the path he would follow, and it led him right where he wanted to be. He admits to a life of living on the “fringe” and never really being one to go with the crowd. “People are all different,” said Kelly, “which is what we all have in common.”
He has certainly had the opportunity to observe the differences in people as they come into his roadhouse. Each person has their own path to discover and to travel in life and sometimes the destination might even change mid-stream. At Kelly’s Roadhouse, many roads cross and bring travelers together. Besides getting the best burger in the state, they might even gain a new perspective for the road that lies ahead.