Man was on a mountain oyster mission

MNI Board Treasurer, Tom Richards

Coeur d’Alene Press| December 4, 2020 1:00 AM

Three disconnected life events helped form Tom Richards’ son, Tom:

• He was the first baby to occupy the nursery of what would later become Coeur d’Alene Bible Church. And he grew up a church kid.

• He was the last general manager of the old Atlas Building Center.

• In May 2015, while in his last days as a missionary in Seoul, Korea, he bought his favorite North Idaho restaurant, the Snake Pit at Enaville.

Tom wasn’t supposed to become a Christian missionary and then a social studies teacher and now a restaurant owner.

He was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of influential timbermen who helped build this area. He attended the same schools as his father: Hayden Elementary, Coeur d’Alene High, and Stanford.

Most figured he would follow in his father’s footsteps.

To his credit, W.T. “Tom” Richards tried only once to dissuade his son from becoming a restaurateur. Early on, the paterfamilias asked friend Ray Gillette of Cedars Floating Restaurant to talk some sense into his son. Ray told young Tom of the long, consuming hours that are part of the restaurant business.

“Ray tried to scare me off,” Tom told Huckleberries. “The more he talked the more interested I became.”

Tom dreamed of doubling as a restaurant cook and a rock star as his peers in the Stanford Economics Department donned suits and applied for jobs with Goldman Sachs.

He became a missionary to Japan, Vienna, and Korea instead.

Credit his mother, Sheila, and his future wife, Kirste, for that.

In Christian parlance, the late Dr. Jane Gumprecht led Sheila to the Lord soon after Tom’s birth. Sheila went all in afterward. As for Tom’s fiancée, Kirste always assumed she would become a missionary.

Before their marriage, Tom and Kirste ate at the Snake Pit, the quirky Enaville restaurant, which sprang from the rough-and-tumble railroad construction crews living on the site in the late 1800s. Reputedly, the restaurant and bar once housed prostitutes and bootleg whiskey.

Kirste’s food that day was subpar. But that didn’t stop Kirste from telling Tom that his favorite eatery was for sale. Tom and Doug Johnson, owner of Fire Pizza, closed on the Snake Pit on May 15, 2015. Tom coveted co-owner Doug’s expertise as he restored the Snake Pit to its former glory.

“I love being at the Snake Pit when the place is full, live music is playing, and everyone is having a good time,” Tom said.

Business is booming this fall as COVID limitations are chasing Washington residents across the border.

Quips Tom: “I should send a thank you note to (Washington Gov. Jay) Inslee.”

And that’s how a church boy with timber industry pedigree found happiness selling Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull balls) at a historic bar once known for illegal whiskey and “girls of the morning.”