Alf's - Ice Cream, Burgers, and Monkey
Nutritionists say that we've become increasingly isolated from our food. Aside from the occasional lobster tank, we no longer appreciate our appetizers and entrees as something that once was alive.
Those experts, however, have probably never dined at some of the places where you can eat animals while watching other animals eat: fish in Illinois, goats in Wisconsin, raccoons in Nebraska -- and a monkey in Oregon.
The monkey hangs out at Alf's, a fast food drive-in built in the early 1950s. When Terrie Rickerd bought the place in 1989, it was known mainly for its milkshakes and char-burgers.
Then Terrie saw a newspaper ad for an abandoned capuchin monkey. If this were a Little Rascals episode or a cartoon, the monkey would have gone to work for an organ grinder. Terrie certainly never intended to cook the monkey. She just wanted it for a pet.
"Then I thought, he's all alone, and he can't be all alone," Terrie said. "I wondered if there was some way I could arrange it so that he could be around people all the time."
So Terrie did a surprising thing for a restaurant owner: she knocked out half of her indoor seating and turned it into a glass-windowed room for her primate pal. It was an act of monkey love over commerce, but it turned out well for the business. "I've been to California, Arizona," Terrie said, "and I start talking to people, and they'll say, 'Oh, I've heard about your place! You have the monkey!'"
Alf's current monkey-in-residence is named Elvis (his predecessors were Herbie and Maynard). His inner sanctum can only be reached through a double-door anteroom from the parking lot, which Terrie said is as much for Elvis's protection as it is for the customers'. Monkeys can catch human diseases, and an open window might tempt patrons to sneak Elvis some bad monkey chow from Alf's menu, like corn dogs or tater tots.
When we visited Alf's, half of the customers seemed to be there for the food, half for the monkey. Elvis, clad in baggy pants and a diaper (no dung-throwing encouraged), had plenty of toys to play with and places to climb on in his room, which had been painted with jungle scenes. A barred, glass window allows outdoor diners to see Elvis, while unobstructed windows provide viewing from inside.
An Elvis encounter at Alf's depends entirely on timing. He sometimes takes a nap (the familiar snoozing animal celebrity experience) and sometimes he just isn't around. Elvis goes home with Terrie when she isn't at Alf's, and gets his daily bath. But on the day that we visited, Elvis was in the building and full of monkey business: bouncing around his room, screaming in play, mugging at kids through the glass as they mugged back.
Terrie said pet capuchin monkeys can live for 35 years, which means that Elvis could be at Alf's into the 2020s. Federal veterinarians make regular, unannounced visits to the restaurant to see that Elvis is healthy and happy, and to verify that Terrie's paperwork is up-to-date. Terrie said that she's licensed by the USDA, and she's proud of her monkey stewardship after all of these years.
"Some people are like, 'Aw, man, a poor monkey in a cage!'" she told us. "I'm like, 'You know, that monkey is treated better than a lot of children. You don't have a clue.'"