Elvis has left the building…
Era to end when Sandmons’ diner, house sell
Some of the guests at the 80th birthday party on Feb. 2 sat on red and chrome chairs, at tables covered with red and white checkered tablecloths. Some sat in a red booth.
Heat rising from the floor’s black and white tiles warmed the room, and Elvis memorabilia covered the walls.
Folks sang along while Elvis, aka Rod Sandmon, roamed the room with his wireless microphone, crooning old favorites.
But the party’s almost over.
More than 3,500 people have sat in Rod and Gwen Sandmon’s 1950s Elvis-themed diner in Forest Lake since June of 2003.
They often come across someone who tells them, “I’ll never forget the night we were at your ’50s party. It was so fun.”
The Sandmons started hosting Elvis parties in the converted garage when Rod was 60. The diner has seen a decade of Red Hat Society parties, weddings and vow renewals, of the Sandmons sharing their hobby, and of opportunities for outreach.
“People come to our parties and find out I’m a minister,” Rod said. “We pray for people who are sick, for family members.”
Now, a decade later, the Sandmons are moving on.
A finish carpenter by trade, Rod has been working part-time the last couple years. Up north, near Clam Lake in Siren, he has built a new house. Except for front and back porches, the house is ready. The couple also have a condo in Branson, Mo.
Gwen’s 48-year career with Allina Hospitals and Clinics (she started at age 20) will end when she retires from her job at Unity Hospital.
“We’ve had so much fun with the diner, it’s not going to be easy to leave,” Rod said. But the new house has a basement room with a black-and-white floor, and the Sandmons plan to keep about half of the Elvis items.
“We’ll have some small get-together parties,” he said.
The Sandmons started hosting Elvis parties in their former home in Lino Lakes.
When they moved to Forest Lake and created the diner, they offered parties on Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons.
Groups of 15 to 25 could gather for sloppy joes with baked beans, chips and build-your-own ice cream sundaes, while Elvis provided the entertainment.
“We do not use the word ‘charge,’” Rod said, “only ‘donation.’ Money is not what it’s about: It’s about having fun.”
The donations helped pay for the food; the music was an act of love: “I love to sing,” Rod said.
He will still be available for private parties and weddings. Rod has also entertained at the Ms. Minnesota pageant, ARC benefits, and a special prom night for special needs teens.
While the Sandmons are hosting their four grandchildren up north, what will happen to the diner?
That’s up to the new owner. The house at 21086 Everton Ave., south of Clear Lake, will be listed for sale later this month.
It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a nice addition that Rod built.
And a heated, air-conditioned, who-knows-what-it-will-become-next opportunity for fun.