Superfan of Portland’s Organ Grinder Restaurant Is Making a Documentary About the Beloved Music-and-Monkey Venue

Working at the Organ Grinder launched one employee onto the national game show circuit.

The Organ Grinder. (Courtesy of Dennis Hedberg)

The Organ Grinder restaurant on Southeast 82nd Avenue had a cultlike following when it operated from 1973 to 1996.

People flocked to see the massive organ, a room-sized collection of pipes, drums, cymbals, marimbas—anything one operator needed to mimic the sounds of an orchestra, a choir, a train whistle, a telephone, and even birds or wind. Plus, there were monkeys and pizza.

There may be no bigger fan than Bob Richardson, a filmmaker who ate Canadian-bacon-and-pineapple pizza at the Organ Grinder every two months, at least, from age 4 to 18. In college, he drove 80 miles from Corvallis in a raging snowstorm because he heard it was closing.

“Everyone was packing in to see it one last time,” Richardson says.

Now 54, Richardson is at work on a film documentary about the Organ Grinder, inspired in part by a WW story about the place. Richardson is an amateur organist himself. In 2002, he carted an organ to Burning Man, the tech-and-hipster festival in the desert north of Reno, Nev., and played pieces by Bach and other Baroque composers.

Richardson has interviewed one of the former owners of the Organ Grinder, Dennis Hedberg, spending three hours with him. Hedberg handled the organ and all things musical, while co-owners Paul and Jerry Forchuk handled food and hospitality.

“There were lines around the block,” Richardson recalls. “It took hours to get into the place.”

Richardson has already turned up some gems in his digging. Vicki Buck, the monkey trainer at the Organ Grinder, appeared on To Tell the Truth, the game show, where a panel of four celebrities question a panel of three people claiming to be a person with a certain profession. Buck went on the show as the world’s only female organ grinder (her true line of work) and again as an imposter claiming to be an Olympic skier, Richardson says.

Game Show Contestant: Vicki Buck on "To Tell The Truth."

During the boom times, the Organ Grinder company owned a house on Black Point in Oahu, Hawaii, that had a saltwater pool fed by the waves during high tide. The owners took employees on vacation there.

After the success of the Organ Grinder, the three partners expanded, opening a disco called Earthquake Ethel’s in Beaverton in 1977 and another Organ Grinder in Denver in 1979. Business was terrific until the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge over the Columbia River was completed in 1982, extending Interstate 205 and slashing traffic volume on 82nd.

Another blow came when Chuck E. Cheese opened not far away on Southeast Powell Boulevard. The new place’s animatronic shows and arcade games crimped the Organ Grinder’s crucial birthday-party business. The Organ Grinder closed in 1996.

Richardson is looking for stories from people who loved the Organ Grinder and any home movies from events there, especially birthday parties. You can reach him at and

Living Large: The Organ Grinder vacation house in Hawaii (courtesy of Dennis Hedberg).

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.