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JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — After 20 years of serving Jackson Hole residents and tourists, LeJay's Sportsmen's Cafe has closed.

"That's bad," 20-year LeJay's coffee clatch regular Ted George said. George met his friends for coffee at the restaurant regularly — at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.

"We need a local coffee shop and really there isn't one now," George, who frequented the infamous 24-hour Elkhorn restaurant before LeJay's opened. "I don't know what we're going to do."

The impetus for LeJay's came in 1982 after Lee Walter was fired from the Elkhorn for the third time.

Walter partnered with his brother, Jay, and created LeJay's Sportsmen's Cafe.

For two decades, Walter served hot coffee and hearty meals to Jackson residents and tourists, staying open 24 hours a day during the busy summers.

During waitress Donna Davidson's last shift before the business closed late last month, Walter talked about his relationship with the woman who has worked at the cafe since it opened.

"More than an employee, she's family," Walter said, his eyes watering, a forgotten cigarette burning slowly toward his fingers. "I always thought Donna would quit me, but I kind of feel like I'm quitting on her. Bar none, she's the best employee I've ever had."

"Gonna miss you," Davidson said to Walter, as if obliged to make some comment on the end of two decades worth of food service. "Not going to miss getting up at 3:30 in the morning."

Walter recounted his morning routines: Turn the grills on, get restaurant ready to open, then sit down and enjoy coffee with the waitresses for 10 minutes before unlocking the door at 5:30 a.m. for curiously regular customers.

"Out of the dark would come pancake man," Walter said. Each day since January, a man would walk in at 5:30 a.m. and order the same thing. "He ordered one pancake, scrambled eggs and sausage. He catches the START bus at 6:30, so he's always here like clockwork."

One of the most popular items on LeJay's menu, and typical of the restaurant's fare, was the $7.99 Larry Turner Special, named after an electrician who always ordered the super-sized meal: a three-egg omelet with diced ham, bacon, mushrooms, green peppers and onions, smothered in homemade chili and topped with cheddar cheese and onions. Lest the hungry patron need more, it was served with hash browns and toast.

No matter how crowded or empty, the restaurant was always full of faces. The Rogue's Gallery, a collection of paintings by Roy Kerswill, immortalized Jackson legends such as Jack Dennis and Bill Briggs. The gallery hung in the Elkhorn before LeJay's.

Among the portraits were Jackson Hole's old power block, a whole corral of ranchers, politicians and notables, including Kerswill's own Kerswill. The artist died about a year ago.

Walter said the paintings will go to the Jackson Hole Historical Society.

Walter said after the sale of his business is finalized he plans to visit a new grandchild, work on his golf game and semi-retire.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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