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Carol's Brother-in-Law

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Rich Ballard talks about dogs, birds and family ties as part of one of Sandpoint's finest restaurant families

Spend five minutes in his presence and you know right away that Rich Ballard is the youngest of his family. He has charm and a quick wit, and the ever-present twinkle in his eye warns that this is a man of bad jokes, good card and coin tricks, and a well of creativity that seems endless.

If you don't recognize the name - Rich Ballard - you probably recognize the face, because Rich is likely to be the guy who greets you as you come in the door of Ivano's Ristoranté. And yes, Rich is the correct name for the man who is also known as "Carol's brother-in-law," - Barney is the other Ballard, the one who got here first and, by the way, the one who is Rich's big brother.

The Ballard family started out in Colorado; they spent some time in Texas, and put in a stint as avocado growers in California, but were back in Colorado in time for Rich to be raised on the front range of the Rocky Mountains. "It was a great place to live before it got so crowded," he said. "There were blue skies almost the whole time and the Rocky Mountains are a great backyard ."

Barney moved into the restaurant business after serving in Viet Nam, but Rich took a little longer to delve into the food services field. Starting out, he was licensed as a pesticide applicator and worked in hydro-seeding and reclamation. It was seasonal work, though, even in Colorado's blue skies, and in the off-season he'd find himself working at Barney's restaurant, Gussie's, located north of Denver.

"He'd call me up, being shorthanded, and I'd be washing dishes, waiting tables, tending bar." When Barney and Carol moved to Sandpoint, Rich remained at the restaurant, later pursuing a seven-year stint in the insurance industry. That is when he decided to return to college, and received a degree in business marketing.

It wasn't all work, however. Along the way, Rich took up bird hunting. "My roommates from my first years in college were hunters," he said, "and we'd go out and hunt birds." While he'll begrudgingly spend some time on the water, going after ducks and geese, his real passion in hunting is out in the fields, flushing upland game of quail and pheasant, a place where "you get to watch your dog doing what it was born to do."

The dog, in fact, is probably the most important aspect of hunting to Ballard, who spent some time volunteering and working in the United Kennel Club (an organization exclusively for hunting dogs) and served as a hunting dog trials judge for six years after training a dog to the championship. "The dog training aspect is what makes it fun," he explained. "As long as you have the time to do it. While certain dogs have genetic characteristics that make them well-suited to hunting, you could take just about any dog and train them to hunt. You start them off young, and keep it up."

Currently, Rich owns a sweet and friendly schwartzschimmel (black) Drahthaar - a German breed that's not just a wirehair pointer. "The difference is in the registration of the dogs," he said. "The Germans have a strict breeding program, which requires testing in both ability and conformation before the dogs are allowed to be bred. The Germain Wirehair Pointer (GWP), as registered by the AKC, do not have any controls on their breeding, so the breeds have begun to diverge, even though they are originally from the same stock. The most immediately noticeable difference is in the coat - the Drahthaars tend to a more uniform, shorter coat, and are generally darker in color than are GWP's."

Drahthaars are registered by the Verein Deutsch-Drahthaar (VDD). They determine what colors can breed with other colors and the parents must pass versatility tests before they can get a kennel name. "Heidi's a great dog," Rich said. On his most recent hunting trip back to Kansas, where he joined six of his old college-day friends for a week hunting those upland birds he likes so well, "she was the dominant bitch," he said with a big grin. "The dogs establish a quick hierarchy, and she was running the show." He got Heidi as a pup and "ran her first dog trial in Boise. She scored the highest of all dogs entered that week."

Three years ago, Rich decided the city was getting too big, and the 'time to do it' too limited, and he chose to move to the Sandpoint area - the place his brother Barney had moved to 16 years previously.

"You know, my dad grew up in Spokane during World War II," he said. "And he told us he would have never believed that his kids would end up coming back to this area. My grandma married Grandpa Cliff right here in Sandpoint at the First Presbyterian Church."

Moving here wasn't an easy choice for Ballard, who spent a month on the road, checking out places to live - places like Kansas where, "Even in a drought year, the hunting's good. The upland hunting opportunities aren't that great here," he explained. "Here, we might get three birds a day, where in Kansas the limit is four a day and, when walking draws and fields, you might see between 40 and 70 pheasants flushing wild."

There's not a lot of chance to flush those quail and pheasant here in northern Idaho, but Sandpoint did offer one thing that other places lacked - family. "Barney and Carol moved here because they wanted a good place to raise their kids." And for Rich, that drive across the Long Bridge worked an enchantment familiar to most who live here today. In 1999, he made the move.

"Jim and Barney had merged, and taken over the Beach House, so it was a good opportunity," he said. Barney, who had owned and operated The Cupboard in Sandpoint, had gone together in business with Jim Lippi, owner of Ivano's Ristoranté. And they had leased the restaurant in the Edgewater Hotel, creating more than enough work to keep the whole crew busy.

"They let me buy in to the business," and Rich found himself in the restaurant field again.

For three years Rich was the face at the Beach House - greeting customers at the door and taking care of all the myriad details that keep a business running; even washing a few dishes and cooking a few meals on occasion. "Jim and Barney are the creative cooks," he said. "I'm the detail guy."

During this time, the business partnership was constructing a three-story building on the corner of First and Pine to house an expanded Ivano's Ristoranté, a caffe/bakery, a whole floor of office space, and condominiums on the upper level. In the year 2001, they opened their doors.

Although they chose not to renew their lease on the Beach House, Ivano's isn't the only place you can get their great food - because the restaurant offers off-site catering as well. "We've got our trailer and we've got our truck, and we drive around town with it all hooked up" Rich explained. "We can take a commercial oven and stove, and big, open barbeque grills. We are mobile and we can cook commercially off-site. And it's not strictly Italian food. We're flexible; we can pretty much do anything that people might want." And they can just about do it any-where, as well - they've catered events as far away as St. Regis.

"This (arrangement) let's us enjoy life a little bit, too," he said. "If one of us wants to take off, we can do it. We can fall back on each other, giving us time to enjoy what we live here for.

"One of the nice things is that we all have our niches, and they all complement each other," Rich explained. "And with everybody who works here, it's like one big family." Actually, they just about are one big family - because kids and grandkids are often called in to work, and the Lippis and the Ballards have become close enough to share a family connection.

That family is important for Ballard, because the only thing he misses about Colorado is the family that still lives there; his father, his brother Sponge-Bob (actually, their mother named him Mike) plus two step-children, two step-grandchildren, and even a step-great-grandchild. "I just call them all my kids," he said with a smile, denying that he's old enough to be a grandparent yet.

Even with most of his family in Colorado, along with most of the upland birds that Ballard would like to see landing in fields nearby, he is still content to stay right here, greeting folks as they walk in the doors of Ivano's new restaurant, pouring them a drink while he dazzles them with his "nine quarter" trick. "I can't go back to big cities anymore," he said. "I love this town. I can actually call this home now."

Meet both of the Ballard brothers, along with Lippi, at Ivano's Ristoranté on the corner of First and Pine in downtown Sandpoint


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Landon Otis

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