Junction Outback comeback

In 2003, Tammy and Brett Cooker opened Descanso Junc­tion Restaurant & Catering to bring the local community ex­cellent food, with big portions, a friendly environment, and giv­ing locals a place to connect. In 2015, they purchased a 32-foot catering trailer so they could expand their business further by providing catering in East County. Across the interstate from Alpine and only 20 min­utes east of El Cajon, Descanso Junction has become a destina­tion for East County residents, said Tammy Cooker.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, something unexpected came through the many changes that had to be made to survive, and now, utilizing their prop­erty behind the restaurant, they have created a music venue, which has grown in popularity and now provides an entertain­ment venue for the community. The space is also used for pri­vate events such as weddings, birthday parties, baby showers, and other events.

Welcome to The Junction Out­back.

Cooker said when COVID hit, they had an acre and a half of dirt behind the restaurant. With the use of Paycheck Pro­tection Program funds, they cre­ated an outdoor venue.

“Not only to get us through COVID because outside dining was okay, but for the future,” she said. “Between several lo­cal businesses, local community members, we said, ‘We have this dream. We are trying to create something for the com­munity.’ People came out of the woodworks. Not only to donate products, but to donate physical help and labor, landscaping. A customer donated a horse trail­er that we gutted and turned into an outdoor bar. We have a grass area. We have a concrete dance floor. We took a flatbed trailer, and my husband created a stage that is just stunning. He is a talented woodworker. So, he built our outdoor kitchen, our buffet line, our stage with all lo­cally wood grown from Cuyama­ca. Much of it we could not have done without the community helping, which was amazing.”

Cooker said Descanso has no real grass anywhere, but now they do, and the area is huge.

“We have horseshoe pits. We had a horseshoe group come to us and said they would build horseshoe pits if they could hold their tournaments here. They bought the products, came in, and built the horseshoe pits,” she said.

Cooker said The Junction Outback started doing enter­tainment in 2021, so this is the fourth year of the Outback.

“We do dance every Friday and Saturday night. We start our season Memorial Day week­end, and we end our season the week before Halloween with a giant adult Halloween party. And then, Descanso gets too cold,” she said.

Cooker said that they have regular customers that come to the restaurant loyally, weekly.

“When we were talking about the bands coming up in the Outback, when we said Fri­day night we are having this country dance, Saturday night we are having this rock n’ roll band, They were like, where is the Junction Outback? Because literally when you drive by the front of the restaurant on High­way 79, you do not see it. It is directly behind the restaurant,” she said. “Year four years now, we still have people who have no idea that it is here.”

When starting the Outback, Cooker said they tried menu items and servers, and it was difficult to keep up with the inside restaurant and the Out­back at the same time, as when they started the music, 100 people would all walk in at the same time and wanted food at the same time.

“They were having to wait quite a while,” she said. “So last year, I changed it to a barbeque buffet. That was because I was in Texas, went to this place and they had a barbeque buffet. I thought it was brilliant. They can choose a one, two, or three meat plate. All the sides are unlimited. So, they can pay one price, walk in, go through the buffet and eat immediately.”

Cooker said that they push to be family-friendly, and pet-friendly in the Outback. Dogs must be on a leash.

“People were coming out of COVID, and they loved that their kids could run around on the grass and be kids outside while they listen to music,” she said. “Kids do not necessarily want barbeque, so I added a QR Code attached to the restau­rant, and while in the Outback you can call the restaurant, or­der food to go, and we will bring that down or you can come pick it up.”

This year the focus is get­ting people to the Outback, said Cooker.

“My focus this year is getting bands that have more of a local following,” she said. “Last year, we had all different genres from country to classic rock, but also reggae. We have tried many dif­ferent things, so if you come, you are not stuck with one genre. We had a comedy night. We had a Grateful Dead trib­ute. I am excited to see what we come up with for this summer’s concert series.”

For events, Cooker said they are done in the Outback, which has a capacity of 250 people.

“We have our first wedding for this year coming up in May. Our last wedding was on Friday 13, a goth wedding, so we have had it all,” she said. “And we have the room. You can have the wedding, the reception, a band, a dance floor. The complete ex­perience all in one place.”

Descanso Junction serves beer and wine. “We serve beer on tap. I try to go with local breweries, so we have Burning Beard, Alpine Duet,” she said.

Cooker said the restaurant has always focused on Ameri­can, barbeque, and Mexican food, with 99% of the food being homemade. She said when they began catering, the barbeque came into play because every­one wanted barbeque catering. She said that is when they in­troduced it into the restaurant’s menu, and it has been hugely successful. She said other popular menu items are Texas Chicken Frid Steak, meatloaf, and standard fare. She said the item that gets the most compli­ments are its half-pound ham­burgers, made of Angus beef, with a variety of burger styles.

For more information, visit www.descansojunction.com.


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