Jason Beem's Thursday Thoughts for Feb. 29, 2024

February 29th, 2024

A good Thursday morning to you all! I wanted to write this week about some wonderful people back home in Washington State who are retiring from racing. They weren’t jockeys or trainers; although, one of their sons won over 1,000 races as a jockey and another one of their boys has won almost 400 races as a trainer and is coming off a career-best year. The people I’m speaking of are Joe and Sally Steiner, and since 1996 they’ve operated the Quarter Chute Cafe, which is the Emerald Downs track kitchen.

Most backsides at racetracks are very secure places with gates and security guards and all that. The cafes on the backstretch are often the main food source for many of the people who ply their trade back there seven days a week. The kitchen tends to be a hub of the backstretch and offers up a mix of trainers, owners, grooms, jockeys, and other backstretch workers.

The Quarter Chute Cafe was different, though, because it was open to the public. You could go in there and enjoy breakfast and watch horses come walking by as the windows look right out onto the on and off gap of the track. I remember going back there for the first time in 2004, when I was hired at Emerald Downs to be a turf writer. My supervisor took me back there and we had breakfast, and he would go and get quotes and stories from trainers and jockeys as they would come in and out to get breakfast or get coffee. The Quarter Chute Cafe quickly became our de facto office, as anyone who we’d need to talk with would eventually find their way in there.

There was almost always a card game going every morning. Junior Coffey (who yesterday it was announced will go into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame) was a stalwart in those games, as were trainers like Bud Klokstad and Pat Mullens. All three of those guys are now passed on, but every morning they’d be there playing “Racetrack Rummy” and having laughs over coffee.

The Quarter Chute Cafe really is the heartbeat of the backside and as people came and went, the two constants were Joe and Sally Steiner. Joe manning the grill and Sally on the cash register. Sally had a way of making everyone who ate breakfast or had coffee there feel special. I actually had a connection to the Steiners, as my mom was longtime business partners with Joe’s brother Fred. So I remember when I introduced myself to Sally, she was all excited because she knew my mom.

If you go to Sally’s Facebook account, she has literally thousands of pictures of all the guests and visitors who stopped by the Quarter Chute Cafe over the years. The walls of the Quarter Chute Cafe are littered with old photos from Longacres and Emerald Downs. It’s truly a wonderful place to learn some Washington racing history as well as have a good breakfast.

Sally said on her Facebook post that she and Joe will still be around, which makes me happy. There are some people who you associate with certain places and you almost take for granted that they’ll always be there. If you ask horseplayers from around the country about who they think of when they think about Emerald Downs, they’d probably tell you Joe Withee or Juan Gutierrez or Tom Wenzel. And those guys are all incredible members of that community. But I think a lot of the locals would tell you about Joe and Sally and just what an indelible mark they’ve left and hopefully will continue to leave on Washington horse racing. I hope they have a wonderful retirement and we see them at the Quarter Chute Cafe visiting for years to come.