In the Wood River Valley, retired restaurateurs Keith and Paula Perry need little introduction.
Over 37 years, they built one of the most popular restaurants in Ketchum—simply called Perry’s—where scores of teens worked their first job, loyal locals ate breakfast on a near-daily basis, and visiting families came together over the holidays for a lunch on the town.
So, as the 2022 Wagon Days grand marshals, the longtime Ketchum and Hailey residents must certainly be very familiar with the marquee event of the weekend, the Big Hitch Parade, right?
Well, not exactly.
“We’ve never seen the Wagon Days parade,” Keith Perry said with a laugh. “We’ve always had to work.”
That work ethic, the strong dedication to overseeing every aspect of their business, is undoubtedly a factor in why Perry’s became so popular—and the owner-operators became such familiar faces.
A marriage and partnership shaped by fate
Keith Perry, 67, grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., and went on to attend Arizona State University, in nearby Tempe. While in university and after he graduated, he worked a variety of jobs, including bartending, restaurant management, construction and selling insurance.
Paula Perry, 68, grew up in Indiana and graduated from Valparaiso University, in the northwest of the state. She later went to Arizona State to get a master’s degree in nursing.
The pair met in the Phoenix area. Keith’s father was dying of cancer, he said, and Paula was working as one of his nurses. That fateful meeting led to their marriage in 1980.
Keith had a connection to Sun Valley through a childhood friend and he and Paula had spent time in the Idaho mountains during the winter. In 1984, they took an extended summer trip that included attending the Olympics in Los Angeles and heading up the West Coast to Washington. Eventually, they decided they wanted to see Sun Valley in the summer, and crossed into Idaho.
They rode bikes, hiked to Pioneer Cabin, and the seed was planted, Keith said—they wanted to move to Sun Valley. After returning to Phoenix, they attended an Arizona State football game. In the 110-degree heat, they thought of their time in the Wood River Valley.
“We were thinking, ‘It must be really nice in Sun Valley right now,’” Keith said.
In September 1985, the Perrys put their savings together and moved to the Wood River Valley. One attraction was Nordic skiing, Keith said.
“We mostly just wanted a lifestyle change,” he said.
With a business plan the width of a short novel, they opened their Ketchum restaurant just a few months later, in December 1985. The odd-shaped building they operated in at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Fourth Street had some constraints, they said, but allowed them to expand the ever-popular business six times. They became well-known for their hot breakfasts, large deli sandwiches, homemade cookies, and abundant hospitality.
The Perrys acquired a loan to buy a house in the Warm Springs area of Ketchum, where they lived for some 20 years and had two children. They later moved to a house in Hailey to raise their children but have now moved back to Ketchum, where they have a condominium.
The path the couple chose and made a success of is likely not one that young entrepreneurs could take today, Paula said.
“At the time, two people with not-very-deep pockets could develop a plan and move to Ketchum and start a business,” she said. “I don’t think you could do that anymore.”
Giving the community more than good food
Even as they worked 70-80 hours a week at the restaurant, the Perrys also found time to give back to the community they called home.
Keith served on the Blaine County Recreation District board of directors for 15 years, helping to develop facilities and trails. He has served on the governing board of St. Luke’s Wood River hospital since 2004 and was recently appointed to serve as the Ketchum representative to the Blaine County Housing Authority.
Paula has participated in and supported VAMPS, a popular Wood River Valley cross-country skiing program for women. The Perrys have also supported the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and Sun Valley Youth Hockey.
The Perrys’ dedication to their work—both in business and in the community—is one reason they were selected by the city of Ketchum to be the Wagon Days grand marshals, Mayor Neil Bradshaw said.
“Keith and Paula embody the values we hold dear in our community—honesty, kindness and service to our residents and visitors,” he said. “They embraced hard work as avidly as the outdoors—and served up food and humor in equal doses. Keith and Paula are beloved by our community, just like their cookies!”
Being named grand marshals the summer after they closed Perry’s is especially meaningful, the couple said. Last year, they sold the building that housed Perry’s and several other small businesses, and then decided to end the restaurant’s long run in operation on May 31. The Perry’s building and two adjacent lots are now slated to be the location of a new mixed-use development.
“It’s a real honor,” Paula said. “We’re just so grateful to be able to make a living up here. And now we’re saying goodbye to our business. It’s very cool.”
Keith said he is excited to participate in an event that is “part of our heritage.” In the parade, the couple plans to ride in the grand marshals’ wagon their daughter, Courtney, son-in-law, Jake, and their grandchild, Colt Taylor.
Couple looks to the next chapter
As for the future, the Perrys plan to maintain their residence in Ketchum, they said, but will enjoy opportunities to visit Courtney and her family in Phoenix, and their son in Boise. They plan to buy a condominium in Phoenix and spend parts of fall and spring there, while spending the rest of the year in Ketchum—or traveling.
“We haven’t traveled in 37 years,” Keith said.
Nonetheless, leaving Perry’s was hard, Keith said. Many customers and employees had become friends. Some families had three generations of ties to the restaurant, and many were sad to see it close, he noted.
Keith was not able to stay away from restaurant work for long. He is waiting tables part-time at The Grill at Knob Hill restaurant in Ketchum, where many customers recognize him, he said.
“Everybody’s just so nice,” he said.
Eventually, he will fully retire, he said.
Paula said she is considering doing some volunteer work but has stayed busy since they closed Perry’s.
This has been an eventful year for the couple, Paula said, filled with change, emotion and setting sights on new horizons. Participating in Wagon Days will again bring them in touch with the community they love, she said.
“It’s the topping on the cake.”