Evan Lowell Armstrong passed away peacefully in Spokane, Washington on October
28, 2023 at age 88. Born October 22, 1935, to Olga Signora Hammer and Everett John
Armstrong in Spokane, Armstrong attended Logan and Finch Elementary Schools,
where he proudly won the Duncan Golden Yoyo Championship. As a boy, he exhibited
signs of entrepreneurship by tracking down abandoned out-of-bounds golf balls at
Downriver Golf Course and reselling them to golfers at the entrance. As a teenager in
the summertime, he would pick vegetables on Eastern Washington farms with migrant
workers from Mexico and learned to love their culture and their food.
He graduated Northwest Christian High School in 1953 and was Class President. He
loved fast cars, bought a ’57 Chevy and would race at the Stateline and Deer Park “drag
strips” with his buddies. He also loved to waterski and built his own boat by hand from a
kit. In 1958, he married Joyce Anderson, with whom he had two children. He joined the
Air National Guard, serving at Lackland, TX AFB, Fargo, ND and Geiger, WA. In 1962
he graduated North Dakota State Pharmacy College and joined his father’s Model
Pharmacy business in the Logan neighborhood. He entered a national drugstore
magazine contest and won a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair. He sold it and used the money to
open Spokane’s first Taco Time fast food restaurant, betting that his hometown would
love Mexican food as much as he did. He was right. From there he added Taco Times
throughout Spokane, North Idaho and beyond, developing new menu items and
perfecting his famous Mexi-fry recipe. When American POW Lt. Col. Dale Storr was
released from Iraqi captivity during the Gulf War and brought home to Spokane, Storr
said, “First stop was Taco Time. I had to have Mexi-fries.”
Armstrong expanded into many types of themed restaurants: Captain’s Kettle Fish and
Chips, Smitty’s, Perkins, Arby’s, Fuddruckers, Amigos, N’Rico Chicken, Taco Mejico,
Rice Time Express, Omni Restaurant, Rocking Horse Saloon and the city’s first
freestanding full-service Mexican restaurant, Casa Blanca. The Casa Blanca Restaurant
and Cantina opened in downtown Spokane with emerging chef Fernando Maldonado to
create a unique Mexican-American menu. Famous for large “747” burritos, sizzling
fajitas, monstrous margaritas, and the hottest bands of the 1970's, customers would
wait in long lines around the iconic stucco building.
Under his parent corporation, Omni Foods, Armstrong became the largest employer of
Hispanic workers at the time. In the mid-70’s he married Ann Van Vliet, had another
daughter, and expanded his restaurant partnerships in six states, briefly living in Texas
and Arizona. Armstrong became the President of the Spokane Convention and Visitors
Bureau before retiring and divesting ownership in 60 restaurants during his career.
One of Armstrong’s greatest passions was employing young people in the food-service
industry, especially helping them achieve their dreams of college, sometimes with
scholarships and adjusting their work schedules for school, or even management
training to eventually open their own restaurant.
In retirement, Armstrong returned to medical work. He volunteered for many years
helping seniors analyze their insurance coverages as a Washington State Health
Insurance Benefit Advisor (SHIBA).
An avid sports fan, Armstrong would travel the West Coast, watching the University of
Arizona basketball games in person, and cheering on his grandchildren at their sporting
events. He and his son, Joel, entered and won the Silver State Classic Challenge high
speed road race in the 1990’s, driving his BMW 540iA at speeds over 150mph in the
Nevada Desert. His racing bug wasn’t limited to cars. He loved horse racing and
bankrolled a chestnut thoroughbred, “Evan’s First,” with trainer Gary Owens, competing
at Playfair and around the region, placing six times.
Armstrong was a descendant of Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie from the Armstrong
Clan of the Scottish/English Border and was related to astronaut Neil Armstrong, the
first man on the moon. His ancestors were of Norwegian, Welsh and Scotch-Irish
descent, immigrating to America as farmers.
Armstrong is survived by his children: Candace Armstrong (Steve) Mumm, Joel
(Kristen) Armstrong, Kristin Armstrong (Juan) Orozco; step-children: Steve (Remy) Van
Vliet, Scott Van Vliet, Shari Sivret, Shana (Corey) Weisner; two nieces and three
nephews; Grandchildren: Amanda (Jason) Lasko, Madison (Tanner) Peterson, Emily
(Jacob) Hangartner, Morgan Armstrong, and Arianna Orozco; Great-Grandchildren:
Parker and Makenna Peterson, and Luke Lasko.
A Celebration of Life is planned for
Wednesday, November 8th at 10:00 am at the Shadle Park City Library Event Center,
2111 W. Wellesley Avenue. Donations appreciated to the Holy Names Music Center for
Children - HNMC.org