O'Henry's Go-Go restaurant founder dies at 88

KENNEWICK — He was known around town -- and then around the world.

Henry Belair, the longtime owner of O'Henry's in downtown Kennewick, died Tuesday at the age of 88.

He ran the eatery for nearly 50 years and gained national attention in 1984 when he put an ad in the paper seeking go-go dancers older than age 60.

Belair said he put the ad in because older customers requested dancing girls, and he decided that since those asking for the dancers were older than 60, the dancers should be too.

The story made the CBS Morning News, the Paul Harvey Show and the Wall Street Journal. A Japanese TV station even did a story.

After that, the restaurant was called O'Henry's Go-Go.

His sons also tell a story of when Belair had a best-looking legs contest, with customers encouraged to vote for their favorite pair of legs from photos. When all the votes were counted, Henry himself won -- and swore he didn't stuff the ballot box.

He sold the restaurant in 2001, but reopened it in 2002 after the sale fell through. He sold it again in 2006, and it is still open on South Auburn Street in Kennewick.

Belair died of natural causes. He had moved to the Seattle area several years ago to be closer to his family.

"Certainly he did not have a mean bone in his body -- practically to a fault," said his son, Roger.

He was born in Pasco, grew up in Kennewick and graduated from Kennewick High School 1941. He attended Washington State University before enlisting in the Navy.

When he returned, he joined the family business, Bel-Air's Bakery, which had opened in 1927.

He turned the bakery into a sit-down restaurant in 1960 and called it O'Henry's after a customer said, "Oh Henry, you're always making so many changes around here."

The brick eatery was known for its breakfasts, hamburgers, soups and homemade pies.

The walls are still decorated with photos and memorabilia he collected, including class pictures from Kennewick High School.

Belair was active in politics and served on the Kennewick City Council in the 1970s, according to his wife, Jeanne.

Colleen Bean and her husband Howard were close friends of Henry and his wife. Colleen said he was "like the life of the party."

"You never quite knew what Henry was going to come out with," she said.