Steakburger: It's all relative

With restaurant's final days approaching, Sanders family reunion par for the course

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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When Linda McCormick heard that the Steakburger in Hazel Dell was closing and the building was set to be demolished, she jumped on Facebook to tell her family.

The 65-year-old Olympia woman is the granddaughter of Milton and Ovillin Sanders, who ran the business from 1956 to 1962.

“Within a half an hour, I’d scheduled it,” she said. The make-shift family reunion, that is.

On Saturday afternoon, about 40 members representing four generations of the Sanders family descended upon the burger joint, taking up a majority of the tables. The group ate burgers and fries and slurped milkshakes as the older generations told stories and pored over albums full of black-and-white photos.

“There was no I-5. We watched them start the construction,” said Kathy Sanders, 63. At age 8 or so, she said, she and her siblings and cousins would play in the construction area and even get food for the construction workers.

“We would run out there, take their orders … run back with ice creams all melted,” Kathy Sanders said. Family members didn’t all work for the business, but Kathy Sanders said that “if you were here, you helped out.”

As kids, the group of Milton Sander’s grandchildren used to roll down the mounds of dirt and sand that were used to build the freeway.

“They used to yell, ‘Go play on the freeway,’ ” McCormick said.

“We were filthy from head to toe,” Lana Brady, 63, chimed in.

But the Steakburger that they ran around as a kid is much different than the one that stands today. There was no seating area or Golf-O-Rama, an adjoining miniature golf course. There was just the kitchen and a drive-through.

“It was so important to him to take care of the truckers,” McCormick said. “He cared about the salt-of-the-earth kind of people and getting them good quality food.”

In fact, Milton Sanders’ motto during his tenure of running the restaurant was: “No cops or priest shall ever pay here,” Brady said. “It was a double bribe.”

Their grandfather, they all said, was meticulous about how his burgers were made — with just the right amount of fat and salt.

“I still taste it too, that first bite,” Kathy Sanders said.

The Sanderses ran the business until 1962, when the current owners Bob and Merilyn Condon took over. The Condons have owned and operated the business for more than 50 years.

Looking to retire, the Condons are in the midst of selling the property to Vancouver-based MAJ Development Corp. for an undisclosed price.

The old Steakburger venue will be replaced by a $5 million project that includes the four buildings, two of which will be drive-through restaurants, said Mike Jenkins, the project’s developer.

Demolition of the iconic restaurant site is expected to begin this summer, with the business officially closing its doors at 4 p.m. May 29. The Condons have set out memory books for friends and customers to sign and are taking down contact information for those interested in buying anything from the restaurant equipment to putting obstacles.

Because the restaurant has changed so much over the years, news of the business closing doesn’t hit as close to home for the older generations of Sanders. The younger family members, however, grew up with the restaurant’s new amenities.

Cheryl Cox, 41, of Washougal said that she looks back fondly on playing mini golf and stopping for ice cream.

She laughed as she reminded others of the time a family friend got a mini golf score of more than 100 during a single game and even launched a ball over the retaining wall and onto the freeway. She also remembers that she was playing mini golf with friends when Mount St. Helen erupted.

“We were just standing there, staring,” she said.

She has even carried on the tradition of mini golf with her own family.

“It’s actually kind of sad; I bring my kids here for golfing,” she said. When the rain cleared Saturday, she grabbed a putter and took to the course.

“That ant hill, you can’t ever make the ant hill hole,” she said. “I still try and try and never make it.”