Closing up shop


Food and friendship was the hallmark of the local eatery for over 40 years.

by: KEIVN SPERL  - Brenda Hanson visits with Diana Seaquist and her family in the Arctic Circle dining room.

As with most 16-year-olds, Brenda Hanson was excited to get her driver’s license. It was also the day, in 1981, when she started her first job, working at the Arctic Circle restaurant in Hillsboro.

“At the time it was known as Burger Country, and I worked there through high school,” said Hanson. “It is also where I met my former husband, Wayne, who bought the business when I graduated.”

Hanson’s busy life with Arctic Circle finally comes to an end today, after 27 years, as the popular local eatery on Third Street closes its doors.

“We don’t own the land and the lease is up at the end of July,” she explained. “Either we sign another lease for 20 years or get out. It’s become a good time to end it.”

Hanson said that what she feels sets Arctic Circle apart from the competition is its family-owned atmosphere, and, of course, the fry sauce, halibut, and 25 varieties of shakes.

“We have the highest percentage of halibut sales in the whole chain, which is crazy,” she said. “You wouldn’t think halibut would be a big deal in Prineville, but it’s really good fish.”

Customer Diana Seaquist agreed that the restaurant has a good family feel, but the draw for her is the country chicken and chicken filet sandwich.

“Brenda has always treated everyone like family,” said Seaquist, who has been a customer for over 13 years. “It’s just a great place and it will be missed. If I say much more I’ll start crying.”

Hanson’s husband grew up in Prineville, so when the business became available in 1987, they bought it and relocated to the city a few years after that.

“Wayne’s sister, Sue Page, ran it for us the first few years,” said Hanson. “When we sold the restaurant in Hillsboro, we decided to move to town.”

While residents in Prineville, Hanson’s two children, Tristan and Ashlyn, worked at the restaurant from the time they could walk.

“We paid them $1 an hour until they figured out everyone else made minimum wage,” laughed Hanson. “They both continued to work here through middle school, high school and summers while in college.”

Alice McWhorpor had been a regular since 1970, along with her husband Bert, until he passed away three years ago. She still makes time to come in for afternoon tea, however, sitting in the same booth every time.

“Bert always used to say that he would buy this booth if he had the money,” she said.

Sitting across the aisle from her, Seaquist chimed in, “If you want it and Brenda says you can have it, I’ll come and get it for you.”

“See what I mean?” replied McWhorper, “You don’t get this anywhere else.”

Franklin Land and Donna Smith have both worked with Brenda for many years.

“I don’t know where I would be without Brenda,” said Land. “I will miss the customers and it will be sad not to be here to talk with them.”

Smith, who is a shift supervisor, said working with Hanson has been a great experience and she has learned a lot.

“I’ve enjoyed it and Brenda is an awesome person to work for,” she said.

When asked what she will do next, Smith appeared to get a bit emotional with the reality setting in that she won’t be behind the counter come next week.

“I haven’t figured that out yet,” she admitted, “But I have two kids to support so I will find something.”

The closing is difficult for both employees and Hanson, but she knows it is time to move on.

With her kids grown and running the business by herself, Hanson returned to school to become a pharmacy technician.

“With my new job, I go home at the end of the day and don’t need to worry about anything,” she said. “I will miss all 14 of my employees, but this is a seven days a week, night and day commitment when you own a business.”

But, the time spent here was worth it.

“We did really well there; it was always a good business,” said Hanson. “It was a bit of a struggle during the recession, but it was a healthy business.”

To show her appreciation to the community, Hanson ran a number of 59-cent specials this past week.

“When we first got into the business, back in the '80s, Arctic Circle always ran 59-cent specials,” explained Hanson. “On Friday, we will feed all the employees and their families for free.”

Brad Bartlett, another regular customer, was greeted with a big hug by Hanson.

“I graduated in 1977 and ate lunch here all through high school,” said Bartlett, “All the school kids worked here.”

Bartlett went on to describe the days of “dragging the gut” and stopping in for some food, especially for the pink sauce, more officially known as fry sauce.

“There are 50-plus years of memories in here,” he said.