At the end of May, a county landmark that created memories for generations of Southwest Washington residents and beyond will close its doors forever. After 52 years, Ridgefield residents Bob and Merilyn Condon have decided to sell Steakburger Restaurant & Golf-O-Rama in Hazel Dell and embark on full-time retirement.
Bob Condon and his young bride were 22 and 20 years old, respectively, when they purchased the business back in 1962. Condon was working at what was then called a Pay N Takit grocery store. He would spend his lunch breaks at Steakburger and became acquainted with the Sanders, who were leasing it at the time. At that time, Highway 99 was part of U.S. 99, which extended to the Canadian Border. When Mr. Sanders heard a new freeway system was scheduled to be built, he was sure that would take all the business from his burger restaurant, so he decided not to renew his lease.
Condon tried to convince Sanders that the road revamping wouldn’t affect his business, but Sanders was unwavering in his decision. So, Condon did what any 22-year-old man in his position would do – he struck a deal with then-owner, Mrs. Ritty, to buy the place. As much as she liked him, she wasn’t comfortable with a man his age assuming a $12,000 loan, so Merilyn’s father, Harvey Johnson, agreed to co-sign.
“My father had always bought and sold businesses and sold them for a profit, so I said to my father, ‘But dad, this one you can’t sell. It’s going to be our livelihood,’” Merilyn said.
Right away, the Condons had bigger plans for Steakburger. The first order of business, however, was to purchase some speakers. Initially, Merilyn and her mother would run out to the vehicles and take the second car’s order, run back in to the restaurant with the order and go right back out again – come rain or snow. There was no indoor seating originally, so in the first five years a small dining area was added to accommodate 20 people in tables of four. Merilyn said that as the years went on they kept seeing things that could be done to grow the business. Eventually the building that stands now was erected.
“In three days time we made the move to where we are now and got rid of all the previous buildings,” Bob said.
In the years that followed, the Condons acquired a total of seven stores under the Steakburger name, which were eventually sold off, save for the one that started it all. There were three actual Steakburger restaurants, the second most well-known in the area probably being on Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver where the Silver Dragon Restaurant now stands. All the while, the Condons worked directly with the community in a variety of ways. As Bob explained it, they worked a great deal with schools, sports teams and people with an array of disabilities.
Merilyn’s dad was the brainchild behind the 18-hole golf course whose Mount St. Helens hole has baffled even the best of putt-putt golfers. As she tells it, the land was a horrible eyesore of cottontails. In his travels, Johnson (Merilyn’s dad) would spot miniature golf courses and photograph them. He’d come home, measure out the property and start working up a design. Bob Condon, Johnson and a retired farmer by the name of John Mosebar constructed the course. To the Condons, one of the great things about a putt-putt golf course is that everyone is equal. A child can make a hole-in-one as easily as the grandfather spending the afternoon with him.
When the Golf-O-Rama was opened, there were between six to eight courses from Longview to Portland. To promote them, an association was formed. Two players from each course were chosen to play different courses on a rotating basis. Channel 12 would even come out to film it on the Saturday these events were scheduled and air the broadcast on Sunday. Bob recalls that this went on for a couple of years. Steakburger would fund the restaurant in the winter months and Golf-O-Rama would take care of it in the summertime.
As much as the Condons have loved being a part of their community for more than five decades, they’re ready for the next chapter in their lives. Bob has meticulously maintained the grounds all these years right down to pressure washing the rugs every spring and replacing them himself every seven years.
The first order of business is a much-deserved, 23-day cruise and a trip to Ireland to visit a very unique castle that has been in Bob’s family since 1412. After that, they intend to spend the next one to two years traveling around the United States.
“I would say that we want to thank the public for enjoying what we wanted to be good for them; the food as well as the entertainment and as far as the young people who’ve worked for us, we’ve enjoyed all of them,” Merilyn said. “Over all, it’s been our pleasure to serve the counties.”
The Condons and their three daughters are offering special discounts to loyal customers of Steakburger Restaurant & Golf-O-Rama during their last week in business; May 24-29.