Long before trendy gourmet burger emporiums debuted across Portland, with each claiming to have the best burger in town, there were places like Stanich's on N.E .Fremont Street. It's a place with few pretensions, but a great sense of the Portland community.
About the only thing that's changed at Stanich's is the size of the egg on their signature burger. Over the years, it's gone from medium to jumbo. It was a seismic change when they started offering French fries in 1987, and until a few years ago it was heresy to ask for your burger to be cut in two. Now it's a bit more acceptable.
There are, of course, other classic metro area burger joints, including the Helvetia Tavern, which has been around since 1922, Lake Grove's Giant Drive-In and Oak Grove's Tebo's, which sadly is set to close its doors in the coming months.
But Stanich's, "it's the best burger in town," says second-generation owner Steve Stanich without even a second of hesitation.
Others agree. Thrillist Media Group's Burger Quest listed Stanich's "Nick's" cheeseburger with grilled onions as one of their top 10 burgers in the country. They've been on AOL Cityguide's top 15 burgers in the country list, and through the years they've landed spots on local Portland media outlets' top burgers charts. They have a place in George Motz's book "Hamburger America," which showcases the best burger place in every state.
That's not bad for a tiny bar with only five employees and no advertising budget.
While the food is sinfully awesome, the legacy of Stanich's goes well beyond, reaching across the region with a history of giving back to the community. The family has supported teams from the Wilshire Riverside Little League, where games are played on George and Gladys Stanich Field, to Pacific University, where the Stanich family name is on the stadium scoreboard and the family worked tirelessly to help bring a football program back to the school.
"I can't even tell you all the hundred programs we've supported," Stanich says. It is just something that the family has always done.
"They were the original pay-it-forward," says Stanich of his parents George and Gladys. They took their good fortune and passed it on to the community. They would rather rely on word of mouth to bring people to their restaurant than spend money on advertising when those dollars could be supporting area kids.
Stanich's restaurant rose from a near family tragedy. When Steve Stanich was born in 1948 he was months premature, weighing only a couple of pounds. Both George and Gladys Stanich already had jobs, but they needed more money to pay their new baby's medical bills, and they opened the doors to the 10 till 1 Tavern along Northeast Fremont Street.
"My mom was the fastest cooker in the world," Steve Stanich says. Gladys Stanich's spatula is mounted on a plaque above the grill, with a hole worn through it from years of daily use. Hundreds of burgers would pass across her grill on any given day.
George Stanich was known as the Fremont Philosopher, says son Steve. "He could have three different arguments going at the same time," Steve Stanich tells the Business Tribune. Sports and politics were hotly contested topics in an era when patrons talked and argued with each other, rather than focusing on their smartphones.
George Stanich passed away in 1996, and now both George and Gladys are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the restaurant.
The 10 till 1 was eventually renamed Stanich's, but it was still just a bar that served beer and burgers. Things started to change in the 1960s when women started coming into taverns, says Steve. In 1976, the family built a new building in the Stanich's parking lot. It's a mirror image of the original tavern. Once the new building was completed, the family, to the consternation of the architect, moved everything — including the original bar and team pennants — to the new space.
Hundreds of team pennants still line the walls of the bar. There are flags and photos from some of the hundreds of sports teams that they've supported through the years. There are pennants from football teams that Steve Stanich has coached, including Central Catholic. Then there's the sports memorabilia from some of Stanich's most famous diners, including Muhammad Ali.
From 1987 until 2003, there was a second Stanich's location on the west side, but fortuitous timing allowed them to sell the space for a healthy profit and focus their efforts on the Fremont location.
The restaurant business is brutally competitive, but Stanich's formula for success doesn't involve anything fancy, just quality products with fresh, hand-cut veggies and fries.
The rough authenticity of the interior might scare off some, but the word of mouth that drives the business keeps new customers coming in the door. Customers seek Stanich's burgers for what they are — not for what they are this week. Any changes to the menu are evolutionary, not revolutionary.
During a recent lunch hour, most of the tables were full by 11:30, with group a group of seniors off in one corner, several serious white- and blue-collar solo diners spread throughout the space, and a group of young, recent arrivals to Portland sharing burgers and a pitcher of PBR at the bar.
Behind the bar, you'll find the third generation of Stanich family members working. Steve's daughter Stephanie and nephew Nick are now on the restaurant's staff.
Just remember the sign on the front door that reminds customers that Stanich's doesn't offer fast food, so relax and enjoy yourself.
Business: Sports bar with great hamburgers
Owner: Steve Stanich
Location: 4915 N.E. Fremont St., Portland
Hours: W-Th 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., F-Sa 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Su 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. (Unless NFL football goes into overtime)
Claim to fame: Many famous diners, including Muhammad Ali