By Lee Perlman
For the Hollywood Star News, July, 2010
On July 1, Dana Rosemus will officially take over as owner of the Hollywood Burger Bar. For those who care about historic continuity and a place that Rosemus calls a neighborhood “icon,” he has good news: “I may spruce things up a little, maybe put on a new coat of paint, and that’s it. No major changes. Most of the staff will be staying.”
The sad part is that another set of icons – Craig and Inka Elliott, owners since 1989 – will be leaving. It is even sad for them, in spite of the fact that they have been seeking to sell for years.
“We’ve built up a good clientele of friends,” Craig says, “and there have been customers and friends we’ve lost over the years. We’ve held everything from birthday parties to wakes to class reunions here. Not bad for a little hole-in-the-wall place.”
When they first moved in, Inka says, Hollywood was “a little rough,” with motels that were home to prostitutes and other purveyors of vice. Fred Meyer moved out, leaving the neighborhood with no full-service grocery. “We were broken into twice, and someone smashed the front window with a skateboard,” she says. “Not too bad for 21 years.”
Asked to recall her worst day on the job, she picks the time their freezer failed while they were vacationing at the coast, ruining their supply of ice cream. “I opened the door and there was a lava flow of pink, brown and white cream,” Inka recalls ruefully. The best was when “I came to work and two of our wonderful customers sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and got everyone in the place to sing with them.”
Another occasion that qualifies as among the best and worst of times was a fire in the stove hood that forced the Elliotts to close the place for five weeks. “Our friends came in to help us clean up and paint,” Inka recalls. “They even brought flowers.”
Sitting in the center of the Hollywood neighborhood at 4211 N.E. Sandy Blvd., the restaurant has been a good place for the Elliotts and their friends to watch events. They recently watched their 21st Junior Rose Festival Parade. “Third Thursdays have always been great, and before that Starfest and A Taste of Hollywood,” Craig says. With a twinkle in his eye he adds, “The Burger Battles were great, too.” Twice, in that contest sponsored by the Hollywood Boosters, customers voted the Burger Bar the best hamburger maker in the neighborhood. The first year it beat out the highly-touted but ill-fated Rock & Roll Café, which had four times as many seats.
Now Hollywood has three large food stores: Trader Joe’s, the Grocery Outlet, and Whole Foods. “I think the neighborhood has improved a lot,” Craig says. “It’s much more cohesive.”
The Elliotts have added to the neighborhood history, but they inherited it, too. The Burger Bar has been operating since 1954. Before that, the building, built in 1922, had been (by turns) a trolley station, beauty salon, dry cleaners and ice-cream parlor.
Rosemus also has roots in the neighborhood. Born in Medford, his family moved to Northeast 73rd Avenue and Failing Street when he was ten, and he continues to live near Rose City Park. “I was in here having lunch and heard the place was for sale,” he says. “Working here instead of in a cubicle sounded good.”
In fact, it is the third time in recent years that the Elliotts have tried to sell the restaurant. Even now, Inka says, she will work part time there for awhile to ease the transition, and perhaps help out at other stores. Beyond this, she says, “We’ll try to catch up at home, get the yard in shape. We’ve been there 34 years, and it’s time to sort and get rid of things. Maybe we’ll do a little traveling, get some use out of our new old travel trailer.”
“We’re handing the business off to a good person,” Craig says. “He’s a pretty good fit. We’ve enjoyed it, but it’s time to move on.”