Charlie Sitton’s life mirrors the ‘farm to table’ movement

161
Charlie Sitton and his partner leased their restaurant space to Hayden’s Lakefront Grill for 22 years.
Charlie Sitton and his partner leased their restaurant space to Hayden’s Lakefront Grill for 22 years before running it themselves this past year; in May, Brix Tavern South is expected to open in the remodeled space. Barbara Sherman/Tualatin Life

Back in the 1980s, Charlie Sitton was concentrating on playing basketball and planning a career in the NBA. But his family had 2,000 acres of farmland outside Carlton, where he grew up, so he could always turn to farming as a back-up career.

Sitton stands at the reception desk inside Tualatin’s Century Hotel ready to welcome guests.
Sitton stands at the reception desk inside Tualatin’s Century Hotel ready to welcome guests. Barbara Sherman/Tualatin Life

Then fate intervened as Sitton’s basketball career was coming to an end: He met and married his wife Tracey, whose dad Don Roberts is a Northwest developer/builder with experience building and running hotels. “I married into the hotel business,” said Sitton, explaining that the two men were looking around for a hotel site to develop when during a stop at the Tualatin Wells Fargo, Sitton learned about the Commons being developed.

Starting in the early 1990s, the City of Tualatin, working with private partners, developed the 19-acre Tualatin Commons centered around the Lake of the Commons, which replaced the odor-producing Blue Mountain pet food plant.

“We decided to jump on it,” he said of building the Century Hotel. “The city put in the building pads and parking lots, and we were here every day during the construction of the hotel. We initially opened the Century Hotel with 40 rooms.

“Then an opportunity came along to develop a restaurant next door, and Bill Hayden was the consultant. The first restaurant operator fell through, so Bill got the job and ran it for 22 years. We also added 30 hotel rooms above the restaurant.”

Sitton and Roberts ran the restaurant for the past year, retaining the name, until the decision was made to close and refurbish it before opening with a new operator, hopefully in May. Mark Byrom, the owner of Urban Restaurants, will run the new restaurant while retaining the former staff.

Hayden’s closed at the end of February, and that last week patrons returned to reminisce and enjoy one last meal. “One couple said, ‘Our first date was on those two bar stools,’ and other couples came to eat at their favorite table,” Sitton said. “Hayden’s was a great gathering place.

“Mark owns half a dozen restaurants and has been bugging me for years to take over Hayden’s. He’s excited about taking it over. But after being open for 23 years, it needs a major overhaul. Mark’s a visionary and is looking into having live music and holding weddings at the restaurant, which will be called Brix Tavern South. He will be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.”

An added bonus for hotel guests is that they will be able to get breakfast at the restaurant, and room service will be provided as well. “That separates us from the other stand-alone hotels,” Sitton said. “I’m just the landlord, but I’m excited about the relationship we have.”

“Farm to table” is currently a popular concept, but for Sitton, it also describes his life (except for the basketball detour). Growing up on the family farm, he knew all about growing food, and now he has been involved in the restaurant business for 23 years.

Sitton’s family roots go deep in Oregon history. He is a fourth-generation Oregonian, with his ancestors coming West on the same wagon train as the “Father of Oregon,” John McLoughlin, and settling in the Willamette Valley. And now Sitton’s daughter and son are part of the fifth generation.

But basketball was his passion in his earlier life. He played basketball at McMinnville High School when his team won the state championship in 1979. He joked that during his stint at Oregon State University from 1980-84, he technically earned a degree in general studies, “but I majored in basketball.”

Sitton was named All-American twice, chosen for the All-PAC-10 three times, and in 1983 won the title of Oregon State University’s Most Valuable Player.

After OSU, Sitton was the Dallas Mavericks’ second-round draft pick but after playing one year, broke his thumb in his second year, side-lining him for the rest of the year. He next played three seasons in Italy, “and then I bounced around in France,” he said. Back in the States, Sitton tried out for two NBA teams before switching to the hospitality business.

After his basketball career was over, Sitton had the option of working on the farm (his family owns two Century farms), where currently family members raise red clover, grass seed, wheat and alfalfa hay, plus there is an acre of pinot grapes that Sitton planted. “But McMinnville was a nice place to get out of,” he said.

Turning reflective, the Century Hotel co-owner who works alongside his wife in the business, said, “I grew up here, and I am fortunate to be home every night. We’ve had great support from the people here, and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a good run. But it’s time to start stepping away.”

But he lamented that “it’s tough to run a business in Oregon, and it’s getting harder. But as much as I whine and sniffle about it, Oregon is a great place to live.”