The idea of Spiffy’s Restaurant and Bakery getting torn down and replaced with fast food made Morton residents Shawn and Kim Crittenden cringe.
Fortunately, the values of the Crittendens and the restaurant’s previous owners aligned, allowing a deal to be made that would make the spot a local family-owned diner once again.
Once the site of armed protests against statewide COVID-related measures, Spiffy’s closed permanently in August 2021 after accruing fines of over $400,000 for refusing to stop in-person dining in 2020. The fines were halved by the state, according to reporting by KELA, before the restaurant eventually closed. Owner Rod Samuelson took to Facebook at the time, citing staffing shortages and delivery difficulties as the reason for closure.
According to Shawn Crittenden, the building's owners had been looking to sell, but were willing to go lower than its worth to save it from becoming something other than a locally-owned business. Shawn said Department of Transportation data shows an average day at the location — flanked by Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 12 — sees around 80,000 passing vehicles. Though this made it easy for the owners to find lucrative offers, he was apparently willing to make an exception for the local family, which already owns Papa Bears restaurant and the Backyard Grill, both on Main Avenue in Morton.
“I basically made an 18-month lease with a set rent. And then, at the end of the 18 months, I'll know where my sales are and I can make a legitimate offer,” Shawn said. “They had cash offers on the table to tear this down and build two fast food restaurants here but they didn’t really want to do that. It’s just an iconic place.”
Shawn, 52, has worked in restaurants all his life. He and Kim, 45, met while they worked as a bartender and waitress in Ashford.
The duo are parents of nine and grandparents of 12. They chose Morton 12 years ago, seeking a safe, quiet place to settle down with their large family.
But the restaurateurs eventually grew tired of the East Lewis County town’s limited cuisine. Six years ago, they opened Papa Bears. The Crittendens opened the Backyard Grill, a seafood joint, just last June.
“This was our goal all along,” Shawn said at Spiffy’s last week. “Our goal originally was to come out here to the I-5 corridor. Somewhere between Centralia and Kelso/Longview. We were thinking, every time we drove by here, ‘God, what we could do with that location.’”
After being in the business 40 years, Shawn said he was excited to bring high quality, home cooked food to the community.
Papa Bears West, as the family is calling their new site, has required a lot more work than first expected. Shawn said he’s spending about 90 hours a week working at the location currently, with the hopes of opening in late May. But all that work will mean a huge facelift for the longtime diner, including a whole new kitchen and a bar overlooking I-5. The bar and family-dining areas will remain separate, and the Crittendens are hoping to add a separate entrance for the bar.
“The menu’s going to be similar (to Papa Bears), but I am adding new things because I'm going to put in a pasta section. We're also doing seafood dishes that we don't currently have out there. And we're also going to do a seafood boil every Saturday night,” Shawn said.
They will maintain a breakfast all-day option and the dessert case from the Spiffy’s days.
There’s plenty to get done between now and late May, the Crittendens said, but they think the new spot could eventually achieve the legendary status once held by its predecessor, with added flair and an updated menu.
“We want it to be here another 50 years as Papa Bears. That’s our goal, to pass this on. We have children who are already starting to work in the business with us. I learned from my mother who had her own bars and restaurants up in Seattle where I grew up,” Shawn said. “For me, it’s just a passion and I love it so much.”
The Crittendens asked The Chronicle to mention they will be giving first hiring priority for the new Papa Bears location to former Spiffy’s staff.
For more on Papa Bears, visit their Facebook page, @papabearsrestaurantandlounge.