Rhonda Erstad grew up in Connell. So did her husband, Mike.
They’ve lived in the Connell area pretty much their whole lives, and Rhonda wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love Connell,” she said. “Our kids always had someone looking out for them. It’s true what they say – that it does take a village to raise kids. You know everybody in a small town. You can talk to your mayor, your police chief, whenever you want.”
Or the owners of the local burger joint, who happen to be the Erstads.
About eight years ago, Rhonda was looking for a business to own and run in Connell.
“I had a salon here at one time,” she said. “I told (Mike) I wanted a coffee shop. He said, ‘No.’ ”
Then she remembered when she worked as a teenager at the Burger Factory II at 452 S. Columbia Ave. in Connell.
At the time she thought of it, the business was closed and had sat empty for six to eight months.
“I worked here as a teenager,” she said. “My husband’s sister helped the original owner. My mom has worked here. So many of our nieces and nephews, and our daughter, have all worked here.”
It made sense to the Erstads to reopen it because it seemed to be a place to bring the community together.
“So in 2012, we bought it from Max Yager,” Rhonda said. “Max and Jackie Yager opened it in 1980.”
A little bit of history here: The Yagers opened the original Burger Factory in Prosser, then opened a second one in Connell and a third in Othello.
Only the Connell restaurant remains open in a town that has but one restaurant franchise open.
“We cleaned (the building) up,” Rhonda said of the 2012 reopening. “We’re invested in the community. Every little community needs a place like this.”
The restaurant earned a five-star rating on Yelp, which offers reviews of businesses worldwide.
One reviewer recently posted this observation about Burger Factory: “The gal at the counter was super friendly! I noticed she called a lot of the ‘regulars’ by name. Our burgers came out quick and piping hot. Good sized burgers for a decent price.”
Burger Factory II employs six people and is open Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays.
Rhonda thinks about what she’s doing now and laughs.
“I’ve always liked to feed people,” said the 1984 Connell High School graduate. “People are paying me to cook. To think I was struggling with that when I got married at 19. My husband—he was a patient man. I just stay in the kitchen now.”
Mike runs his father’s company, Orv’s Potato Services in Othello, and was deep in the middle of harvest at the time of the interview.
When works slows down, he usually works the front counter, taking orders and greeting customers old and new.
Meanwhile, Rhonda’s in the back cooking. Or creating new menu items.
“I added a jalapeño burger, added a Philly burger,” she said. “You can still get the western burger off the menu.”
While her favorite is the jalapeño burger, Rhonda said the most popular item on the menu is the eagle burger. Named after the Connell High mascot, it’s a cheeseburger with a slice of ham on a hoagie sandwich bun.
The restaurant draws a lot of the school-age crowd during and after local sporting events. And it’s pretty busy during community events.
“During Connell Days, we stay open late,” Rhonda said. “Connell Days is the second weekend of September. In two days, we made 500 meals.”
Rhonda admits they can put in long hours. And with her youngest child being 16 years old, she ponders that they may sell the business in a few years when they become empty nesters and try traveling a little more.
Until then, however, she loves what she and her husband are doing.
“This place – I get to see people that I’d never normally get to see again because I’d be at home,” Rhonda said.
“I love when you get people who want to come here to eat. People on their way to the Tri-Cities or Spokane, and they stop here,” she said. “There are so many excellent choices here in Connell. We’re extremely blessed when they choose us because all of these places are good.”
And she’s doing it in the town she’s always called home.
“I love this little town,” she said. “I’ve lived here my whole life. It needed something like this.”
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