When they were just getting their restaurant off the ground, Carol Hanks and Ken Schulberg would rise with the sun, trek to the Greyhound station and retrieve a lumpy flour sack. It was filled with stuff so exotic to Eastern Oregon it was considered a delicacy.
Dozens arrived daily from Eugene’s Humble Bagel Co., a spot Hanks and Schulberg frequented as students at University of Oregon. When they decided to sell bagels in the burgeoning Great Pacific Wine and Coffee Co., that seemed like the best place to turn.
“In 1980, you couldn’t even buy a frozen bagel from Safeway,” Schulberg said, explaining that customers had to be educated. “They all thought they were donuts.”
Espresso and European wines triggered similar misconceptions. Hanks and Schulberg were responsible for first exposing Pendleton to the goods — a tradition they’re still continuing today. For 37 years, Great Pacific Wine & Coffee Co. has offered an alternative to cowboy culture, serving artisan foods, eclectic live music and a casual-cool indie rock vibe.
The couple’s dream of opening a restaurant traces back to college. Schulberg delivered food to senior citizens through Meals on Wheels, and Hanks labored in the kitchens at University of Oregon and Lane Community College, often prepping meals at midnight or 3 a.m.
They’d been big wine fans since Schulberg’s brother went to Europe and “brought back a little knowledge,” he said. It seemed like the right product to sell in Pendleton, filling a niche that a rodeo town had built around. It wasn’t long before the couple noted the need to expand.
“We thought we needed to add an espresso machine. It wasn’t available in Eastern Oregon at all,” Hanks said. Cheese plates to pair with the wine came next, then bagels and eventually pizza. “We just kept expanding until we had a full menu,” she said.
Today, the restaurant offers all manner of wine, beer and coffee. The food menu contains everything from raspberry-filled croissants and mushroom Brie baguettes to Reuben sandwiches and mixed salads.
“We buy local produce and chop it up every morning,” Hanks said. “We have customers that have been coming in for 35 years who buy the same salad every time.”
While the menu expanded, so did the number of tables. Great Pacific occupied a shoebox space under the old Masonic Lodge. The 120-year-old building had housed everything from a women’s clothing store to a funeral parlor.
When the book store next door vacated, Hanks and Schulberg bought it up. They restored the building into such good shape that it’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.
But the interior is more modern, equally funky and friendly. Connected by four arches of original brick, the two storefronts offer a mix of booths, tables and stuffed chairs. Packed shelves boast vermouth from Italy, port from Portugal, wines from Walla Walla and everything in between. The ceiling is criss-crossed with strings of bulb lights and punctuated with paper lanterns shaped like stars. Band posters adorn the walls.
At the front of the dining room sits a stage. It bears an upright piano and the fixings for a state-of-the-art sound system, plus the weight of years of memories.
As life-long music fans, Hanks and Schulberg worked to expose their son, Addison, to all the best rock n’ rollers.
“He saw Eric Clapton before he was 12,” Schulberg said. “But none of his friends got to see live shows.” Pendleton lacked a music venue for those under 21.
Great Pacific quickly became a hot spot for performers. The restaurant sits on the path between Boise and Portland or Seattle. And the owners treat travelers with that signature Pendleton hospitality.
“People always want to play at Great Pacific,” said Peter Walters, a member of the local band James Dean Kindle and the Eastern Oregon Playboys. Walters helps Schulberg connect with talent across the Northwest.
“You’ve got a crowd that craves entertainment,” Walters said. “You can play 10 shows in Portland, and maybe at nine of them the crowd would be disinterested.”
Hanks and Schulberg have been a force for bringing in acts that go against Pendleton stereotypes. Great Pacific welcomes almost every musical genre, whether it’s an all-female surf band or a singer from the Swedish version of The Voice.
The performers find fans who defy expectations: They don’t look like they’d like what they’d like, Walters said.
An incubator of eclectic tastes, Great Pacific “turned into a good local melting pot, where people meet each other who normally wouldn’t meet each other,” he said. He can list a few friendships ignited by the restaurant’s live music, and summed it up this way: “Over the years, Great Pacific has been a real force for good in this town.”
What to expect during Round-Up:
Same classic menu, right down to the prices. That means long wait times, except in the afternoon, during peak rodeo events.
Nightly live music, dancing and pizza make this one of the best spots to after-party it up. The entertainment line-up includes Sofia Talvic (Tuesday), Misty Mouth (Wednesday), The Pearls (Thursday), James Dean Kindle and the Eastern Oregon Playboys (Friday) and Jenny Don’t and the Spurs (Saturday).
403 S. Main Street
Mon, Tues: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Wed: 10 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Thurs, Sat: 10 a.m. - midnight
Fri: 11 a.m. - midnight