From Iceland — The Inevitability of Homogenisation

The Inevitability of Homogenisation

The Inevitability of Homogenisation

Published September 12, 2008

Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by
Julia Staples

The powers that be are turning glorious old Staðarskáli into yet another standard, boring N1 gas-mall. And they tore down Brú. Those fucks.

The walls of truck stop-cum-gas station Staðarskáli are plastered with thank-you notes and dedication shields from the community it has served for the past five decades. And that community stretches far beyond Staðarskáli’s rural Hrútafjörður location; in fact it is entirely reasonable to assert that the establishment’s clientele consists of Icelanders As A Whole, and most of their foreign visitors to boot. Its route 1 location ensures that those travelling from Reykjavík to pretty much anywhere else in the country have as reason to stop there, and its friendly staff, welcoming atmosphere and quaint decorations ensure that they feel happy to do so.

Glancing over the aforementioned thank-you notes, one can see that for decade upon decade, women’s basketball teams, trucker’s unions and Rotary clubs alike have sought refuge at Staðarskáli on their way to tournaments, tours and group outings. “One of the great things about Staðarskáli is that as a mom and pop establishment, they never had any problems bending the rules,” Jón Þór, a fellow patron tells the Grapevine as we pay our final respects to the place by ordering a pretty lacklustre hamburger. “They would never hesitate to serve us after closing time, and they would go that extra mile that corporations and their lackeys never do.”

But of course, progress equals change, Iceland is in a state of perpetual progress, and “old” Staðarskáli’s demise is yet another indicator of the fact. We are building new roads; those roads will shave valuable kilometres off our trips. So it’s only natural that Staðarskáli needs to change locations, re-model and upgrade if it is to survive in today’s harsh, competitive climates. The Grapevine is not a particularly naïve journal, and it understands quite well that not everything needs to always be the same at all times. However, not everything needs to be exactly like everything else either, so we feel justified in our lament.

Also noteworthy is the fact that nearby rest stop Brúarskáli, that was just as legendary and just as quaint, has already been torn down as part of that same progress, and it is not scheduled to re-open.

Introducing: The Hamburger

“They’ve been selling gas at this location since 1929,” 71-year-old Bára Guðmundsdóttir tells us. Bára founded Staðarskáli in 1960 along with her husband, Magnús Gíslason, and his brother Eiríkur, and has been on duty there for the half a century that has since passed. “In 1951, they built a small shed alongside the pumps that sold candy and refreshments, and in 1960 we built the first section of the Staðarskáli house [starting in 1960 at 180 square metres, the rest-stop has since been added on relentlessly until it reached its currently gargantuan size].”

“The original idea was to sell minor refreshments here, coffee and cakes. But quickly after opening we realised that we would have to offer a wider selection of foodstuffs, so we started offering up eggs, bacon and ham. As the summer passed, we started adding more and more items to the menu, including hamburgers.”

It is often claimed that Staðarskáli was the first Icelandic establishment to sell the now-popular dish of “hamburger.” Jón Þór confirms: “I heard that they heard someone describe hamburgers in passing, and decided to try their hand at it. The baker in [nearby village] Blönduós supposedly had the hardest time of making a round loaf of bread that you could fit a meatball in. Staðarskáli’s hamburgers weren’t an instant hit, but once they got the truckers and bus-drivers hooked, it was a sell.”

Bára verifies that the Blönduós baker often tells the story of his first ventures into hamburger making. “We just started grounding beef and making flattened balls out of it. We just put the meat dry in the bread, no sauce or anything. They were quite wholesome. I’ve never bought that theory of  “sweaty hamburgers”; I don’t know what that is. There’s nothing unhealthy about hamburgers except for the sauce. Meat is meat, lettuce is lettuce, bread is bread. I don’t know why they’re called junk food. The only unhealthy part of the meal is the mayo and the French fries,” she says and laughs heartily.

According to plan, “old” Staðarskáli will close down on September 15; at which time the sterile new N1-branded version will open for business. “It’ll feature the same menu, I hope. We will continue to operate the restaurant at the new location for a while. A year, at least, but we sold the place and only committed to working there for a year. I am 71 years old now, it isn’t even given that N1 will require my services for much longer, I’ve been doing this for fifty years. My daughter Vilborg and her husband run things now, and are doing a good job of it. But I am going to see things off to a start, at least.”

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