Skip to main content

Life on a Business Loop

I've been living above a half mile business loop off highway 26 in the middle of Oregon. I love, love, love my rental house. It has a breakfast nook, a reading nook, an office, a large area for my workout equipment in front of big pictures windows, an outdoor seating area with tree swings and Adirondack chairs overlooking the town. I did not lock my house doors for an entire month, not when I slept, not even when I went away camping for Memorial Day weekend. Have you ever felt completely safe doing that? 

The owner is a lovely old German lady who owns half the street. In addition to the house I rented, she has three rental cottages, the Painted Hills vacation cottages, and an artist's studio. The property is covered in flowers and kitsch art; she puts a lot of effort into it. During my stay, she brought me two bottles of bubbly and a dozen farm fresh eggs, and expressed concerned that I was working too much and not getting out enough. 

valley at sunet

I don't think she quite understood that I wasn't on vacation. And I did get out plenty, on the weekends, and during the week I'd walk down into town. In my one month there, I had plenty of time to enjoy everything that Mitchell, population 142, has to offer. 

Tiger Town Brewing

This small brewery (slogan: Drink Our Beer or We'll Punch You in the Face) has the best cheesy tots, a vast chicken wing menu, and a rotating selection of beer (don't expect the beer you see on their online menu to be available). It is slammed on the weekends. It's the only place to get a drink for more than 50 miles to the east or 50 miles to the west, so if you're there at lunch time, expect a long wait. The business loop will be lined with motorcycles and RVs and SUVs with bikes dangling off the back, and dozens of people milling around in the sun, waiting for a spot to sit. But when you live there, you can go at off hours and have some great conversations with the staff and the travelers who aren't in any hurry to pass through. Which is exactly what I did. 
exterior of several business on a small town street

Bridge Creek Café

This small café is on the highway, right before you reach the business loop if you're heading eastbound. Sitting in here feels like being in your grandma's house, from the style of the furniture to the photos of the grandkids on the back wall. They have an impressive collection of old magazines, and a tiny collection of books on the region, which is actually more impressive because who knew there were so many biographies available of people who lived in this region. They are careful to write "café copy" on each book so you don't take them with you, but you can find them all for sale at the Little Pine Lodge gift shop if one of the tales interest you. Bridge Creek Café offers simple breakfast and lunch fare served on paper plates with friendly, fast service. But the best part is the black and white long-haired chihuahua who seems to live there and makes the rounds from table to table looking for scraps.  

Painted Hills Pastry

The owner of this place makes wonderful pastries that are in high demand. The website warns that you should order online if you have a specific request, or she might be out by the time you get there. When I went around 7:30 or 8am, I would be the only one in there and have my pick, but later in the morning, her seating area would be full. I never ate in the café; my breakfast nook in my house on the hill with the sun pouring in and the hummingbirds and deer out the window was too idyllic to pass up for the chance to make small town chatter. That's what the brewery was for. The owner only serves some tea and basic drip coffee, but if you need something fancier, Route 26 Espresso (scroll down) is close by.
pastry and coffee mug on table in front of window

Wheeler Country Trading Company

I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of food for purchase, so I loaded up on a lot of non-perishables before I arrived. But the Trading Company has everything you can think of: basic groceries, hardware, school supplies, greeting cards, even some clothing. Fresh produce too, which is great. I often saw the fresh produce truck rattle out of town and head out to the next general mercantile, thirty-eight miles away. 

Route 26 Espresso

This place is also just outside the business loop, which means they catch a lot of traffic, people heading back to Bend or Portland and in need of a latte. It's a coffee barn, a type of place I first encountered in Alaska but have since seen in many places in the northwest - a small shed that you drive up to. This one has a quaint seating area in the back, if you're not in such a hurry that you can't get out of your car. It's worth stopping and kicking back in the patio furniture to properly enjoy your breakfast burrito or cinnamon roll.

town welcome sign for Mitchell, Oregon

Everything Else

There are a few other businesses in Mitchell, including quite a few places to stay, the souvenir shop and café in the Little Pine Lodge, and the old Schnee's grocery which appears to be a permanent garage sale called Judy's Place. There was a collection of stools and a horizontal slab that was possibly an outdoor bar gearing up to open for the summer, though it was hard to tell if that place, like a few others, might function at some point or was just a lot of junk left where it was abandoned. 

There is a gas station, but if you venture out this way, don't ever let your tank run too low. I didn't think this town had a gas station because the pump isn't advertised and it's open sporadic hours. You've got two choices, regular or diesel, and prices are a mystery and certainly higher than you'll pay if you can make it to Bend. 

Surprisingly, Mitchell also has all the standard town buildings: a small mechanic, post office, church, health clinic, and a tiny school, though I can't imagine it has more than a dozen students. Far less standard, though fitting for Mitchell's location surrounded by the John Day fossil beds, is the rock shop. And finally, just six miles away, the main attraction itself - the Painted Hills. Come for the views, stay for the small town charm!