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Utah’s Arctic Circle thriving

Fast-food chain’s founder invented fry sauce in 1949

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Some things may be "as American as apple pie," but only in the Beehive State could something be "as Utahn as fry sauce."

There's even a 2002 Olympic Winter Games collector pin depicting fry sauce.

That's because the dip for French fries was invented here by the founder of Arctic Circle Restaurants, Don Carlos Edwards, in 1949.

Today, Arctic Circle — which is five years older than McDonald's — continues to thrive with more than just fry sauce in its 25 company restaurants and 57 franchise operations in eight Western states (Utah, Idaho, California, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming and Nebraska).

Gary J. Roberts, Arctic Circle president and chief executive officer, is sometimes accused of having fry sauce in his veins. He laughs and says that accusation also is made about many other longtime employees.

Roberts said he is not certain where the name Arctic Circle came from, but he suspects it may relate to ice cream being so important to the restaurant's original menu. Even today, ice cream accounts for 20 percent of its sales.

The past two years have been record seasons for Arctic Circle, and Roberts said he expects that to continue.

"The new look and signage represent a new attitude for our company as we celebrate a new, more aggressive approach to business," he said.

A new Arctic Circle will open in Payette, Idaho, on Jan. 15, with another coming to Meridian, Idaho, in June.

Roberts said new Utah Arctic Circles also can be expected in coming years as the company adds between one and five new outlets each year.

He said the uncertain economy has encouraged more mid-range restaurant customers to shift down to fast-food restaurants. Speed of service and menu quality remain the two most important elements in a successful fast-food outlet, he said.

Arctic Circle prides itself on serving only black Angus beef in its staple hamburger menu, which includes its famous ranch burgers and bacon bounty cheese. But there are also shakes and malts, salads, chicken and halibut sandwiches, onion rings, desserts, soft drinks and, of course, plenty of complementary fry sauce.

Edwards opened the first Arctic Circle Restaurant in 1950 at 900 S. Main in Salt Lake City. However, Edwards' fast-food roots go back to Logan in 1924, when he opened refreshment stands for Pioneer Day celebrations. He moved to Salt Lake City in 1941 and soon opened Don Carlos Bar-B-Q at the corner of 900 S. State. His first Arctic Circle business grew, and he developed his own Salt Lake warehouse and speciality products.

A 1981 Weber State University graduate, Roberts has been the Arctic Circle leader since 1988.

There are 25 Arctic Circles in Salt Lake County, five in Weber County, four each in Davis and Utah counties, eight elsewhere in Utah and 15 outlets in Idaho, representing more than 70 percent of all the company's restaurants.

Also involved in communities, Arctic Circle has donated more than $250,000 to the March of Dimes, has sponsored the "World of Flight" shows at Hogle Zoo, is a co-sponsor of the Junior Jazz basketball program, the sponsor of KBYU-TV's "Kids Club" and partners with local PTAs on various education-related projects.

Article Circle also has its own Web site at www.arcticcirclerest.com.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com