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Kewpee Hamburgs: 1930s

Kewpee Hamburgs: 1930s

Circa 1930s. "Kewpee Hotels hamburger stand." This early fast-food chain ("Hamburg / Pickle on top / Makes your heart / Go flippity-flop") got its start in Michigan in the 1920s. Location and photographer unknown. View full size.

 

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Kewpees

There was one in Grand Rapids. Grandma took us there a few times when I was a kid. It's where I developed my love for olive burgers! There was also a Wimpy's nearby; sadly they both closed before I was old enough to go there on my own.

Kewpee dolled up with a Halo

The Kewpee chain started in Flint, Michigan, and evolved in to what is now known as Halo Burger. Under recent new ownership, the chain is starting to expand in southeast Michigan.

I was introduced to it by a girlfriend who liked the olive burger. Every so often I need a Halo Burger fix and I used to have drive over an hour to get one. Now I only have to drive about 30 minutes.

"Hotels"

Any reason "hotels" was used in name?

[The Kewpee Hotel in Flint, Michigan, is where the restaurant is said to have gotten its start. - Dave]

Hamburgs

The area around Rochester, NY is (or was when I lived there) another in which hamburg prevails over hamburger. And hot dogs are simply "hots," and come in red and white.

A Racine Vestige

According to the information here, the Racine, Wisconsin Kewpee is one of five remaining restaurants in the chain. I have eaten at this location and can say that the food is good and that there is always a line of people waiting to get seats. Attached is a photo from my July, 2010 visit.

Hamburgs

In my experience, "Hamburgs" pegs the chain to Michigan or northwest Ohio, even without reading the caption. I know of nowhere else that America's favorite sandwich is a two-syllable word.

At Last, the Answer!

I was born in Lima, Ohio, and lived there until I was almost four years old, my father being at the time engaged in an all-expense tour of places like Bougainville and the Philippines. I have always had a vestigial memory of a strange building I saw on walks with my mother or grandmother, but neither of those worthies in later years seemed to know what I was talking about.

When I saw this photo, it was as if the intervening 67 years had never happened and, thanks to archfan's comment, I now know that what I dimly remembered was a Kewpee Hotels Hamburger stand.

Thanks, Dave! Thanks, archfan! Thanks, Shorpy!

Pickle

As Mr Kitzel would say, "the pickle in the middle with the mustard on top", although that was for hot dogs.

Moon Burgers

My father and uncle started an ill-fated hamburger chain in the late 1960's. Moon Burger was their attempt to cash in on the public fascination with the Apollo "moon-shot" program (that's what Pops always called it).

The restaurants were tiny - built to resemble Apollo lunar landing modules. They were primarily drive-up joints, but had a few cramped stools inside. You placed your order with a Robbie-the-robot looking device a few yards away from the building. I think they tried some type of radio gizmo in the order-taking machine - never really worked that well. Folks just jabbed at the buttons for a while and then drove up to the window.

This was East Texas folks, hot as two rats in a wool sock. The metal-clad structures were tiny and not well ventilated - think Airstream trailer on it's end. I'm going to try to find photos - know they're somewhere.

The kicker was the Moon Burgers themselves. The cutting edge of interplanetary cuisine consisted of a 1/4 lb meatball encased in a moist doughy bun and deep-fried. After scooping it out of the fryer, green-tinted "cheese" was injected into the bun and it was wrapped in paper and served with fries and Coke. The damn things were so hot! That melted "cheese" and deep-fried beefball adhered to the roof of your mouth and sizzled. It was impossible to vent the "cheese" because once it started oozing out it stained everything it came in contact with. Never knew what they used to tint the "cheese".

I remember at some of the "grand openings" they gave away little slide-wheel calculators that revealed your "weight on the moon" when you rotated the device to your Earth-weight. Wish I still had one.

Moon Burgers never quite caught on. Though they didn't really become the hoped-for official fast food of the Age of Aquarius, one can still see some of the lunar landing modules posing as concession stands at the Louisiana State Fair.

As I enter my 7th year as a member of the Shorpy community I offer many, many thanks to Dave, tterrace, and all who make this site possible. I'll plug Juniper Gallery - their prints make great gifts and office adornment. When I need a little perspective I amble on over to Shorpy to look back in time for a while. Can't say there are any profound answers lurking in these images and comments - but there sure are a lot of great questions.

Wish me a happy Shorpy anniversary!

Goober Pea

Hard to find

It might be hard to nail down the location. There were 400 Kewpee franchises by 1940. Some locations shut down during WWII because of meat rationing; others closed in the 60's when the new owners demanded stricter franchise agreements and a cut of profits. There are still five locations, including three in Lima, Ohio -- they must love their olive burgers in Lima.

Dave Thomas ate Kewpee burgers as a child. When he founded Wendy's, he replicated their square burger. He didn't offer Kewpee's olive topping.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

The old short story by Hemingway is the first thing that popped into my head when I saw the photo, though I can't imagine the name "Kewpee" is one he would have approved of.

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