On a Saturday afternoon in 1985, my sister took me out to lunch. We ended up at our favorite fast food joint, Burger King.It was very busy so I boldly claimed that I’d never work there. This wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill chain restaurant either. This is the ORIGINAL Burger King I’m talking about. See, the owner, Gene Hoots, opened Burger King back in 1957. Since Hoots had a federal trademark on the name they won a case to keep the chain restaurants from opening within a twenty mile radius of his. You can read more about the original Burger King’s history here.
Burger King ended up being my first real job. It was a great learning experience. We weren’t allowed to use the cash register feature that told us how much change to give back. We were required to count it back. Thankfully, a coworker taught me how.
When I first started I got the honor of grinding the onions. I honestly tried everything I could think of to stop my eyes from watering; sunglasses, pinched my nose with a clothespin, wore a handkerchief over my nose and mouth. Nothing worked. I was relieved when another rookie entered the scene.
There was never any idle time. We had a plenty to do after a rush of customers like filling ketchup and mustard bottles, writing up new numbers for drive through, and washing those aluminum ashtrays. Who remembers rolling out paper towels after the grill cooks mopped the floor? On Saturdays the former manager, Bill Douglas, would pull up to the back door with a trunk-full of packaged meat from Morgan’s Meat Market. We would take a specially designated scoop and “ball up” the meat for the infamous burgers.
The burgers have always been great however it’s the nasally number calling that is so unique. After you place your order, you are given a number. You then take a seat. When your order is ready the shift manager will call your number. For drive through orders, you would drive around the block, park, and listen for your number to be called and go back to the window. On a good day you can hear the number calls on the furthest ends of Mattoon.
It was winter of 2015 that Gene Hoots retired and sold his iconic restaurant to businessman Cory Sanders who updated most of the interior and added cool decor like the corrugated metal and new flooring. Cory has recently sold it to former manager Ernie Drummond and his wife Jodi. Back in the day, Ernie was the only shift manager who could call numbers just like Bill.
Ernie started at Burger King back in ‘77 as a grill cook. He then became a shift manager and remained for twenty-five years. He and Jodi had a unique opportunity to purchase the restaurant and boy am I ever glad they did! He has made some necessary changes to the menu options like bringing back the customer favorite, Blues Hog BBQ. Something special Gene Hoots started that has never changed are the 25¢ ice cream cones for the sports programs. Ernie told me that they now have people who are bringing their grandchildren in for those cold treat rewards just like they used to get.
Some little known facts about OG Burger King is that dollar-wise they do better than the chain restaurants without a breakfast menu. With only one little window, half of the business is from their drive-up. It’s number one seller is the double cheeseburger. I asked Ernie if his customers ever asked for unusual items. He told me that someone once asked for grilled pickles. One day the staff was looking for the cherry juice. Interestingly enough, they ended up finding it at a table where a customer was dipping her french fries in it.
Even though I claimed I’d never work there, I am sure glad I did. So many great memories and lessons learned. I truly enjoyed working with Ernie and Jodi and it thrills my heart that they are the new owners. So, CONGRATULATIONS to Ernie and Jodi! They will be celebrating their official grand opening on Friday, March 3rd. So, order up a double cheeseburger, fry, and a shake and play a game of Ms. Pacman until they call your number.
Melissa M. Harden
The Original Burger King
1508 Charleston Ave
Mattoon, IL 61938
Hours: All week 9:00am - 9:00pm
Burger King's Facebook Page