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
One step onto the creaky wood floor of this store and you will be taken back into time. deBuhr’s Feed & Seed located at 2001 Western Ave has been serving my community for nearly one hundred and four years (that’s 104 YEARS!). It has been passed down from generation to generation. The current owner and my friend, Bernie deBuhr loves to tell the story about his ancestor’s journey to our great land. Henry deBuhr, Bernie’s great grandfather, came to the US from Germany with nothing more than a wicker basket to hold his possessions.
Henry arrived in Mattoon, IL and became the farm manager of the Mattoon Odd Fellows and Old Folks Home. It was March 1st of 1914 that he opened deBuhr’s Seed & Feed. He and his wife, Marie Catherine, made the upstairs of their new business their home. They had two children, Herman and Folene.
deBuhrs’ biggest sellers at the time was produce, feed, and full-sized chickens. At the end of every week the ladies would come into the store to pick out the best chicken to dress for the weekend.
Passing his business to the next generation, it was the late 1920’s that Herman took possession of the business. With his passing, his son, Bernard took over in 1957. It was 1999 that his junior, Bernie took the reins.
Bernie Jr. is a natural at making his customers feel more like family. No matter how busy he is he always asks how you are, what you’re up to, or what’s new in your life. “We provide service and products at good prices, and treat people nicely. Our customers can be confident in our products and service.”
Another little known service Bernie provides is more for the other businesses in town. He loves to recommend his customers to support Villa Pizza, House Brothers, Shore’s Jewelry, Jack & Bill’s, D to Z, Dairy Queen, and many others. He has told me they all have long histories in our town.
Bernie enjoys telling this story; back in 1993 he was advised to use a mixture of linseed and turpentine to preserve the old wood floors. It never cured so it was like walking on super glue. The burlap feed bags were stuck to the floor, it was a big mess. You can still see remnants of it in low traffic areas.
From bird feeders to horse feed and specialty dog and cat foods and toys deBuhr’s has your pets covered. They also feature some incredible BBQ sauces and some of the hottest hot sauces on the planet like; Vicious Viper, Smokin’ Mary, and Beware! to name a few. Adjacent to their store is a greenhouse. In early spring, they have a wonderful variety of gardening plants and flowers.
deBuhr’s is a staple at the Celebrate Downtown festivities where I usually set up a small photobooth. I photograph children or costume-clad fur pets. There always happens to be a special Disney character available for photos too.
Community involvement, family-like customer service, competitive prices, and a trip down memory lane, who could ask for more?
Melissa M. Harden
deBuhr’s Feed & Seed
2001 Western Ave,
Mattoon, IL 61938
7:30am to 5:30pm Sat. 7:30 to 4pm
Check out their Facebook page