PAXTON — Just Hamburgers can rival about any restaurant for the number of burgers sold in a day. Maybe the well-known Paxton eatery, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, should keep a running tally just like the golden arches chain does.
One Saturday, owner Cary Hasselbring fried 816 patties in the two and a half hours the business was open.
With fans scattered around the country, the unique take-out restaurant is not going anywhere.
Started in 1971 by Glen “Skip” Parcell, it was purchased in 1977 by Jim Parcell. Hasselbring bought it in 1986, and he and his wife, Connie, operate it along with longtime manager Jason Bowen and seven other employees.
All of the meat for the hamburgers is still cut by the restaurant and ground with the same machine used in 1971.
Connie Hasselbring tells the story about her son, who was walking through Heathrow Airport in London following a military deployment in Afghanistan. Wearing a Just Hamburgers t-shirt, he was recognized by a Cissna Park couple, who said they also ate there.
A Facebook post announcing Just Hamburgers’ 50th anniversary drew plenty of comments from area residents past and present.
Wrote Cindy Vedder Clement, “I live in Kenmore, WA, now but will be visiting (Paxton) next week. You better believe I’ll be stopping ... before going back.”
Marissa Medlock said her family makes a point to eat there several times whenever they visit Paxton. “So glad you are going strong,” she wrote.
Barbara Vendt lauded Connie Hasselbring’s kindness to her parents, noting she brought their order out to their car because they had trouble getting in and out.
It’s a rare Paxton resident who hasn’t eaten there. It holds a sentimental spot for many who have grown up in the area.
It’s not unusual to see visiting sports teams stop there because it’s quick, inexpensive and they like the food.
Many people take home food when returning home.
“We’ve had people come in and order a bunch of burgers and put them in coolers and take them to Florida or do it from the East Coast” when they are in the area visiting family, Connie Hasselbring said.
Cary Hasselbring said the restaurant one day prepared 48 double cheeseburgers, “and I wanted to deliver it to them hot. The guy said, ‘Oh, we’re going to put them in a freezer.’ I said, “Well, you’ll probably want to eat a couple now.’”
Just Hamburgers is open five and a half hours a day — two and a half hours for lunch and three hours for dinner.
Known by many around town simply as “Just,” the business is anything but just hamburgers. Barbecue sandwiches, turkey clubs, fries, slaw, baked beans and of course soft drinks are among the menu items, plus special days each week offering shrimp, steak sandwiches and Mexican food. But the eatery is perhaps best known for its bacon double cheeseburgers, which Chicago magazine cites in rating Just Hamburgers in a list of six food destinations worth a trip outside of the Windy City.
John Goudy of Lake Iroquois sat waiting in his car while his wife got their order one day last week. He said they often come by to eat a couple of times a week.
“It’s reasonably priced, and it’s delicious,” Goudy said. “My wife is getting me a hamburger, French fries and a Sierra Mist. She’s buying the dog a little burger too. It’s a pretty popular place.”
Kathleen Richards of Paxton, emerging from the carry-out restaurant, called it “the place to be.”
“I love how friendly they are. I love the fries and the prices, and you know you’re going to get something good when you come,” she said.
The line of people waiting to get in can get long. Connie Hasselbring said one day she saw it stretch a block away down to the corner of Vermilion Street and Ottawa Road.
Cary Hasselbring could be called “Mr. Just Hamburgers.”
He’s been working there since pretty much the beginning in 1971.
The 10-year-old Hasselbring lived across the street from the restaurant when Skip Parcell asked him to work for him.
Hasselbring did jobs such as mowing the lawn and helping to unload trucks. Three years later he was filling drink orders. Fifty years after those mowing and truck-unloading jobs, he is still there.
Connie Hasselbring has been there for 25 years, and Bowen for 21. Hasselbring said with longtime employee Andrea Glazik’s time there, the four have more than 100 years experience.
Connie Hasselbring called Bowen “a great manager. Couldn’t get a better one.”
“That’s true,” Bowen joked.
Cary Hasselbring said he doesn’t see hamburger patties in his sleep, but Bowen said he used to dream about the timer going off for the fryer.
When Jim Parcell sold the business to Hasselbring in 1986, he started one in Rantoul and later two in Paducah, Ky., that his stepson operates.
It takes a lot of work to get everything ready to get food to customers. Cary Hasselbring shows up for work at 7 a.m., and Bowen at 8 a.m.
“Monday morning we started out cutting and grinding meat for hamburger,” Bowen said. “We do around 275 pounds, and hopefully that gets us through Wednesday night. It didn’t this week. Then we patty it into little hockey puck-shaped (burgers). While Cary is pattying, I’m cutting the ham and roast beef and cutting steaks for Tuesdays, which is people’s favorite, unfortunately. We don’t like cooking them. It takes up too much space on the grill.”
At 10 a.m. they begin cooking bacon and start “heating stuff up — barbecue, baked beans and stuff to get ready for the 11 o’clock rush.”
A rush it is. It’s not unusual to see people waiting in their vehicles well before the business opens.