Roy •The lunch rush began early at the 56-year-old Burger Bar on a highway built well before the nearby Interstate came through the area.
At about 11 a.m., three men in military uniforms approached a window, placed their order and then waited patiently for their number to be read on a loudspeaker. By 11:30 a.m., a large crowd gathered, many sitting on cement benches in front of the busy drive-in.
A worker inside quickly filled little cups of tartar sauce which, like honey mustard, fry sauce, ranch dressing and cocktail sauce, is made from original recipes on site. In the back, large plastic trays filled with recently hand-breaded onion rings and mushrooms were prepared for the rush.
Regular customers sing the praise of the little drive-in with the big reputation.
“I come for their chocolate banana shakes,” said Melinda Stimpson of Roy, who has been a regular for nearly as long as she can remember.
Ken Spencer of Farmington comes here once a week and always orders the same thing: A hamburger, small fry and glass of water.
“I like the food,” he said. “It’s not greasy. And it’s old fashioned.”
Though the little drive-in offers fish and fries, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, barbecue burgers, steak and chicken sandwiches, corn dogs and even bison and elk burgers, the signature menu item is the Big Ben, a hamburger on a huge six-inch bun named after founder Ben Fowler.
Fowler, a World War II fighter pilot who also owned a ranch in Wyoming and laundromats in southern California, saw McDonalds starting up and wondered if he could try his own burger place in Utah. After many negotiations with the Browning family, he purchased the land at 5291 S. 1900 West in Roy.
His son, David, took over the business and, though still involved, now allows children Jessica and Joe Fowler to do most of the day-to-operations.
“The Big Ben started as a four-inch hamburger,” said Jessica Fowler, who started working at the Burger Bar as a youngster and remembers picking up small bits of trash and the occasional $20 bill that blew out of a car in the establishment’s carhop days. “Then, in the mid-60s, Wonder Bread started making a six-inch bun. A bigger hamburger was cool.”
In those days, workers would roll out the hamburger with a rolling pin, draw a circle on wax paper and then make the burgers. Today, local company Oscar’s Meats provides the patties. Wonder Bread quit making the big buns, so the Fowlers bought the pans. Topper Bakery in Ogden now bakes the buns.
The Fowlers once cut their own fries, but now offer customers the choice between the frozen variety most drive-ins serve or a hand-cut version.
The place has become a cult favorite. Because of its popularity, customers kept writing the Food Channel’s Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins program to get Burger Bar featured, and they succeeded.
Other customers created their own Burger Bar Facebook page. Occasionally, someone will order a Big Blair, something not on the menu but a burger a guy named Blair created on Facebook. It consists of a Cheese Ben, an elk and buffalo patty and bacon.
The Fowlers have catered wedding luncheons and big birthday bashes and regularly support nearby Roy High School.
Mostly, though, it’s all about the single location.
“Customers come out and bring tarps and blankets to sit on,” said Jessica. “I’ve seen two love seats or one couch in the back of a pickup truck. They eat their food and sit in the back of the truck.”
And the rushes can be crazy. On a recent Saturday, for example, the little drive-in had 100 orders in 20 minutes. Since every meal is cooked fresh to order, the place became a madhouse.
Jessica loves the whole experience, especially the people she serves.
“There is a sense of pride to have it be like a long family held tradition and be an institution in the community,” she said. “It’s not the most glamorous job. It can be greasy, hot, chaotic and crazy. But kids learn a work ethic and how to work hard.”
That effort has made Burger Bar a northern Utah institution.