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(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Abby VanDyke, 14, of Kaysville, digs into her "Big H" burger during a visit to the original Hires Big H burger joint in Salt Lake City, where she thinks the "fry sauce is the best." Hires Big H founder Don Hale died Saturday at 93.
Hires Big H founder known for work ethic

Root beer and burgers stand is a Salt Lake City icon.

First Published Jan 31 2011 11:03 am • Last Updated Feb 01 2011 12:50 pm

A funeral is scheduled Mondayfor Don Hale, fondly remembered for the juicy hamburgers and root beer floats at his family-owned restaurant, Hires Big H in Salt Lake City.

Hale, 93, died of natural causes at his home on Saturday, surrounded by his family.

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He had worked into his late 80s greeting diners and clearing off tables at the restaurant he founded in 1959. It is still one of the few remaining with car-hop service.

"There are two kinds of people — those who think they can and those who think they cannot — and they are both right," he said, echoing Henry Ford in a book about his business, Opportunity Knocks Twice, Living More Successfully, which he co-wrote with his son Mark.

The Hale family still operates the Salt Lake City restaurant along with two others, in Midvale and West Valley City. In addition, the family operates Litzas Pizza in all three locations — a business Hale founded in 1965.

"We help operate the business, but he was always ‘The Man,’" said Mark Hale. "We will do our best to carry on my father’s tradition."

Mark Hale is CEO and legal counsel. Brother Jon is the firm’s chief operating officer.

Hale was born Dec. 15, 1917, in Grantsville to Parley Hale and Olive Cassity. Because of his father’s ill health, the family moved to Blackfoot, Idaho, where they lived in a one-bedroom home. During the Great Depression, they relocated to Salt lake City, where his parents opened a tiny market called Hale’s Grocery at 511 S. 500 East.

It was through his parent’s market that Hale had access to fresh meat, bread and produce that would someday go into his restaurant. In the early 1950s Hale purchased property near his parent’s market, which he was managing at the time.

"We called Don ‘The Pusher,’ " said Glen Boldt, who purchased the market from the Hale family. "He expected people to stay busy, so when there weren’t any customers, we stocked shelves and kept the store tidy. He was a great teacher and a good businessman. He was also a workhorse who never quit working."

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Hale built a cinder block building that still stands on his property at 425 S. 700 East. It had a 50-seat dining room with a jukebox, fountain, grill kitchen and an area out back where a car hop could bring customers their food.

Shortly before the restaurant opened, Hale still hadn’t settled on a name because someone already had acquired the rights to his favorite hamburger stand, Bob’s Big Boy. One day a salesman stopped in and asked if he wanted to sell Hires root beer. If Hale accepted the offer, the soft drink company would provide a sign to help advertise their beverage. Soon, Hires Drive In was born.

In the 1970s Hires added its signature burger, The Big H, which got its distinctive flavor from a pink hamburger sauce, a Hale family recipe. It soon became a customer favorite for dipping french fries. Today, the company makes 10,000 gallons of this fry sauce each year, some of which is bottled and sold at retail.

The popularity of the Big H prompted a whole line of specialty burgers, from the Country H to the Pastrami H. The success also prompted Hale to add an "H" to the company name. Although no one is quite sure what the letter officials stands for: Hires, hamburger or Hale?

"Let’s just say it’s one of those," Hale used to tell customers.

He is survived by his sons Mark (Julie) Hale and Jon (Karen) Hale and daughters Nancy (Nick) Marks and Lisa (Doug) Lowe. His wife of 57 years, Shirley Hickman Hale, died in 2004. He said of her: "I made the living, but Shirley made the living worthwhile."

Services will be at noon at the Parley’s 3rd Ward, 2615 East Stringham Ave. (2287 South). Friends may call from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

A viewing is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, at Larkin Sunset Lawn, 2350 E. 1300 South, in Salt Lake City. Interment will be at Wasatch Lawn (3401 Highland Drive).


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