EL CENTRO — On Saturday, the Original Hamburger Stand in El Centro celebrated its 35th Anniversary of business as a chain by offering customers 35 cent hamburgers along with a regular menu of fan favorites. Every inch of the flat top grills were covered with sizzling hamburgers, while young women with headsets looked like busy air traffic controllers trying to manage what seemed like a never-ending stream of food orders. The drive thru was backed up all the way out into Eighth Street in El Centro.
According to the Hamburger Stands website, the fast food restaurant was established in response to owner and founder John Galardi’s attempt to break into the hamburger market through his (at the time) existing Wienerschnitzel chains.
The Galardi Group just had the Wienerschnitzel franchise and added hamburgers to their hot dog menus when Galardi’s attempt to expand his Wienerschnitzel menu failed to catch on and had weak earnings. In 1982, the Galardi Group committed to serving blue collar, working class, fixed income families and seniors and like-minded consumers who wanted to maximize their spending on feeding families value and taste in a time when all the other fast food chains were rapidly raising their prices. The first Hamburger Stand opened October 11, 1982 in Garden Grove, CA, and was a converted Wienerschnitzel restaurant, according to the website.
For the El Centro restaurant, the Hamburger Stand’s location adjacent to the city’s junior high and high schools have made it a fast food staple for many generations growing up since its opening.
Families are known to have come from as far as Mexicali to buy hundreds of hamburgers to feed schools across the border, and those same Hamburger Stand burgers were often passed around during movie night at the Imperial Valley’s Motor Vue Drive-In, according to locals.
The Hamburger Stand’s simple menu and value prices have helped serve El Centro and the Imperial Valley, not just simply with its hamburgers and chili cheese fries, but in memories for a few generations over the past three decades.
“When my boss opened the doors (when we changed to Hamburger Stand), he opened the doors with 25 cent hamburgers and everyone came down here. Then later on, he raised the price to the regular price, but that was to shake the town. And later, he raised the prices to 39 cents,” recalled Vicky Rosenbum, the El Centro Hamburger Stand’s restaurant manager. “It felt like the whole world was here. We were busy on the weekends. We were selling thousands of hamburgers.”
“I been coming here since I was in the eighth grade all the way from Heber,” said customer John Mendoza of Heber. “We would actually ride our bikes just to come to the Hamburger Stand.”
Calexico resident Indelisa Mora said she has been visiting the Hamburger Stand for about 13 years. A transplant from Riverside, she said she frequented a Hamburger Stand there, but intends to buy from the El Centro restaurant now.
“The prices here are right,” Mora said. “We are not always financially equal, and sometimes we have just enough to feed a family, and here you can feed your family well on a budget.”
“I was a kid going to El Centro from Brawley to shop and taking bags of Hamburger Stand home, when they were only a quarter!!” recalled Denise Whannel Mays.
“OMG yes!!!! Wilson (Jr. High) after school, CUHS after school when they were 25 cents,” agreed Angelica Maria.
“I remember walking over there after school to eat before football games and before I could drive,” said Michelle Pechtl.
“I remember my kid’s dad took me there to eat, because I used to always bring my best friend with us and that was the cheapest place to go (memories)… even late-night food runs,” said Denisha Garza.
Rosenbum has been working at the restaurant since 1979. “Fridays is the busiest day of the week,” she said. “Normally, we work 13 people on those days. The most popular item on the menu is chili cheese fries and our regular hamburger.”
The chili cheese fries and hamburgers were a popular item Sunday as customers streamed in and out of the dining area and drive thru throughout the day.