Willie Burgers – a Hartselle icon
By Constance Smith
When strolling along picturesque Main Street, visitors to downtown Hartselle are bound to notice the blue Willie Burgers restaurant. Willie Burgers is an old-fashioned burger place that has been around since 1926. In that time, not much has changed since the original opened up as Johnny’s Burgers.
The restaurant is still a quaint “burgers and dogs” kind of place, where a person can go in and sit down at the counter and have a simple meal and a drink. Some patrons have been coming all of their lives, since the time they could get a hamburger for a nickel.
Buddy Powell is one such person; he has been coming in since he was a child. He said he still comes to Willie Burgers a couple times a week.
Powell said he harbors fond memories of mowing lawns all week to earn spending money so that come Friday, he could head to the Ranch Drive-In theater on Longhorn Pass for a movie. Afterward he would head to Willie Burgers for a burger with his friends. “It was the place to be.” He did that as a teen. Later, after returning from Vietnam, Powell found the restaurant had become a place to connect with others and enjoy living life – a place to remember what it was like being young.
He said it was not at all unusual to come in to the restaurant and find people shoulder to shoulder, standing room only, to eat the food as they talked with others.
Powell laughed as he shared memories of Willie Sapp, who purchased the restaurant in 1997. Willie always sat at the end stool and talked to everyone who came in. As Powell himself sits at the end stool, he reflects, “I guess now I am the one talking to everyone and telling stories.”
Powell said his own children would often ask to go get a “hole–in–the–wall burger” – as his family fondly called them. A burger from the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It was yet another generation of customers coming to the burger place on Main Street.
Besides the name, not much else has changed over the years. The joint still sells the famous deep-fried burgers, “all the way” with ketchup, mustard and onions. Diners can still sit down at the same counter and chat with friends or co-workers – but now they also have the option of sitting in the dining room, as the restaurant expanded into the location next door some time ago.
Willie Burgers is located at 205 Main St., and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.