Willie Burgers to close after nearly a century
By Jacob Hatcher
After nearly a century in business, Hartselle’s Willie Burgers will be closing its doors. Mary Lawson, who has been at Willie Burgers for 25 years, 13 of which she has been the sole owner, said the owner of the building has decided to sell.
“With mine and my husband’s health, it is probably for the best. The only thing that I hate is I love my girls. They have taken good care of me here,” Lawson said. One of Lawson’s employees, Robin Johnson, has worked with Lawson for 25 years and Lawson considers Johnson to be a part of her family.
Lawson said Hartselle has been very good to her through the years and she’s enjoyed being a part of the community. When Lawson’s husband Frank was transferred from Indiana to North Alabama with Chrysler, she started filling her time with cleaning jobs around town and volunteering with the Salvation Army.
“I enjoyed that because I met people. I enjoy people,” Lawson said, “and that’s how I ended up here. They just needed some part time help, but I started full time and I’ve just really been happy here. It’s given me something to do and I have enjoyed it.”
In addition to loving Hartselle, Lawson says she also loves her customers. Having been a cash only business, Lawson says there have been plenty of times when customers have come in unprepared to pay cash and she insisted that a hungry patron never be turned away for not having cash with them. “If they don’t have money I tell them, ‘you come back to pay’, and if they don’t have money they eat for free. I don’t ever turn anyone away. I always said that if I leave here, I wanted it to be known that I never mistreated anyone and I wouldn’t.”
Lawson never wanted Willie Burgers to just be a burger place; she wanted it to be a place where people could feel at home. While she wants to be remembered as running a fair business, more than anything she wants to be remembered for treating people with kindness and taking care of them.
“I tell you what, I’ve had people coming in here hanging all over me crying and stuff. So at least I’ve seen my funeral before I died I guess,” she said.
Lawson’s husband spent the holidays in the hospital and she said even being in the ICU was a reminder of the impact Hartselle and Willie Burgers has had on her life. “I couldn’t tell you the number of people that were there that I knew just from coming in here. I didn’t always know their name, but I know what they eat,” she added.
After more than three decades in Hartselle, Lawson and her husband intend on staying indefinitely but she says she won’t ever be able to drive through downtown Hartselle without thinking of all the time she spent running Willie Burgers.
“My only wish for closing is to go out with a big boom and people being happy for me because I have really been happy here,” she said. “I never made any money here and I just barely survive, but it’s never been about the money for me. I know there are a lot of folks upset about us closing, but everything comes to an end and I think it’s time for us.”