Order’s up at Burgerville

Fans are hurrying for last fast food at downtown landmark




Burgerville USA remains Vancouver’s beloved home-grown business.

But the walk-up cinder-block hamburger stand that opened in 1962 in downtown — the second restaurant for a chain that now has approximately 40 restaurants in Washington and Oregon — has its final day Sunday.

The restaurant will be open its usual Sunday hours, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A steady stream of customers Saturday walked up to place orders, or to pick up orders they’d called ahead. Some people ate in their cars or at one of the few outside tables instead of truly taking it “to go.”

It wouldn’t be their last meals of Tillamook cheeseburgers, Walla Walla sweet onion rings and Northwest blackberry shakes.

But it would be their last meal at this Burgerville, a downtown Vancouver landmark.

Portland resident Bob Powell works in Vancouver on Saturdays, supervising counseling interns at Open House Ministries. His wife Peggy drove north to meet him at one of his favorite lunch spots for a chicken tenders basket.

He said the interns he supervises were crushed to learn that the Burgerville would be gone by fall.

In March it was announced that the restaurant was closing because it had been sold to Elie Kassab, president and owner of Prestige Development.

Kassab bought the site for $750,000.

Jeff Harvey, president and CEO of Burgerville, acknowledged in an Aug. 29 letter that the downtown Burgerville, 307 E. Mill Plain Blvd., has sentimental significance.

“This restaurant has been an iconic spot for both Burgerville and the Vancouver community and we know many of our guests have strong memories associated with this location, as do we. However, as this restaurant closes, in its place will be a new mixed-use space we are confident will help with the revitalization of downtown Vancouver,” Harvey wrote.

“We have been working closely with the restaurant’s employees, guests and the Vancouver community to ensure the transition is well-planned and flawlessly executed. All employees of this location are moving on to jobs at other Burgerville locations,” he continued.

“We have sold the property to Prestige Development, which owns the rest of the block adjacent to the restaurant property. In the restaurant’s place the Vancouver community will now have a significant development project that will bring construction jobs, new permanent employers, and new residents to the downtown area. The $16 million project will feature more than 100 apartments, and 7,000 square feet of retail space, with the possibility of a co-op grocery store, deli and coffee shop,” he wrote.

“Burgerville’s corporate headquarters have been in downtown Vancouver for 50 years and we are committed to the growth and success of the city. Over the years we have partnered with the City of Vancouver to improve its economic and business climate including supporting Propstra Square at Esther Short Park and the Glockenspiel (bell tower) and providing funding for the baseball field at Hudson’s Bay High School and a number of area swimming pools including the Parsley Center pool.”

He finished the letter by writing, “Burgerville has always been dedicated to healthy and thriving communities, and we believe that this new development will help bring a renaissance to downtown Vancouver and ultimately benefit the community’s residents, local businesses, and Burgerville as well.”

Unlike the first Burgerville, which opened in the McLoughlin Heights in 1961 as a drive-in and then moved in 1975 to a nearby lot and reopened as a sit-down restaurant, the second Burgerville remained a walk-up.

A roof overhang protects customers who are ordering, and the restaurant survived in a rainy climate.

Former Vancouver residents Sarah and Dan Welliver moved to Beaverton, Ore., four months ago, but used to frequent the downtown Vancouver Burgerville and came back Saturday for one more meal.

They brought Rilee, 5, and Loghan, 3, and sat at a table in a fenced-off corner of the parking lot. With a spread of onion rings, fries and apple slices to share, the parents had burgers and the kids had chicken tenders.

“Maybe we are old souls,” said Sarah, 29. “But we like this. It’s not the same thing of walking in a restaurant and sitting down. You get a sense of what it was like back then. It’s too bad it’s closing.”

As for the restaurant, there were no banners announcing that it was the final weekend.

But the large red-white-and-blue pole sign, which has greeted eastbound drivers on Mill Plain Boulevard for five decades, tempting them with seasonal specials, read:

“Thank you for 50 years of support! We (heart) you Vancouver!”

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.