Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we’ll be tracing some food origins, starting with an all-American classic, the cheeseburger.
Believe it or not, there are three places that all claim to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger. How can this be? Sometimes, similar ideas are thought of around the same time in history. These “coincidences” sometimes lead to arguments over who had the idea first, as is the case with the cheeseburger.
The Cheeseburger, I
2776 Speer Blvd.
Smile and say “Cheeseburger.” In 1935, Louis Ballast, owner of the Humpty Dumpty drive-in in northwest Denver, put a slice of cheese on a hot burger, and the rest is hamburger history. At least that’s what they’ll tell you in Denver! The world’s first “cheeseburger” – a term patented by Ballast – is honored with a small memorial at 2776 Speer Boulevard, now the parking lot of Key Bank.
The Cheeseburger, II
Kaelin’s Restaurant (now 80/20 at Kaelin’s)
1801 Newburg Road
Cheeseburger controversy! Carl and Margaret Kaelin may have beaten Louis Ballast by one year. Shortly after opening their new restaurant in 1934, Kaelin was cooking a hamburger when he decided to add a slice of American cheese. Why? Well, it seems he liked the extra “tang” from the cheese and thought it made the burger more unique. He christened his new creation the “cheeseburger” and so today a proclamation from the mayor of the city of Louisville designates every October 12th (the date the cheeseburger was invented) as Kaelin’s “Cheeseburger” Day in Louisville. You can still eat a burger at Kaelin’s today, now known as “80/20 at Kaelin’s.”
The Cheeseburger, III
1500 West Colorado Boulevard
Okay, here is the third place associated with the first cheeseburger. There are those who believe that a man named Lionel Sternberger came up with the “cheese hamburger” first back in 1926 while working the grill at a place called the Rite Spot (which is no longer there). In 2017, the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce unveiled a plaque that was inserted into the sidewalk outside of the LA Financial Credit Union at 1520 W. Colorado Blvd., honoring the late Lionel Sternberger.
261-263 Crown Street
New Haven, Connecticut
And, of course, as we have covered before, this is arguably where it all started. Thankfully, they are still open. 203-562-5507
Do you know the story about the creation of the hamburger? One day back in 1900 a man entered this small New Haven luncheonette and asked for a meal that would be both speedy and portable. Thinking fast, Louis Lassen, who owned the small restaurant, placed a freshly broiled beef patty between two slices of bread. The customer was satisfied with the simple “meat sandwich” and left happily with the new creation. And believe it or not, that was it – the first hamburger!
The birthplace of the burger remains today
Today, this tiny restaurant remains world-famous as the birthplace of the burger, and the same traditions from back then are maintained today. Louis’ grandson, Ken, now runs things and he makes sure that each burger is made just like back in 1900. That means the beef is ground fresh each day, the burger patty is broiled vertically in the original cast iron grill and served between two slices of toast. They’ll let you have cheese, tomato, and onion if you’d like, but, please, no mustard or ketchup! (The originators of the burger feel that they get in the way of the delicious taste.) People visit from all over the world to taste the classic, original burgers, which may have simply been the result of some quick thinking by an enterprising man named Louis Lassen.
Hungry yet? Go have yourself a burger!
Read more from wonderful Chris Epting here.
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.