- Joined: 1/4/2005
- Location: Redgreene Town, OH
RE: Wilson Hamburgers in Findlay, Ohio
Tue, 03/29/05 7:10 PM
Every afternoon, a line forms at the counter of Wilson's Sandwich Shop, 600 S. Main St.
The cashier looks across the counter and asks a customer, "What would you like today?" But she already knows the answer. He wants one of the shop's now-famous hamburgers.
Since Aug. 12, 1936, Findlay's hungry have flocked to the shop for a taste of the city's heritage. The business is celebrating its 60th anniversary this week with daily specials, give-away cups and magnets.
The restaurant was founded by "Stubby" and June Wilson, who wanted to open a business similar to their Kewpee restaurant in Lima. Since a Kewpee was already open in Findlay, they chose to name the restaurant after themselves.
They owned the restaurant until Wilson died in 1967 and Mrs. Wilson died in 1979. Over the years, the restaurant flourished under Paul Fenbert, who managed Wilson's for 35 years until his death in 1972. The shop is now owned by Harold "Lance" Baker, the current manager; Maxie Curtis and Wilbur "Webb" Fenbert.
Few things have changed at the restaurant. Even the drive-thru at the south side of the restaurant was there from the start. And while a new restaurant seating 92 customers replaced the original 37-seat building in 1964, the menu has remained essentially the same.
"During the war, we had Canadian bacon and eggs, hot dogs and ham salad since it was harder to get beef during World War II," said Fenbert. He began working at Wilson's in 1941, putting four crackers in small sacks for the chili. "But other than that, it's been pretty much the same."
Since the beginning, the menu has been limited to chili, pies, drinks and hamburgers. The hamburgers, which cost $1.10 for a plain sandwich, can be ordered "special" _ with lettuce and tomatoes _ or with cheese for $1.20. When french fries were added to the menu in 1976, it was the most radical change since switching to Wilson's trademark square hamburger patties in the 1950s.
"We used to make little balls of the meat with an ice cream scoop, which made the burgers round," Alice Fenbert, who worked at Wilson's from 1946 to 1965, said. "Now we have a machine that makes the patties, which is why they're square."
The restaurant continues to grind its own meat. Since 1946, Wilson's has worked with local 4-H clubs to buy steers at the Hancock County Fair so the restaurant can use fresh, local meat.
The customers obviously appreciate it. From breakfast at 7 a.m. to its closing at midnight on weekdays, Wilson's handles a heavy stream of customers.
"I eat here every day," Joy Hassan, 61, said. "They just have good stuff to eat."
Both past and present Findlay residents seem to agree. One former Findlay teacher demands a box of Wilson's hamburgers whenever she or a relative visits Findlay.
"She called to complain one time because the shop was closed the week they were here," Webb Fenbert said, laughing.
The chili is equally popular. Some people like the chili so much they try to duplicate the recipe at home, Alice Fenbert said.
"There was one may who kept trying to duplicate the chili recipe," she said. "He couldn't do it. He kept ruining it, and his dog wouldn't even eat it."
The restaurant boasts of an impressive list of former customers. Former presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford, former vice president Dan Quayle and Gov. George Voinovich have all stopped at Wilson's to sink their teeth into a hamburger.
Over the years, Wilson's has become more than a restaurant to its customers. It's become a community of friends as customers return day after day.
"I've come here for years," said Jane Deter. "Since I retired, I come here every afternoon. Retired people like to meet here.
"I've met some nice friends here. It gives me something interesting to do when I come here."