Gourmet Burger King No More
Journeyman actor-turned-restaurateur Harry Lewis died the other day at the age of 93. While most of his acting roles were forgettable, the restaurant chain he and his wife created in the early 1950s, Hamburger Hamlet, laid the groundwork for the made-to-order, million-different-toppings “gourmet burger” concept. Their first HH on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood was an immediate hit with his celebrity friends. Ultimately, the chain grew to two dozen restaurants, mostly in California and the Metro Washington DC area. While my tastes are more suited to the “lowly burger joint” end of the spectrum, we did have a HH in Bethesda, MD, not far from where we lived that we occasionally went to. It was consistently good until the 1980s, when the Lewises sold out. Soon afterward, the chain filed for bankruptcy and has been on a downward spiral ever since, both financially and gustatorially. I think the HH in Bethesda still exists, but has gone through numerous owners in the last decade. Although his gourmet burger concept was the antithesis of RF, it was groundbreaking. And for that, I salute him.