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South Texas Living

The old Jolly Burger is no more

The old Jolly Burger is no more
Highway signage shows Jolly Burger specials in 1990.

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March 20, 2013
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By Frank and Fay Gassner

I’ve been watching and I finally realized as we drove through Sutherland Springs on U.S. 87 seeing the old Jolly Burger building leveled to the ground, nothing left standing but the electric pole: Another era has passed.

The new property owner is making way for progress, as it should be. I only know I felt both a twinge of sadness and joy as I remembered the food, fun, and good friends, lifetime kind of friends, that we made while we were there. Of course it’s been closed down for years, but seeing the building gone finalized the fact of no more Jolly Burgers, sourdough patty melts, or the ever-popular Big Red Freeze.

The first Big Red Freeze I ever made was for Wally Watson of Watco Tanks. He was a float fan till he got his first taste of that Big Red Freeze; from then on he was hooked. Didn’t think I’d remember that, did you, Wally? Alan Reidel fell for the patty melt and spread its fame to the crew at S.S. Water Supply and beyond. I still have folks say, wish you could make me a patty melt.

Jack Hallum was the mailman then and our No. 1 lunch customer. One particular day we were so busy, Myrtle Blakeney, one of the day cooks, sent Jack’s burger out with no meat patty. He brought it back up to the counter and really put meaning into “Where’s the Beef?” Myrtle looked down and there the patty was still on the grill. “It’s here,” said Myrtle. “You still want it?” They went back and forth, in fun of course. They had the whole place in stitches. When Frank and I visit Jack and Jan up in Leakey, we still laugh remembering that day.

We had the high school crew in the evenings and weekends. Kids from Stockdale, La Vernia, Floresville, and Agape Academy worked for us. We applied the no pass-no play work rule to a higher level at the Jolly Burger. It was my philosophy that even if they wanted to pursue a career in food service, this job was only a stepping stone toward greater success. Their grade record was required along with their application and reviewed each six weeks. If their grades so much as dropped, they were put on suspension until they were brought back up. They brought written reports from their schools and were allowed to come back to work, usually within two to three weeks. We lost a couple of them along the way, but I’m happy to report the majority of “my kids” are responsible, productive citizens with an excellent work ethic.

We had the Hiway Haus in La Vernia for 10 years, but when I meet young adults as I’m out and about and they remember me with “you’re the Jolly Burger lady,” I smile all the way down to my toes.

I’m thinking our most famous guest was Tommy Lee Jones. He, his nephew, and a friend had come down to check on a string of polo ponies he had brought down, as I understood, to be conditioned in the sand at a place nearby on C.R. 539. He used our phone to call his sister. Being only a couple of feet away, I heard him tell her they had stopped for some refreshments in a quaint little place in Sutherland Springs. Quaint was good!

Mary Salazar took a picture of the demolition in progress and posted it on Facebook. I was pleased with the fond comments posted.

In the famous words of Bob Hope, y’all, “Thanks for the memories.”

The Gassners ran The Jolly Burger in Sutherland Springs for many years, and the Hiway Haus in La Vernia for 10 years. The remains of The Jolly Burger were demolished recently, prompting Fay and Frank to reminisce a bit.

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