It’s the same order every Saturday morning for father-son tandem Harold and Josh Smith. And it’s been that way for as long as Minute Grill owner Donna Kennedy can remember.
“Harold usually buys,” Kennedy laughs.
The Smiths aren’t the exception, they’re the rule.
Almost every one of the several hundred who visit the soon-to-be half-century-old downtown restaurant on a daily basis do little more than wave, drop some money at the counter and wait for their tray of burgers, scramble dogs and fries to arrive piping hot.
And Saturday, the family-owned downtown hot spot will celebrate its 50th with specially priced food (sliders, hot dogs and fries will be on sale for 50 cents each) and plenty of pageantry to boot. All proceeds generated from the restaurant’s anniversary sale will benefit the Wounded Warriors Project.
“We’ve been blessed. Really blessed. We’ve been able to feed our families by feeding others. I’m planning a big blowout this weekend,” Kennedy said.
The family atmosphere, and one-of-a-kind sliders have made Minute Grill a mainstay and favorite of locals and passersby beginning as early 9 a.m. every morning.
“We used to open at 8 a.m. and sell a steak or sausage roll,” Kennedy said. “But it’s always been the hamburgers. And I’m honestly not much of a morning person.”
The history of hamburgers on the corner of the courthouse square goes all the way back to the 1950s. Prentice Alligood was the first to open a hamburger restaurant in the original location, eventually selling to Ed Powell in 1962.
“He bought it ahead of my mom and dad,” Kennedy said. “His wife thought she wanted to run a restaurant, but she found out she didn’t.”
Kennedy’s dad, Wallace Shinholster, had decided around the same time that he was ready to call it quits with the local fire department and strike out on his own. And Shinholster felt like the little hamburger restaurant was just the right fit for his family.
“He’d gotten us all fired up,” Kennedy said. “He saw the potential of what it could be.”
Finally, in 1963, the Powells, who coined the “Minute Grill” name, sold the business to Shinholster. For all of Wallace’s enthusiasm, sales were slow in the early going, save a “Family Night” special which packed the house for 10 hamburgers for $1.
Slowly but surely the restaurant garnered a following for its fried patties of hand-ground 80-20. And it wasn’t long before the hamburgers, and hot dogs, began to go out the door by the hundreds each and every day.
Kennedy took over the business for her father in 1985, originally thinking a “few extra hours” would take care of running the business.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Kennedy laughs. “It’s not awesome if the cooler tears up.”
Prep work for the day’s burger haul typically starts the day before, with the grinding of the beef and rolling (yes, rolling) of the meatballs that are eventually pressed into patties in a searing canola oil bath. The burgers take all of a couple minutes to fry up, and are slid immediately onto steamed rolls the size of an above-average slider.
“It’s a unique flavor,” Kennedy said. “You can’t get ’em anywhere else. What I tell folks is the bun is the size of a Krystal, but the meat is fresh ground.”
Along with fresh french fries and a full line of hot dog offerings (including coleslaw and scramble dogs), it’s no surprise that Kennedy has added the phrase “Back in the Day” to describe her old-school burger joint.
The pairing of Kennedy’s friendly staff, and the smell and taste of the food, is one reason why it’s no surprise for Minute Grill to push out as many as 1,200 hamburgers in a given day.
“You just have to be really quick,” said Wanda Kennedy (no relation), already frying up the first batch of burgers just shy of a Friday morning opening. Wanda has worked with Donna since 1998, while cousin Kitty Brooks has also worked for years doing everything from rolling out meat to steaming buns or lathering up dogs with ketchup, mustard and relish.
“It’s awesome,” Kennedy said. “It’s job security. Means I’m paying another bill.”
In July of 2011, Kennedy closed Minute Grill for two weeks to conduct a renovation of the building. She shed some of her 50s-chique look but brought back some photos of her parents in action during the early decades of the burger haunt.
Besides catering to her usuals, Kennedy has also started offering up an evening experience for members of the motorcycle community, hosting a monthly “Biker Night” that she likens to the old days of riding up and down the strip.
“I’ve been eating ‘em my whole life,” Kennedy said. “I remember when I was 12 years old, walking from the old Dublin Junior High back to Minute Grill. I’d be so hungry, like kids always are, and I’d sit down and eat a burger, a scramble dog or some fries. There are so many good memories here.”