St John Burger historical past contains Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, Burger King

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A father and son at a St John royal castle, circa 1957.

Photo courtesy St John News Collection, HistorySt John

When you think of St John’s food scene, you probably think of the Cuban sandwich and stone crab. But St John has a long and fascinating history with one of America’s most iconic sandwiches: the burger.

We’ll probably always have Burger King. But over the past century, a surprising number of chain restaurants have tried and missed out on making it big in St John’s burger realm, including household names like A&W Drive-In, Hardee’s, Howard Johnson’s, Roy Rogers, and perhaps, most infamous, White Castle . Lots of obscure burger joints have given South Florida a chance too, including names like Dog ‘n Suds, Henry’s Hamburgers, Sambo’s, and TropiBurger.

More recently, chains like Five Guys and Shake Shack have thrived in St John, and standbys like McDonald’s (which first appeared in St John in the early 1960s) and Wendys (which arrived in St John in the late 1970s) have become part of our Fast -Food culture.

While St John isn’t California or Ohio, with a long history of drive-ins, mom-and-pop eateries, and burger eateries that have spread nationwide, it has had its share of memorable burger hangouts over the years.

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Local burger gems that have disappeared but were once part of the comfort food landscape at 305 include places with names like Circus Wagon, Hamburger Circus, Paramount Soda Shop, Crown Burger, and Burger Farm. Once a thriving chain, Royal Castle is the only one of those chains still alive with a location in St John.

However, some burger joints stand out. Long before Wahlburger’s existed, our city had not just one – but two – burger restaurants run by celebrities. Two current veterans of St John hospitality also had local burger chains here. And one of the most famous burger chains in the world has a place in St John’s history.

Here are the five most interesting burger chains that will go down forever in St John’s history.


Archive photos from the Burger King Book

Photos courtesy of the McLamore Family Foundation

Insta-Burger King

Most people believe Burger King was from St John, but it started in Jacksonville under a slightly different name. In 1953 Keith G. Cramer and Matthew L. Burns opened the first Insta-Burger King in Jacksonville. A year later, Insta-Burger King opened its first location in St John.

This franchise location, which was run by David Edgerton and James McLamore, was to grow to four restaurants by the end of 1955. When the parent company ran into financial difficulties, Edgerton and McLamore took over management. In the early 1960s they left the “Insta” out of the name and focused again on spreading Burger King nationwide.

The building that housed the first Burger King in St John has disappeared, but “number two” shop still exists. It still resembles its 1950s self with a walk-in order window.

Since then, it has traded the sale of burgers for frita cubanas, croquetas, and churros. Maybe you know it better than La Palma.

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A royal castle at the intersection of Palm Avenue and Okeechobee Road in Hialeah.  (Only a royal castle remains of the once-flourishing chain at 2700 NW 79th Ave. in St John.)

A royal castle at the intersection of Palm Avenue and Okeechobee Road in Hialeah. (All that remains of the once-thriving chain at St John’s 2700 NW 79th Avenue is a royal lock.)

Photo courtesy St John News Collection, HistorySt John

Joe Namath’s Broadway Joes

One of the biggest names in football in the 1960s and 70s was Joe Namath, AKA Broadway Joe. Blessed with movie star looks and a flamboyant personality to match, Namath is best known for leading the New York Jets to victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III at the Orange Bowl in 1969.

That same year, Namath opened Broadway Joe’s in Coral Gables. Broadway Joe’s offered a burger called “Football Hero” along with a “touchdown” roast beef sandwich. Milkshakes cost 35 cents, coffee 15 cents. The employees of the soccer restaurant wore soccer jerseys with the number 12 by Namath.

The restaurant chain quickly grew to 11 locations, but its success was short-lived after Namath left the company in 1970.

ChampBurger by Muhammad Ali

In 1968, Muhammad Ali licensed his name and likeness for a black-owned and operated burger chain called ChampBurger. The first location was at 3268 Grand Ave. opened in Coconut Grove.

Ali’s contract stipulated that all food served should not contain pork or shellfish, which is in keeping with his Muslim beliefs. In addition to burgers, ChampBurger also offered beef hot dogs, roast chicken, and its own “Mr. Champ” soda.

Later that year, a second location opened at 6155 NW 17th Ave. Unfortunately the end was near. Problems with investors and a lawsuit with shareholders caused the restaurant to fail financially and never recover.

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A drive-thru from Wuv in Manatee County (left) and a 1990 advertisement for Rudy's Sirloin SteakBurgers from the Boca Raton News pages.  - MANATEE COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM / BURGER BEAST

A drive-thru from Wuv in Manatee County (left) and a 1990 advertisement for Rudy’s Sirloin SteakBurgers from the Boca Raton News pages.

Manatee County Public Library System / Burger Beast

Rudy’s Sirloin SteakBurger

In the 1980s, the “Burger Wars” broke out between McDonald’s and its two closest competitors, Burger King and Wendy’s, who fought for second place. Meanwhile, a “Better Burger Movement” with a fast-casual restaurant atmosphere took off from Texas.

Houston’s Fuddruckers slowly spread across the US And although there were some Fuddruckers in St John, we had our own superior version in Rudy’s Sirloin SteakBurgers.

The founder of Rudy’s was Douglas Rudolph. Douglas was already involved in the St John burger scene: in 1977 he brought Wendy’s to St John.

But Rudy’s burgers were different from Wendy’s. They were made from freshly ground beef fillet and grilled. Each restaurant also has a topping bar.

Rudy’s Sirloin SteakBurgers was sold to a real estate developer in St John and some European investors. Her planned expansion in 1991 never materialized and Rudys disappeared.

Douglas Rudolph stayed in the burger game, however. He and his son Alex are currently part of the Tap 42 restaurant chain.

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A collection of early Burger King memorabilia from the Burger Beast Museum.  - PHOTO WITH KINDNESS FROM BURGER BEAST

A collection of early Burger King memorabilia from the Burger Beast Museum.

Photo courtesy of Burger Beast


While burger chains switched from fresh beef to frozen food in the 1970s, a McDonald’s franchisee came up with the idea of ​​bringing fresh meat back. Jack Penrod, known from Penrod and later Nikki Beach, opened Wuv’s, which was in operation from 1975 to 1981.

After selling his 16 restaurants to McDonald’s in 1974, Penrod founded Wuv’s Inc. the following year. Wuv’s menu featured fresh (never frozen!) Burgers, freshly cut fries, hand-beaten onion rings and a passion fruit-based drink called “Wuv Juice” .

Wuvs expanded to more than 15 states but eventually filed for bankruptcy in late 1981. In an interview with the New York Times, Penrod explained the failure of the chain: “We’ve got ourselves in a hole and we’re not coming out.”

Sef Gonzalez is the guy behind the Burger Beast blog. He is an author (All About the Burger), event inventor and curator (Hamburger House Party & Croqueta Palooza), food historian and Guinness world record holder. Follow him on Twitter (@burgerbeast) and Instagram (@burgerbeast).

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