ROY — For Joseph Fowler, going to Burger Bar as a kid wasn’t just about getting a hamburger and a shake.
His dad, David Fowler, ran the place, so young Joseph usually ended up with work to do.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I was a little kid helping my dad out,” whether picking up trash in the parking lot of the Roy eatery, putting fry sauce in small cups, or sweeping.
Fast forward, and Joseph Fowler and sister Jessica Fowler are running the place, the third generation in the family to operate the Roy institution, located at 5291 S. 1900 West. Joseph Fowler still handles a range of duties — cooking, washing dishes, managing the staff and more. But it’s hardly drudgery. Since the restaurant, which first opened its doors in 1956, is so connected to his family, entering it each day is more like a homecoming.
“The Burger Bar feels more like a member of the family than a business,” he said. “I walk in here and it feels almost as much as home as my house.”
Similarly, Fowler describes himself as something of a torchbearer, carrying on a family tradition and a Roy tradition. His grandfather, Ben Fowler, first opened the Burger Bar 63 years ago after experiencing a hamburger stand, then a relatively new concept, in California. “We’ve changed a number of things, but haven’t changed the basic way you make a hamburger,” Joseph Fowler said, alluding to the Burger Bar’s signature offering, the Big Ben — a burger with shredded lettuce, pickles, fry sauce and, depending on preference, American cheese.
In fact, after all these years in the same location, it retains much of its original attributes, which Fowler thinks figures in Burger Bar’s longevity. The customer base is loyal, and some have been regulars going on 20 years and more.
“I think people like that you can always get your Big Ben. It’s going to be the same as when you were a kid,” he said.
Likewise, the building, although the focus of some remodeling since its original construction, is the same.
The over-the-top shakes, too, are a big draw, with the ice cream jutting far above the top of the cup. The menu also includes fresh-cut and regular french fries, onion rings, and a periodically changing “exotic meat” — currently alligator.
Though he grew up helping his dad at Burger Bar, that Fowler would take over operation of the hamburger stand wasn’t always a foregone conclusion. He eased into the role.
“As I got older, I realized how good it is to have your own business, especially something established. I’m a restaurant person at heart, just didn’t know it when I was younger,” he said.
His sister and partner in the operation, Jessica Fowler, by contrast, “hasn’t really done anything else.”
Going forward, Joseph Fowler doesn’t foresee any radical shifts.
Burger Bar is a good place to get a hamburger — at lunch, after work, after a football game, when Roy High School lets out — and he hopes to maintain that. A few outdoor seats and trees were added a few years back to the area around the front of the locale where people order. But there’s no indoor seating, and, as it could change the Burger Bar’s vibe, Fowler gives little indication that such expansion is in the offing.
“Probably just to keep making the best burger,” Fowler said, asked about his vision for the future.