Longtime Butler County hamburger spot reopens just weeks before adapting to coronavirus slowdown

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Red’s Hamburgers opened several weeks ago, but is already having to adapt to trying times, serving customers through its window instead of by tableside.

Business boomed last week, including Friday and Saturday, when the little brick building at 103 S. Riverside Drive in New Miami sold 1,123 burgers in all. Customers lined up outside to get their fix of the place, which residents consider the heart of the village.

“We can’t thank everyone enough for supporting our little hamburger shop,” co-owner Craig Beurlein said. “I’m not sure what the future will bring in the next few weeks but we’re here to stay.”

The popular restaurant on U.S. 127 traces its roots back to 1962, when Doris Stangby and her late husband, Arthur “Red” Helsinger opened it. Her brother-in-law, Ernest Schick, helped out until his passing in 2005. Doris Stangby sold it to Barb and Larry Webb, who sold it to Melissa Binge in 2016. Binge changed the restaurant’s name to Mel’s Diner and altered its menu.

“There were a lot of people upset that it had changed,” said Craig Beurelein, “It broke a lot of people’s hearts.”

Then Binge posted to Facebook in December that she was selling the place and Craig and Yolanda Beurlein, who own Bel Air Automotive down the street, took note.

“We got a hold of her and bought it in three days,” Yolanda Beurlein said.

The couple worked for two months to restore as much of the past as possible, plus install new electric and plumbing, replace the eatery’s grills, refrigerators and freezers and do a top-to-bottom cleaning before the place reopened as Red’s on Feb 13.

“Pretty much everything in here we’ve had our hands on or redone,” Craig Beurlein said.

“There’s not much we haven’t touched,” Yolanda Beurlein said.

Back are former staffers, including prep cook Alicia Ramey, breakfast cook Dee Marcum and lunch cook and “staple” Brenda LaFrance, a more than 20-year veteran of the restaurant.

“She should almost be part of the building,” Craig Beurlein said.

Red’s menu includes everything from breakfast options, sandwiches and side orders to soups, salads, drinks, desserts, and of course, Red’s hamburgers. Price have changed little over the years. In 2007, it cost 90 cents for one. Now it’s $1.19.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Craig Beurlein said. “This is just the original good, little, classic burger … (with) pickles, onions, mustard.”

The low price and great taste have generated a loyal following, with many people who have moved away stopping by to pick up them up by the dozens in sack to be frozen for future enjoyment.

The crowd here, many of them regulars, have been patronizing the place for decades.

“Craig’s mom and dad are a staple here every single day. That’s there table up there,” Yolanda Beurlein said, gesturing toward a small table toward the back of the restaurant. “There’s a group of older people that come in and we just hate for them to not have somewhere to go.”

Customer Bill Caldwell, who has been a customer for more than four decades, has his own key and comes in each morning to get the coffee ready and heat up the grill.

James Hoskins, of Hamilton, said he’s been a customer of restaurant for about 50 years and praised it for being “nice, homey and familiar.”

“They turn out as many customers here probably as you would at a place three times this big,” he said. And as for the food, “if it wasn’t good, we wouldn’t be here. Where are you going to get stuff like this at just anywhere? You can’t.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen Red’s Hamburger Shop struggle with its bread vendors to keep the small buns for its burgers in stock.

“We added another vendor over a week ago and they have not been able to supply us this past week either,” Craig Beurlein said, adding that he and his wife have been traveling to different stores for the past week picking up buns wherever they can.

The couple said they have been trying to think of other alternatives but decided they worked hard to get all the right ingredients to get Reds back to where it needed to be.

“We hate to start forcing ourselves to use other products just so we can stay opened and serve people food we are not comfortable with and compromise,” he said. “So we are going to see how things go this week, if we can’t find the small buns we may result to going with double burgers and using bigger buns.”

Starting Sunday, Red’s will close for two weeks. All of its employees either have older loved ones that they take care of and or small children or infants that they live with or babysit, Craig Beurlein said.

In addition, the Beurleins are expecting their second grandchild April 8 and will be watching their X-year-old granddaughter while their daughter is in the hospital

“We want to stay at home for a week ahead of time to make sure that we are all healthy before the baby comes,” he said.

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