Huntsville— Huntsville has the distinction of having a strong connection to Sam Houston but is also home to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and one of the most famous prisons in the entire state known as the Walls Unit. Built in 1849, this is where death sentences are carried out and the last stop for prisoners who have paid their debt to society. One of the first stops for those smelling freedom is a burger joint that began in 1959 just across the block from the cell block.
“If they’ve done their time, you know, justice has been served, you’re just hoping for nothing but the best for them,” said John Mathews.
John, born and raised in Huntsville, is the owner of Mr. Hamburger, the burger spot that happens to be a big hit with the recently released.
“Being this close to the Walls Unit, it was always a place where the releasees, as soon as they got out of prison, this was literally their first taste of freedom,” he explained.
John used to build homes but one day he had a calling to reopen the old restaurant that had been a part of Huntsville from 1959 to 2005.
“What can I do that I know is going to work, and what hit me at the same time is what does Huntsville need? Huntsville needed to have Mr. Hamburger back,” he said.
In 2011, Mr. Hamburger opened back up just a few blocks from its original location, but still in sight of the Walls Unit.
“We could have moved out on the interstate and probably had a lot better business. But it was important to us to open it on the side of town where we knew Mr. Hamburger was, so it had that local flavor,” said John.
That local flavor includes a menu of menacingly named burgers.
“The number one most popular burger, not just with the locals but also with inmates that just recently got let out, is the… killer burger,” John said. “A new burger we introduced when we reopened in 2011 was the Old Sparky, so of course it’s namesake was the old electric chair…We decided that we were going to take a fresh hamburger patty…batter it and…deep fry it like it was a chicken fried steak.”
General Manager, Max Rollo, got things heated up in the kitchen that has a great view of the free world.
“Pretty great, isn’t it?” commented Max on the window above the grill. Outside of it are roads, cars, businesses, and of course, the prison.
A 1/3 pound certified angus beef patty gets seasoned and faces the music on the grill while Max got to work on a special worth doing time for—some Mexican street fries.
After frying up some freshly cut potatoes, Max throws the book at them by adding garlic aioli, sour cream, cotija cheese, cilantro, chili powder and lime.
Once the burger is cooked, it is battered with shake mix, then it is time to flip the switch and fry it up!
A toasted bun gets covered in house made ranch and some Texas in July sauce!
One bite and you’ll need an alibi for all the sauce that ends up on your face.
“Nice and juicy. Plenty of flavor,” commented customer Wayne Calder.
Deep frying that burger, definitely adds a little crunchiness.
“I’ve been in all parts of the state of Texas and… tried burgers, and this is one I enjoy tremendously,” said another customer, Will Gollihar.
Fun fact of the day—these burgers are sometimes requested as an inmates last meal.
“That’s a little sobering to think about that, the reality of that. Good choice,” said Wayne.
“Typically, we don’t know if it is a last meal, they won’t tell us that,” said John. “So oftentimes they’ll send somebody to come over and get it, so we don’t usually hear about it until after the fact.”
“I’d want this for my last meal probably,” said customer, Bob Hotten, “not that I want to go over there.”
Whether it’s your first taste of freedom or the last stop on your bucket list, Mr Hamburger in Huntsville is well worth a stop on the Texas bucket list.
“Nobody can replicate Mr. Hamburgers history. It’s so unique because of this town, because of the location. I mean it may appear as a fast food joint, but it’s so much more than just fast food,” John continued, “We’re just glad to be another one of the great local places here in Huntsville.”