Monday, November 8, 2010

Halo Burger: Past, Present and Future by Bernard Rosenberg




Flint Expatriate Bernard Rosenberg reports on Halo Burger after a recent trip to the Vehicle City:

“Hamburg, pickle on top! Makes your heart go flippity-flop!” “Seven days without a Halo Burger makes one weak!” Make no mistake about it. If you do not recognize these expressions, you should. They have been wrapped around Michigan’s #1 hamburger for years. They come from Bill Thomas, the founder of the most tasty and most remembered two-handed prize to ever wind up in the hands of its Flint aficionados for darn near 80 years. Nothing ever rivaled a Kewpee Burger and nothing ever will.
Brought to the Vehicle City by Samuel Blair in 1923, this burger had its origins on Harrison Street during the early 19th Century. Factories boomed and employees flocked. Production lines grew as fast as appetites and Thomas started as an onion peeler working for Blair in 1938. On April fool’s Day in 1944, Thomas moved into management, and by 1958 he bought up the entire chain. In those early days the burgers were called Kewpees, a name held since inception, but was changed due to a conflict in royalty rights and on May 12th of 1967, the Halo Burger was born.


As Flint ex-pats we remember this burger. We grew up with it. There wasn’t a game on a Friday or a movie on a Saturday whereby this sandwich never failed to compliment our passions. This burger was a part of us, all the way down to its deluxe version with olives and the standard version delivered ”heavy on the roses” with extra onions all during our high school days. Forget McDonalds and let Wendy and Burger King dance to oblivion. The Halo Burger was our burger!

We all remember the South Saginaw Street restaurant location and it is still there. That 1929 Mediterranean style building was constructed by Vernor’s Ginger Ale and the adjoining parking lot mural of the gnomes painted on the Sharp Hardware/Peerless Mattress & Furniture Company building is still preserved. It’s all part of Flint history and every single one of us enjoyed it. Some things are destined to remain the same and never change. Yet others are destined to change. I visited Halo Burgers in October of 2010. After all those years the aroma of that sandwich is now drifting in the wind. Halo Burgers has been sold and it is being franchised for ownership opportunity. Will our burger remain the same?

I do not know, and that question was shared with me by Bill Thomas’s son and last owner, Terry Thomas. Terry offered up the sale of the business because his son had no interest in third generation management. After a lifetime of flippity flop and onions on top the Thomas family had enough. They sold it to another Flint entrepreneur and now life goes on. I actually knew Terry. My family had done business with him and his father for over 40 years. I cannot begin to tell you how many tons of Spanish onions were slung by my family shoulders onto theirs, and that business association forever lingers just as surely as the memory of the hamburgers we all enjoyed.

The future of our favorite hamburger remains to be seen and tasted. I won’t go into details but I will tell you that after my reunion with Terry I told him that he had more than done his share for Flint and to reap the rewards his family had so deservedly earned. We actually hugged one another and embraced in a farewell of arms, so to speak. His went for another cup of coffee, and mine went for another heavy on the roses to go. Though the flavor of either may change, the memory of the taste of both will forever last.

Bernard R. Rosenberg is a graduate of Flint Southwestern, class of 1967. His family business distributed fresh produce to Flint and surrounding communities for over a half century. Bernard had a career in public education and retired in 2008. He currently is an author, publisher, and destination travel consultant. Visit his website at www.alaskanauthor.com or e-mail at alaskanauthor@comcast.net.

33 comments:

  1. I grew up with Travis and Tiger Thomas, Terry's sons. The entire Thomas family gave back, back, back to the Flint community. Best wishes to them all!

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    1. I met Tiger a few times he was friends with my cousins who went to Southwestern. We all went to see ....I hate to say it..."New Edition"!?!? in Saginaw. But we topped it off with a late night trip to Halo's for burgers and cherry pepsi. Good People!

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  2. I dare you to read this while listening to Ronnie Milsap's Lost in the 50's Tonight.

    This made my mouth water.
    Enjoyed the pix.

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  3. Great story Bernard about this landmark Flint business. I too spent many enjoyable and countless meals at the Saginaw St. Kewpees. I say Kewpees as that was the era I grew up experiencing this place. I remember sitting in those booths winter evenings, eating there when I was working in the shops at AC, as well the many summer days with my friends hanging out there. Their onion and mustard regular burger was unbeatable. McDonalds never had anything on the Kewpee / Halo Burger. Not by a mile.

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  4. Yep, not only is the food good (The burgers and fries taste like real burgers and fries instead of whatever that stuff is that they're serving at McDonald's and Burger King now) but that building on Saginaw Street is wicked cool as well. I love going in there during the summer time and sitting in one of the booths in the front section. Its always air conditioned and with that tall ceiling and those wide open windows it gives you a great view of the churches and the Masonic Temple. Its like you're going to a fancy restaurant without having to deal with any pretentious people and only having to pay seven bucks for the ambience.

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  5. I so enjoyed reading your article and accompanying comments about Kewpees and Halo Burger. I never could get into the swing of calling it Halo Burger. I moved away from Flint after graduating from Grand Blanc in 1970 but upon every return a "Halo Burger" is definitely in order. I even converted my east coast husband on the olives and mayo, etc. type burger. Where else do you see olives served on burgers? I make them at home all the time, but nothing will compare. I haven't been back home in over a year and I'm definitely having withdrawals and my mouth is watering just thinking about that (along with the coney island). Bieng the foodie that I am, I actually contacted Diners, Drive-ins and Dives about Angelos hoping they would run a story on that, but it never happened. Thanks for a great story.

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  6. Man, this makes me hungry.

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  7. Darn...hope I didn't wait too long to go back for a visit and an olive burger. Funny how just lately I've remembered Halo Burger with fondness. Best wishes to the Thomas family and may the Halo Burger live on its former splendor.

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  8. My mouth is watering already.....may go down today to grab an olive burger. The Kewpee burger wrapper and photo of the building is still one of my best sellers of my greeting cards, Tumble Dry Low Cards. (that would be www.tumbledrylowcards.com ---wayyyy outdated, and www.zazzle.com/lotzostuff Flint category). I'm Patty Warner, and I approve this bold example of self-promoting) Thom! Good to "hear" from you! Gotta get togteher soon!

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  9. Great article. Great pics. Great memories. The rest of the world just don't know what they're missing. =^)

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  10. You CAN make your own olive burger with lots of mayo, pickles, lettuce and tomaotoes and do it from the comfort of your own home. You can even steam your own buns. I give my olives a nice course chop and spread them onto the bun with lots of mayo so they will stick. Of course, you have to have melted cheese, hot off the grill and they will stick to that too.

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    1. Yeah, you can do that, and I have. But it's somehow just not quite the same as the original burger in the original location.

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  11. I remember back in the early days when Halo Burger was Kewpees, and when We used to go to the doctor with my dad, he used to take us to Kewpees for a hamburger. It was our favorite place to go. Remembering smells of the rest. The hustle and bustle of the employees doing the orders. I can still remember the scents. I surely miss the old days when Flint strived, walking downtown during the winter and seeing all the lights, the music and the people. I was just recently back to Flint from Iowa and glad to see they are bringing it back to life. I miss my home.
    Terry Fitzpatrick

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  12. A Kewpee burger, fries..............and don't forget the VERNORS FLOAT!!!!!! To this day, I still ask for sliced olives for my burgers and then get a kinda of a "are you serious" look from the waitress...LOL. That was almost a ritual for our family....at least once a month. I see that there are still many that share my fond memories...as well as the smells. Ahhhh, those were the days.

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    1. Susan Cmelo Boyd I think I worked with you in the late 60's at Yankee Store on Ballenger Hwy. Or was it a relative? I graduated with Bud Rosenberg from Southwestern in 1967. He did a great job on this article. But then that doesn't surprise me, Bud was always a smart fella. The only thing in your response about the food, that I believe to be incorrect, was the drink made with vernors was not called a vernors float. It was called a Cream Ale, unless they offered a vernors float as well. A float is ice ream with soda pop poured over it. A cream ale is dairy cream with soda pop poured over it and in this case the soda pop was vernors. There is no ice cream involved in a cream ale. And I agree with you Ken, "Those were the days my friend, I wished they'd never end" Remember the balcony upstairs where you could see people walking around? From what I was told that was the office for the business and it was open across the whole front for the owners to look down and keep check on the help as well as the customers.

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    2. Good heavens, someone remembered me as "Bud". I gave that nickname up my freshman year at CMU as I began college as an art major. A signed canvas with that moniker just didn't get it, and so I used my real first name of Bernard. I never used Bud again.

      Sue Camelo was a comely young woman; I always admired her from afar, yet I did not work at Yankee's with her. I did a short stint at another department store on Dort Highway (in the Trend Shop), but for the life of me can't remember its name, though I do remember coming in after a few drinks and being called on the carpet by a fellow employee.

      You got me on the Vernor's drink. I seldom drank it, thus no knowledge on its remembered name. Yet, to this day I will buy a Vernor's fully sugared in the can just to swill the memories of Flint in the late sixties…

      Rosenberg; Florida
      alaskanauthor@verizon.net

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    3. Crestbrook HammerbergJune 26, 2014 at 11:16 AM

      I've been talking to a couple of people quite recently who lived in Westgate and another who dated someone a few doors down from you on Greenbrook and spent a lot of time there back in the day, Bernard. I drove through Westgate last week, and except for a few houses that were not well maintained, it looked about the same as when I moved out in the 1980s. I was afraid to look. Also I went through the Miller Rd. area (looked the same and very good), and up and down Bradley Ave. areas and Nolen Drive/Mott Park areas. Except for Mott Park Golf Course being closed, that all looked fairly good also. Universities own Golf Courses. This would be a good opportunity for UM-Flint or Kettering.

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  13. My mouth is watering right now - I know what I am having for lunch tomorrow! I heard from a quite reliable source that whoever bought Halo Burger wants to take it national.

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  14. If they take Vernor's national along with it, I'm in.

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  15. http://sayitaintsoalready.com/February 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    I went to Flint Central in the late 60's and graduated in 1970.

    I hated "gym." I skipped that class for at least a semester during my freshman year...hiding out from Mr. Crowder at Kewpees while chowing down on their bacon/egg sandwich.

    It was drenched in grease and salt and it was DELICIOUS.

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  16. Say it ain't so already:

    I don't know what I would have done if I had had to take PE in High School. I think PE is an excuse for the more physical and usually less cerebral kids, with a few notable exceptions, to brutalize and humiliate the less physical kids. In ninth grade, I had a mild concussion from a football that was deliberately thrown at my head, and even star athletes are now finding they have lasting subtle damage from such injuries due to the great advances in medical imaging.

    I joined Marching Band and was exempted from PE in tenth through twelfth grade. It was one of the best experiences of my life. The best kids in the school were there, and I will always remember nearly all of them fondly. I grew musically and rose to the top.

    I know some who post here have revealed online that they didn't have quite as good of an experience as I did, and I regret that.

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  17. The guy on the Food Network who hosts "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives" should do a spot on Flint's Haloburger. The best burger ever!

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  18. I moved away from Flint after my Freshman year at St. Matts, with wonderful memories of Kewpees. I went to school with some great people. I wonder whatever happened to the O'Donohue family? I was great friends for a time with Mary. I found my 1967 year book in the process of my move to St. John VI. It is hard to toss away these items from our past but so be it!
    Jane (Tate) Kelly

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  19. A large Cream Ale and 2 KewPee Burgers with extra olives, please! It is so nice to coMe across this site and to read so many nice reminders of our unique culture growing up as a kid in Flint. Graduated from Flint SouthWestern High School Class of 1974, was a Marching Colt for 4 years, worked for General Motors Corporation at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground for 5 years and another 5 years for corporate staff and GM Dealer Equipment as a district manager, Detroit and Atlanta, for a total of 10 years before leaving to explore other options in life.... did not look back until just about 1 year ago.... my mother was an AC Delco retiree, my brother is a Buick Engine Plant retiree, my dad was a retired Flint Police Officer..... yep, I was a Flintites, former Michigander to the core. Nough said, but it is great to hear everyone of you share your stories and memories. Thank you.

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  20. Have never forgotten the KewPee delux with olives. Best ever. I also remember the counterman on Harrison St. who converted all the charges to hundreds of dollars. If your bill was $3.25 he would demand "Three Hundred Twenty Five Dollars." You gave him a $5 and he would give you "One Hundred Seventy Five Dollars" in change.

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  21. My dad was a teacher at Southwestern High School. He taught Foreign Relations and American History. He also was a City Commissioner in the 60's in the 7th ward. I have amazing memories of KewPee's, Patterson's Ice cream and Durham Pool where he was a supervisor lifeguard in the summers for income while school was out. If one of my 4 siblings or myself would do something special at the pool then we would all be rewarded with a trip to KewPees! I remember climbing up that high dive and trembling with fear, but determined to jump so that my siblings and I could all go to KewPees! SPLASH!! Hooray! KewPees it is!! <3

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  22. To Anonymous 2-6-13 8:46 AM:

    I didn't always get along with your father (he called me a "cluck", but I got an A in his class). In retrospect, though, I totally respected his exposing Communism and Socialism for what it really was like and still is. He also taught us that the common Philosophy Professor's habit of telling students that they are atheists if they can't resolve the "Problem of Evil", was a logical fallacy in and of itself. That helped me get through Philosophy 101 with my faith intact. Thank you ACS! Please pass this on if he's still around, and I wish him the best!

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  23. Durham pool closed now for last 5 or so years Mott CC felt it was too expensive to maintain. as for kewpees greatest burgers ever

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  24. I went to Valley High when it was only two blocks from there. About a year ago, I found the Internet photos of the wrecking balls in the act of smashing through the walls of the classroom in which I explored issues of urban renewal.

    It is very good to see Kewpies still there and the mural still intact. I fear that the burgers may have been tastier in my minds eye than they were 30 years ago: but that drink they mixed with Vernors, coffee creamer and chocolate syrup is still unmatched in my experience when one is in that "certain mood."

    Can you still find marijuana plants poking through the cracks in the sidewalk there?

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  25. I'm 71, so I'm probably pulling back to another generation. They were Kewpee burgers and they always had sliced green olives on them. Case closed. They were also the best burger EVER. I'd choose these over the best 5-star restaurant in Paris.

    Going back to, maybe, the early 50's now, I don't think Kewpee's Burgers was on Saginaw Street. It was one of the parallel side streets. The place was smaller, a real burger joint, with no frills except the best grazing in the entire planet. Well, maybe Angelo's Coney Islands could compete.

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  26. I worked at Smith-Bridgemans and ALWAYS did lunch at Kewpees for years till I moved to San Francisco in the 60's and miss "Halo burgers and Coney Island Hot Dogs and Vernors and when I visit I over eat all 3 .

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    1. "CRESTBROOK HAMMERBERG"

      I've got to hand it to you for this made-up signature. You dipped into the street where I lived (2141 Crestbrook Lane), added in the meat from Kewpees (hammer), and slathered in my last name (berg).

      Obviously, Gordon should be pleased to know has has some very creative readers out there…

      Rosenberg; Florida

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    2. Oh yes, I know there's a lot of creativity out there. I wish I was creative enough to guess the real identity of some of the readers.

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