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 firstname.lastname@example.org.