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Burger Hut hysteria hits El Dorado Hills

By: Tim Menicutch
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The ordering line snaked out the door. Seating was full to capacity. And Burger Hut owner Bill Smith was in survival mode. Smith, with fingers crossed, opened El Dorado Hills’ newest burger joint June 11 in the Safeway shopping center on the corner of Francisco Drive and Green Valley Road. In his wildest dreams, Smith never imagined the irresistible lure his new restaurant would have on the community. “We were so busy the first week, customers would get their plate and have nowhere to sit,” said Smith, who lives in El Dorado Hills with his wife Mary. “So, I walked down to the Starbucks and asked if I could temporarily borrow their patio furniture. They said, ‘You might as well. You have all the business.’” Smith was blind-sided by the restaurant’s instant success with gross receipts more than double projections. “The numbers are way beyond expectations,” Smith said, “just unbelievable.” Burger Hut is a throwback to the days of an old-fashioned hamburger stand, disguised by a wood-rich interior in a 2,940-square-foot building. The first Burger Hut was opened by Jim and Priscilla Williams 30 years ago in Chico. “Jim, a former school teacher opened a little frosty stand,” Smith said. “And then all he did was flip burgers for college kids.” The Williams expanded, opening two more Burger Huts in Chico and a fourth location in Yuba City. The El Dorado Hills restaurant is the first franchised Burger Hut. Smith, who grew up in Chico and graduated from Chico High School, said he spotted the franchise opportunity ad in the newspaper and jumped at the chance. “As soon as Bill mentioned it, I was on board,” said Bill White, Smith’s son-in-law and general manager of the restaurant. “I felt this neighborhood needed it. There’s nothing else at this end of El Dorado Hills, just pizza, pizza, pizza.” White, a 10-year resident of El Dorado Hills, is active in the community, serving as a former El Dorado Hills North Little League board member and a Little League coach for several years. “Everybody was coming in and thanking us for being open,” said White, a former H&M Roofing field manager. “And we said, ‘No, thank you for coming.’” Smith said it was so busy in the restaurant opening week they went through 120 gallons of ice cream for milk shakes, serving nearly 60 shakes a day. “We were so slammed, my wife (Tammy) came down and did dishes,” White said. Along with the evident need for a quick-service burger stand, Smith and White believe the quality of food in their restaurant sets them apart from the fast-food joints. Using only natural beef grown without hormones or antibiotics, Burger Hut hamburgers are made with fresh 80-percent lean meat and charbroiled. “It’s Burger Hut’s policy to never skimp on quality,” White said. “We buy more expensive ingredients.” Burger Hut offers a wide variety of burgers, from the The 1/4 Pound Hamburger to the Big Guy Pounder, an insanely huge sandwich made up of four quarter-pound patties and four slices of cheese. Once the burger is flipped off the grill, onto a bun and slipped onto a plate, the real fun begins. In the fashion of Fudruckers, Hamburger Hut offers an extensive condiment bar with 14 different items, including jalapenos and Thousand Island dressing. If hamburgers aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other options at Burger Hut including hot dogs, vegetarian burgers, turkey burgers, breaded chicken, fish burgers, grilled cheese, fish and chips and corn dogs. Burger Hut also offers three different kinds of French fries - regular, seasoned and garlic fries - and some tempting-looking beer batter onion rings. “You don’t have to just come in for the burgers,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of different stuff here.” The assistant manager of the restaurant is Danielle Shearer, who also works as a part-time teller at the neighboring Bank of the West.