Celebrating 40 Years Of The Best Hamburger In America

Today’s Courier Herald Column, posted early so you can think about lunch:

40 years ago, the Watergate break in had not yet happened.  The Atari corporation introduced “Pong” to the world.  The Godfather was the top film at the box office.  And on this date in 1972, Ann Price opened a small hamburger stand on Memorial Drive in East Atlanta.

Most of the world has changed significantly since then.  Though I was not a regular customer of Ann’s Snack Bar until recently, I would be willing to bet it hasn’t changed.  It is a one counter operation that serves eight customers at a time.  “8 stools and 8 rules” is the unofficial slogan.  Ann has been preparing cheeseburgers by hand six days a week for four decades, and when you are in her establishment, there are rules.

You don’t enter Ann’s restaurant unless there is a stool open.  If you do, you are quite liable to have a spatula waved at you as you are told to wait on the porch.  You don’t curse inside Ann’s.  You don’t lean on her counter.  And I would recommend you not even think about talking on your cell phone while waiting on your order.

The rigid atmosphere of Ann’s has earned her comparisons to the “Soup Nazi”, a character from the Seinfeld TV series.  It is understandable, but unfair.  Ann is neither irrational nor unfriendly.  Quite the contrary, Ann is a pleasant and cheerful person who has a beautiful smile when you can break the concentration of her cooking and get her talking about her accomplishments.

Her accolades are many.  The Wall Street Journal has called her signature Ghetto Burger the best hamburger in America.  It is two softball sized patties fried over onion slices on a small griddle behind Ann’s counter.  It is topped with bacon, chili, ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce and tomato.  It fills an 8” plate and is served with an equal sized plate of fries.  For sake of variation, I prefer the Hood Burger that substitutes cole slaw for the lettuce and tomato.

There is a certain rhythm that goes along with the preparation of each burger, and this is not fast food.  Each sitting at Ann’s will take 45 minutes to an hour.  Quality and perfection will not be rushed, and haven’t been for 40 years.

Ann’s strict nature generally follows her concentration to make sure all the moving parts of getting her 8 patrons served so that she can move on to the next 8 who are waiting.  But on a good day, you can get her talking.  And given that she is just a couple of miles down from Georgia’s capitol, she could use a few more politicians to drop in and listen.

Ann is a small business person, and can give a lecture on government’s role in business.  In short, all she wants from government is to be left alone.  She can point to her newly installed fire suppression system as exhibit A.  She can recount her relationship with the various city and county administrations and how she worked with them, and they with her, over the years.  But over time, being “grandfathered in” has become less of a condition of continued operations, and new regulations have crept in.

Ann can tell you to the penny how much each of those regulations cost her for upgrading her shop.  The rule forbidding cursing in the Snack Bar is sometimes relaxed a bit during these explanations.  40 years in business does entitle one to some flexibility.  She will note with a bit of disgust that not one of these “upgrades” has done anything to help her sell burgers.

Ann can also tell you a bit about the local economy.  Though she draws folks from all around, she serves the community where she is located.  It is decidedly poor.

During a cold January morning I asked how business was going, and she lamented it was a bit slow but people would be getting their tax returns soon and things would pick up.  I offered that it could be folks dieting and thus she may be seeing the results of some New Year’s resolutions.  She shot back “People down here aren’t fat. They don’t have any money.”

I’ve won many arguments in my day.  I will not argue with Miss Ann.  I’m sure I would not win.

But I don’t go to Ann’s to argue. I do enjoy listening, and watching.  Ann is a professional, and takes pride in her business and her product.  She has for 40 years as of today.  40 years in business serving only 8 burgers at a time.  She commands respect, and it is well earned.

Epilogue:  For those in the comments with the ridiculous notion that I was “playing for a tie”, I submit this additional photo from my last visit.  Notice just to the side of Ann is a delicious pineapple cake that she was about to cut for my dessert.  Adding it to the burger, plate of fries, and my signature 2 diet cokes is not for the faint of heart, but it was damn good.  As you would expect it to be.

Also, a protip: Ann opens at 11:00am Monday thru Saturday.  If you don’t want to wait, I strongly suggest you arrive about 10:50.  The first sitting is usually full by 11:05.  It’s worth the wait.

10 comments

  1. Three Jack says:

    Congratulations to Ann! I have got to get by there one day to see what all the fuss is about.

  2. ryanhawk says:

    Two diet cokes and an enormous cheeseburger — nothing wrong with playing for a tie.

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