It’s five o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. Cars and pick-up trucks begin to line-up the perimeters of the nostalgic baby blue shack. The sliding order window opens ready for business. Steak patties are slapped on a hot, metal grill as orders are taped to the corners of the window seals. Located on 1233 N. Treadaway Blvd, Larry’s Better Burgers has served hungry customers big, bold, juicy burgers for decades. The original Abilene drive-thru.
“We’ve done good business because we’ve sold to all sorts of people: rich people, poor people, Hispanic people, black people,” said Larry. “Don’t matter the color to me.”
With his thick country accent and blue plaid button down shirt, Larry said he grew up in Truby working in a wholesale house selling cuts of meat, cigarettes and raising cattle after he decided that college wasn’t necessary for him. After being offered the stand from its former owner Larry Rinzlee, Larry set up shop and decided to sell burgers. Starting the meal price at ‘seven little ones or four big ones for a dollar,’ Larry said business took off.
“This guy wanted to get rid of it, so he talked me into taking it,” said Larry. “So, I did this and worked on the side…Next thing you know, I own it.”
Served in a dark, brown bag, a Larry’s burger is quite different from your average joes. Instead of using a ground beef meat patty, the burger itself is a mini chicken fried steak placed on a single piece of crisp lettuce, tangy mustard, red tomatoes and good ol’ ketchup. Accompanied with a greasy order of classic cut fries and a creamy vanilla shake, Larry’s makes mouths water.
Larry’s is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m through 9 p.m. and has been serving college students, locals and tourists passing through the windy city of Abilene since the 1950s. Larry said it’s not the flashy burgers that get the attention, but the good food and atmosphere that keeps people coming back.
Hailey Mills, junior social studies education major from Abilene, has been eating Larry’s burgers since she was four years old. She said she likes the nostalgic aspect of it and how it’s been managed by the same people ever since she started to eat there. To this day, she still feels completely comfortable walking up to Larry and ordering her favorite meal – a small hamburger, fries and gravy to dip her fries in: something she has every single time.
Larry’s consistency reminds folk like Hailey to love this little shack of paradise.
“I know Larry and he’s just a nice man and the fact that it hasn’t changed makes me feel like an old person because I keep going back there again and again,” said Mills. “I just don’t like change, so I am so glad it hasn’t over these past years” said Mills. “If it did, I honestly wouldn’t like it as much because it wouldn’t be the same as how it used to be.”
Known to many as just ‘Larry,’ Larry has made quite the mark on the community. From lending strangers money (who later become friends), to offering them a job and even wishing them good luck on their next game, Larry has been a real friend to the common man.
Sammy Cockerell, local business owner and longtime customer and friend, said Larry’s Better Burgers are the best burgers in Abilene hands down.
“A lot of other people say they got the best, but I’ll tell you what I can call him up on the phone and tell him what to make me,” said Cockerell. “‘Course, I’d tell him ‘I ain’t got no money’ and he’d say ‘Well, write in on the wall.’ Everybody likes him, really.”
And just like Cockerell, dozens of hungry folk walk up to the window and order their favorite meal on any given day of the week. Whether it be the Wildcat special featuring a classic Larry burger, the Cowboy special featuring savory chicken fingers or any food off the off-white paper menu taped to the outside windows, Larry’s has been a local favorite for years.
If you ever got a chance to meet the Larry, you’d know how he loves to have come’on back, get you a bite to eat and talk with you about the good times and the bad. Larry is a man with a big heart with an even bigger sense of how to treat people – with respect, honesty and a whole lot of laughter.
“The people that have eaten here for years and some came through the backdoor,” said Larry.
“It used to say, ‘The best business is through the backdoor,’” said Cockerell as he corrects Larry with a crooked smile.
“It still says that. Right there,” said Larry. Pointing to the old, wooden plaque hung over the leaking sink, droplets of water drip into the small sink beside the back door. A sound of humming cars outside fills the backroom. Yellow faded order tickets and official health code information papers are tacked to the off white walls. Photos of Larry’s family, local high school football teams and favorite customers are taped to a tiny board right beside Larry’s office along with two old office chairs and a landline telephone beside piles of unordered papers. Peace begins to settle.
Suddenly, the phone rings.
With only one ring, Larry grabs the phone and says, “Better Burger. What can I get you?” as he grabs for the nearest pen and paper and franticly writes the order down. And with a quick ‘Thank you,’ Larry yells out the order and the grill sizzles once more. And just like that, Larry’s back on the clock.
“This place is really just a mom and pop place. We don’t serve anything fancy as you can tell by the inside,” said Larry.
And he’s right. Nothing fancy or high tech lives within the small hut other than the landline connected in the back. Old Red Boy mustard cartons are scattered around the kitchen as cooks serve the last delicious meals yelling out “Rick, your order is ready.”
It’s closing time. The bright overhead lights flicker off. The humming of cars has ceased. And just like any other Tuesday night, Larry jumps into his pickup truck and drives away with a cloud of dust following quickly behind him. Until tomorrow, when the day starts again.