By Kathryn M. Miller
One hundred-twenty pounds of mesquite wood charcoal a day, a handful of dedicated employees and a passion for the restaurant business — just three of the ingredients that have kept Wesley Herrera, co-owner of The Original Hamburger Works, going the past couple of years.
Originally opened in September 1977, and modeled after The Chuckbox in Tempe, The Original Hamburger Works has been a mainstay in Phoenix’s Encanto area for more than 40 years. And while Herrera is not the original owner, it feels like he was fated to be there.
“I’ve been in restaurants pretty much since I was in high school. I loved it. I love restaurant work,” Herrera shared.
In fact, his high school job was at The Chuckbox, so when the opportunity came in 1994 to purchase Hamburger Works, he was in the right place, the timing was good, and he jumped at the chance.
While Herrera and his business partner, Paul Marquardt, have made improvements to the dining and bar areas, much of the restaurant has remained the same. Guests are greeted with the enticing aroma of mesquite wood, and instantly transported back in time through the eclectic décor that is like a trip through Phoenix history. The walls are covered with memorabilia — from a Legend City poster (where Marquardt worked in high school) to a vintage Mary Coyle Ice Cream sign, Phoenix Fire and Police shields, along with dozens of advertising signs from bygone eras and more.
Another thing that has not changed is that their burgers and chicken are cooked over an open fire with mesquite charcoal (using up to 120 pounds each day), and that customers can fix the way they like it with a variety of condiments available.
Diners can get a burger from a quarter pound up to the “Super Great One,” which is a pound of beef. Also available are mesquite broiled chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, broiled fish sandwich, garden burger and fish and chips, as well as go-to sides and salads.
As with most restaurants, the last couple of years have been difficult for the business. From a complete shut-down during the height of the pandemic and figuring out a delivery model to staffing challenges and now skyrocketing costs, the business is constantly adjusting to meet the ever-changing landscape of the restaurant business, “Every single day just about.”
Herrera credits his amazing staff, some of whom have been at the restaurant for 20 or more years, and the restaurant’s incredibly loyal customers with their survival during the recent tough times, as well as their ability to adapt.
“We’re trying. Trying to keep everything new, trying to keep everything fresh,” he said.
And he still loves the business.
“I always tell my wife. ‘I think we’re in the right business.’ She says, ‘Why is that?’ I say, ‘Everywhere I go, I always eat a hamburger. I’m in the right business.”
The Original Hamburger Works is located at 2801 N. 15th Ave, Phoenix. For additional information, call 602-263-8693 or visit www.originalhamburgerworks.com.