COEUR DALENEThings dont change much at Hudsons Hamburgers.
Sure, the place has moved a few times, but only by a matter of feet. Oh, and it did add three stools to its counter seating in 1983. Thats about it.
Otherwise, Hudsons, located in downtown Coeur dAlene at 207 Sherman Ave., is basically the same business that Harley Hudson opened in 1907 at the corner of First Street and Sherman, when Teddy Roosevelt was president and gasoline cost 6 cents a gallon.
The menu remains Harleys menu: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, egg sandwiches, and ham-and-egg sandwichesno fries, no chips. And a Hudsonactually, two of themstill man the grill of the family-owned restaurant. Those two Hudsons are Harleys great-grandsons, Steve and Todd, and they trade shifts and keep the venerable hamburger joint cooking from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 or 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with the help of just two employees.
Thats how this place made it through two world wars, the Great Depression, and a couple of police actionsfamily worked here, Todd Hudson says. In addition to their great-grandfather, those family members included their grandfather, Howard Hudson, and their father, Roger Hudson.
Many would argue that the real secret to Hudsons longevity is its burgers. Each patty is formed by hand in full view of the customers from ground beef thats seasoned just soalthough no one except the Hudsons knows what just so is, because its a closely guarded family secret.
We use very good quality beefthats all Ill say about that, Hudson says.
For a diner, the place is subdued; people tend to tuck into their hamburgers with a solemnity not usually associated with fried foods. While the burgers sizzle on the 1930s-vintage grill, one of the brothers or an employee slices with rapid, horizontal strokes the pickles and onions that will dress the patties. Hamburgers go on and come off the grill in quick succession in a form of culinary theater that predates the open kitchens of todays pricey palaces of nouvelle cuisine.
Watching the show is part of it, and always has been, Todd Hudson says. The show has changed over time, howeverin the days when Hudsons was run by Todd Hudsons father and grandfather, people came to watch the two men quarrel. They fought a lot, he says, smiling.
Customers at the counter can spice up their burgers with Hudsons special saucesthe ingredients of which, again, are a family secret, but one with a story behind it.
My great-grandfather developed the sauces during the Great Depression, Hudson says. He was losing money because people came in and would put an inch of ketchup and an inch of mustard on their burgers to fill their tummies. So he made (the sauces) hot so they didnt use as much.
Hudson declines to say how many burgers the restaurant sells in a week, then adds, I dont think any of us really know. You make em in your sleep.
The place typically is packed through the lunch hour, and just busy at other times. People stand behind the counters 19 stools, waiting for someone to finish up and leave.
Regulars tend to avoid Hudsons during the summer months because it gets so crowded, Hudson says. Tourists flock to the modest diner, which has received more good press on a national scale than most restaurants ever dream of. Hudsons has been written up in USA Today, the Boston Globe, and Sunset and Gourmet magazines, among others.
As soon as summer is over, the regulars return, and Hudsons even caters to a small number of former regulars who have moved away. As he talked with a reporter recently, Hudson took a phone order for a bag of burgers that someone planned to pick up at 5 p.m. and take on an airplane to visit a friend in California. The Californian had a bottle of Hudsons sauce in the refrigerator just waiting for the main course to arrive, Hudson says.
No pressure to join the business
Hudson, 37, says that he and his brother Steve, 39, never felt pressured to go into the family business. They both worked there as youngsters, but mostly because it was good money, he says: It was never really thrust upon us.
Steve Hudson earned a business degree in college with the purpose of returning to Coeur dAlene to run Hudsons Hamburgers, Todd Hudson says.
Todd Hudsons path to the grill wasnt as direct. He worked in construction and lived in various parts of the U.S., then decidedwith his familys blessingto open a second Hudsons Hamburgers in Issaquah, Wash. He was all set to do so when his brother took him aside and asked if hed rather move back to Coeur dAlene instead, partly so that Steve could devote more time to a second career as a college football referee. It wasnt a hard sell, Todd Hudson says.
Everywhere I was, everywhere Ive been, theres no place like home, he says.
Now, Hudsons has no plans to expand the restaurant, its seating, its hours, or its menu. No plans to change anything, in fact.
Thats what makes Hudsons, well, Hudsons, Todd Hudson says.