Entering Sapulpa from Tulsa on old Route 66 one can’t help but notice the Happy Burger neon sign and building. I have driven past it dozens of times and always wondered about its history, but it always seemed to slip my mind to check into it.
I recently ran across an old note — usually happens when I clean up my desk top — and wound up making two trips to Happy Burger, one for food and one for an interview and photos.
I’m happy I did. I learned Happy Burger is the oldest restaurant still operating in Sapulpa, dating to 1957 when Bob Nobozny opened it as a Tastee Freez. It is one of many burger spots and diners in this area that originally opened as a Tastee Freez and later dropped its affiliation with the corporation.
“Jim Summers bought it in the late 1960s, and he changed the name to Happy Burger in 1974,” said J.J. Mangrum, a son of owner Peggy Eaton. “We bought it in 2002. I think Jim was 94 when he died, so you can’t say the food isn’t good for you.”
Another son, William Burke, also helps run the restaurant.
Happy Burger has outlasted a number of other places along the same stretch of road, including a McDonald’s, which opened next door in the 1980s.
“It’s long gone, and we’re still here,” said Mangrum, pulling a brick out from underneath the counter. “We saved a brick from that building when they tore it down.”
We recently stopped in for a weeknight dinner and ordered a jumbo hamburger (one-fourth pound, $3.70), a steak sandwich ($4.15), fried mushrooms ($2.75) and fries ($2.75).
We asked that the burger be cooked something less than well done, and it came out a solid medium, which was OK. It was trimmed with mustard, pickles, onions, lettuce and tomato on a toasted bun, and it delivered a good, old-fashioned flavor.
The fried steak was larger than the bun on the steak sandwich, and it had most of the same condiments as the burger, except we left out the onions.
Our sides pretty well stole the show. I was told Happy Burger cuts its fries daily, and the extra-long, skin-on fries were delicious. We received eight crunchy, juicy fried mushrooms, and they were flavorful, too.
We also got a medium, tangy cherry limeade ($1.90) and a small, 16-ounce vanilla malt ($2.65). I seldom have met a vanilla malt I didn’t like, and this was no exception.
In addition to burgers, Happy Burger also offers sandwiches, such as grilled cheese and grilled or fried chicken, plus popcorn chicken, hamburger steak, chicken salad, Frito chili pie, corn dog, hot dogs and foot-long coneys.
Additional sides include tater tots, fried okra, fried pickles, onion rings, sweet potato fries, side salad and jalapeno cheese balls.
For dessert, Happy Burger offers fried pies in apple, pecan, cherry and chocolate cream from Letha’s Pies in West Fork, Arkansas.
Daily specials include a jumbo burger, half order of fries and a medium drink ($7); regular burger with half order of fries and small drink ($5.85); popcorn chicken and half order of fries ($5.40), three-piece chicken strips with half order of fries ($6.40) and chicken-fried steak with half order of fries and gravy ($5.65).
A menu for ages 9 and under includes chicken nuggets, grilled cheese and corn dog or hot dog for $3.75 each, and a cheeseburger for $4.75. Each meal includes extra-small fries and a drink.
The first thing one notices when entering the building is all of the Pepsi memorabilia, including model cars and trucks, photos, a clock, old bottles, you name it.
“It had some Pepsi stuff when we bought it, but Mom basically started the Pepsi collection,” Mangrum said. “People have donated stuff to us, too.”
Happy Burger has eight counter stools, five two-person booths and one four-person booth. It is cozy, but it used to be smaller.
“When it opened it only had four stools inside,” Mangrum said. “Most of the business was walk-up outside. I think it was built onto around 1980. Now, we are cleaning up the old neon sign outside.
“We mostly keep trying to do things the same, old-fashioned way.”
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