It's always pretty busy this time of year at the Black Hills Burger & Bun Company. These days, though, it's gone well beyond that.
The recent No. 1 ranking of a specialty burger at the downtown Custer eatery has put some extra sizzle in the summer work schedule. The place has been packed since last week when the travel website TripAdvisor.com released its top 10 burger list. A reporter called with the news.
"And she explained to us that TripAdvisor came out with the top 10 burgers based upon rating and reviews and we were rated number 1," says Christie Smith, who owns the shop with her husband, Claude. "So, complete and utter shock."
The burger that took the Smiths to the top is called the Hot Granny, which adds jalapeno peppers, cream cheese, bacon and a special sauce to a hand-formed ground-beef patty plopped on a fresh-baked bun.
The Hot Granny burger has an unusual mix of ingredients, but they've been pleasing the pallets of burger lovers from across the nation.
Even those who prefer simple additions to their ground beef seem to embrace the Hot Granny Burger, especially now that it's famous.
"Yeah, I always just order a cheeseburger with just ketchup, mustard and pickles, no lettuce or anything," Mark Korb of Olathe, Kansas said. "And I decided since, you know, this was a special deal with the jalapeno and cream cheese I'd give it a shot. So it was crazy good, it really was."
And those hot peppers?
"The Jalapenos didn't bother me at all," Korb said. "It was really worth it. They were thinly sliced and so it was just really good to eat."
That's the idea, according to the Smiths.
"You're going to get the spicy form the jalapenos. The cream cheese is going to cool it down. You've got the salty from the bacon and the sweet from the sauce," Christie said.
After years in the grocery business in Iowa, she and her husband moved to Custer and opened the burger shop almost two years ago. They brought the Hot Granny recipe with them. It is named for Claude's mother, who suggested using a recipe for Jalapeno poppers as the basis for a burger.
"I think that was just a combination of all of us. Oh, we were looking for a spicy burger and wanted something -- sweet and spicy is kind of what people are into right now," Claude said.
The mix and the burger were on the menu right away.
"We were actually working on the sauce the night before we opened. We couldn't quite get it right," he said. "Luckily, we came up with it."
Business has been good from the start, and not just because of the Hot Granny. Local patrons from throughout the hills and visitors are drawn for the variety of toppings and sauces. They were planning an expansion even before the Hot Granny went national.
"We're going to expand just across Mount Rushmore Road there. We're going to double our seating," Claude said.
That won't be until next year sometime. Until then, the crunch is on.
"We're going to try to keep our quality under control. We can't do much more than we're doing right now in this little building," Claude said.
They're hustling to keep up, while marveling at the impact of the surpring national ranking.
"It's been pretty crazy," Christie said. "It's always busy this time of year. But people have really wanted to come. They've heard from all over the nation. People have called and said, 'Hey, I heard about this burger place, in this town that you're visiting. You need to get eat there.'"
The Smiths are already wondering what will happen if that web of communication reaches out to the hundreds of thousands of bikers headed for the Black Hills and the Sturgis rally next month. The Hot Granny could really get cookin' then.