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Nick's Hamburger Shop: A Future Full of Legacy

January 5, 2014, 10:10 PM by Brady Mallory

Nick's Hamburger Shop: A Future Full of Legacy
BROOKINGS, SD -

When you find a good burger, you pray it does not change.

"What toppings would you like?" is a phrase you hear all day long at Nick's Hamburger Shop in Brookings, South Dakota.  The slogan, 'Buy 'em by the Bag' is ubiquitous inside the business that features a wrap-around counter, and vintage red bar stools. Since 1929, its signature, a simple but delicious slider, has brought in thousands of fans.

"Usually have four. Maybe a piece of pie, like I did today," one customer said. 

The burger and its recipe has been a staple in the Brookings community for nearly 85 years.

"I remember the 15-cent hamburgers. When we'd come down here as seniors in high school and have lunch," Spencer Hawley said.

Hawley still has lunch at Nick's Hamburger Shop, and he will readily admit it is sometimes more than once a week. He might also ask you not to share that tidbit with his wife.

"I tell her I eat here occasionally, cause I don't know if she's got it on my diet plan," Hawley said, with a chuckle.

Nick's Hamburger Shop has changed hands a few times, but never lost its edge in the Brookings community. Longtime owner Dick Fergen did not need to add any extra sizzle when he bought the place ten years ago. He kept the tradition going, and strengthened the business when he bought it in 2004. He established regular hours, and kept it open all day on Hobo Day. These moves were a big hit with customers. Three years later, he even expanded the shop. 

"He knew everybody and remembered everybody and talked to everybody," Hawley said.

In October of 2013, the man who would always greet you with a smile when you walked in, died after his battle with cancer.

"He was kind of like a dad to me, so it was pretty rough," Christina Wiemer, who has been manager for six years, said.

Afterward, the question became, questions were asked.  "Who would take over?" "What will happen to Nick's?" "Will it be the same?"

Well, not to worry. The two men who have taken over this mom and pop shop are Dick Fergen's sons.

"I was just about seven or eight when I was introduced to this place. Who'd a thought?" Todd Fergen said. "My brother and I knew, eventually, some day, we would probably take over the business, but not quite so soon. Dad was the picture of health until the end, it seemed like."

His brother Troy has experience in the restaurant business, but this is a new way of life for Todd. He actually just moved back to Brookings from Montana about a month ago, and has spent the last few decades in construction. Their goal is to make the transition as seamless as possible. So far, it is working.

"Todd has a lot of his dad's mannerisms. It's kind of eerie some days, in the way he talks and the way he does things. He's a lot like Dick," Wiemer said.

Todd said the comparison is a compliment.

"Dad did a great job and really built quite a machine here. It's really just mostly the people who keep it going. The stories they keep passing on from generation to generation to generation. Out of state friends. It's just a blessing we have the customers we do," Todd said.

Those customers are not leaving any time soon. Looking ahead to the future, you will see all of the same traditions. Though he is gone, you may still catch a glimpse of Dick Fergen, when his son Todd greets you with a smile and remembers your name.

"A rule of thumb around here is no change. We're going to keep it going how dad set it up and we'll work on it from there," Todd said.

That's something you can count on. That and a good burger.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
A misspelling was corrected in this story.

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