Third in a series about the faces behind beloved eateries,
Scent searchers easily decipher the unmistakable smells infiltrating their nostrils.
They inhale deeply. Then, like bloodhounds, they are off. Except, they aren’t looking for the missing, chasing criminals or others on the lam. No, the folks in question are taking their tails to Burky’s Grill to consume fast and fun American favorites.
Owned by Wayne Burkart, Burky’s Grill is a Myrtle Beach diner with a nostalgic 1950s décor showcasing burgers, french fries, hot dogs, bologna sandwiches, three-way chili, other quick comfort foods and soft-serve ice cream.
“I keep it simple,” said Burkart, 67. “I know how to flip burgers, and I know how to drop fries.”
What he knew, he taught his crew after spending his professional life learning about food from the bottom up. His diligent efforts have reaped him the benefits of a loyal customer base and a spunky, dedicated staff.
“I’ve been coming here for about 10 years,” said Jo Greene, a 65-year-old Loris resident who recently had lunch with her 12-year-old grandson, Dillon Smith. “The food is good and so are the prices. I really enjoy the cheeseburgers and the three-way chili.”
Mouths easily say “I do” to the eats at Burky’s Grill because the tastes and textures are on target.
The pure beef burgers are thin, juicy, and have lacy edges on the outermost parts. French fries are crispy, never oily, and perfectly salted. The Sabrett hot dogs are grilled and never boiled. The three-way chili is a naughty excursion into a cheesy, slightly greasy bowl of spaghetti draped in Cincinnati-style chili and cheddar cheese. The joint’s iced tea is sitting-on-the-screened-front-porch-during-the-summer delightful.
Six bucks will hook up the typical hungry eater with a sandwich, fries, and a soft drink.
Dieters should stay away, but they don’t. Automobile aficionados won’t stay away because they can eat and enjoy the Carolina Dream Cruisers’ car show held during the summer from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. each Friday.
Burkart makes it difficult for people not to give into his flavors whether they are parked or can’t keep still. It is a knack he began perfecting at 23.
The Baltimore native entered the grub game when he opened a tiny pizza place next to a roller rink in Virginia Beach.
“That is what got me started into wanting to learn more about the food business,” said Burkart, who launched the venture with his brother-in-law. “It was on the job training. It is not the way you are really supposed to learn. We were making up things as we went along.”
Their haphazard system worked. Ultimately, they owned and operated two pizza joints, a seafood eatery, and an Italian restaurant. In the end, the duo sold everything. Burkart moved to Atlanta. His brother-in-law took his family and headed to Kansas City, Kansas.
Burkart, however, wasn’t done.
“I decided that if I was going to stay in the food business then I needed to be trained in proper techniques,” he said. “So, I took a job as manager trainee with Wendy’s in 1975.”
The fast-track program he participated in promised him a gig running a Wendy’s location once he successfully completed it.
“I became a general manager within three months, and within about six months I had moved to Columbus, Ohio,’’ Burkart said.
The move caused him to meet the man behind the company – Dave Thomas.
He was the founder and CEO of Wendy’s who starred in more than 800 of the company’s commercials. His series of commercials is the longest in advertising history featuring the CEO of a company, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. He passed on Jan. 8, 2002.
“His office was right there,” Burkart said. “We saw him everyday. We could walk in his office and smoke a cigar with him, if we wanted. That is when I learned the basics of this business: Keep it simple, take care of your people and reduce turnover. I learned quality, cleanliness, and service should be at its peak all the time.”
Through his hang time and chats with Thomas and extensive training, Burkart gained the know-how he needed to be successful in the fast food industry.
Burkart moved into the franchise department and became a regional franchise supervisor with five states under his belt – Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi. He would eventually become the owner and operator of the now-defunct G.D. Ritzy’s six-franchise locations in coastal South Carolina, which is how he came to the area in the early 1980s.
“Dave would touch base with you everyday. He was totally involved,” Burkart said. “He was a simple man. He kept everything on an employee level. The franchise owners wanted to meet Dave and take him out to dinner. That wasn’t him. He wanted to go into the stores, meet the grill people, see how the mop bucket was getting set up, watch people serve product. He was a basic guy, a down-to-earth, good man.”
Burkart’s employees at Burky’s Grill describe him in a similar fashion.
“He is a good boss man. He is fair,” said Harriet Small, a 47-year-old Conway resident, who has been an employee for more than 20 years. “If you are in a bind, he will help you out.”
She does food prepping, including putting on the chili. Plus, she dresses the hotdogs and hamburgers with swiftness and precision only matched by robots.
Small is also among the employees who remembers when Burky’s Grill, which opened in 2003, was formerly G.D. Ritzy’s, which is the burger business that operated in the present location from 1983 to 2000. In short, Burkart owned the Ritzy’s location until he decided to sell it and retire in 2000.
“It was a big mistake,” Burkart said. “I wasn’t good at retiring.”
Noses somewhere are sniffing sighs of relief.
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.