Louis' Lunch

Coordinates: 41°18′23″N 72°55′49″W / 41.3064°N 72.9303°W / 41.3064; -72.9303
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41°18′23″N 72°55′49″W / 41.3064°N 72.9303°W / 41.3064; -72.9303

Louis' Lunch
Restaurant information
Established1895; 129 years ago (1895)
Owner(s)Lassen family
Head chefJeff Lassen[1][2]
Food typeHamburgers
Dress codeCasual
Street address263 Crown Street
CityNew Haven
Postal/ZIP Code06511
CountryUnited States
Seating capacity30
ReservationsNot taken

Louis' Lunch is a fast food hamburger restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, which claims to be the first fast food restaurant to serve hamburgers and the oldest continuously operated hamburger restaurant in the United States. It was opened as a small lunch wagon in 1895 and was one of the first places in the U.S. to serve steak sandwiches. According to Louis' Lunch, the hamburger was created in 1900 in response to a customer's hurried request for a lunch to go. In 1917, Louis moved the business into a square-shaped brick building that had once been a tannery.[2]

In 1975, the restaurant was moved four blocks down to 263 Crown Street. Hamburgers cooked in the restaurant are made on the original cast iron vertical gas broilers from 1898, and the toast is made in a 1929 Savory Appliance Radiant Gas Toaster. The building is a New Haven landmark.


Louis Lassen's lunch wagon, circa 1907–1916

Louis Lassen was born as Ludvig Lassen on July 30, 1865, in Ballum parish, part of a region in the Kingdom of Denmark. He and his Ohio-born wife Sophia Kurtz (1862–1941) were married in Manhattan on May 25, 1889. The couple had one daughter and four sons between 1891 and 1903. Lassen died on March 20, 1935, in New Haven. He and his wife are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven.

Lassen was a "blacksmith by trade and preacher by vocation" and immigrated to New Haven from Denmark in 1881.[3][4] He became a food peddler, selling butter and eggs from a wooden cart. He purchased a home at 45 Elliot Street and stored his cart in a shed in the backyard. In 1895, he began adding lunch items to his cart.[4][5]

A local businessman dashed into the small New Haven lunch wagon one day in 1900 and asked for a lunch to go. According to the Lassen family, the customer exclaimed "Louie! I'm in a rush, slap a meatpuck between two planks and step on it!".[3][4] Lassen placed his own blend of ground steak trimmings between two slices of toast and sent the gentleman on his way, so the story goes, with America's alleged first hamburger being served.[6]

In 1917, Lassen moved into a square brick building that had once been a tannery.[7] Louis' Lunch was forced to move to make way for development in 1975, so it moved two blocks down to 263 Crown Street in New Haven.[8][9] In the 1950s, Ken Lassen added cheese spread to the hamburger.[9] The fourth generation of Lassens owns and operates Louis' Lunch today.[10]


The Louis' Lunch menu consists of "The Burger,"[11] potato salad, potato chips, and homemade pie.[12] Louis' Lunch makes their hamburger sandwiches from ground steak made from a blend of five cuts of beef.[3] The hamburgers are then flame broiled vertically. The hamburgers are prepared with cheese, tomato or onion,[3] then served on two square pieces of toasted white bread.[3][13]

Louis' Lunch flame broils the hamburgers in the original cast iron vertical gas broilers[14] manufactured by the Bridge and Beach, Co., St. Louis, Missouri, in 1898.[15][16][17] The stoves[18] use hinged steel wire gridirons[19] to hold the hamburgers in place while they cook simultaneously on both sides. The gridirons were made by Luigi Pieragostini and patented in 1938.[20][21][22] A sharp cheese spread is used, as opposed to sliced cheese.[23] The restaurant uses a 1929 Savory Radiant Gas Toaster.[24]

The restaurant is traditionally closed during the month of August (for vacation). In 2014, Louis' Lunch was closed from August 3 to September 1.[25]

Hamburger claims[edit]

Cheeseburger (with onions and tomatoes) served at Louis' Lunch

Many others claim to be the creator of the hamburger, including Charlie Nagreen,[26] brothers Frank and Charles Menches, Oscar Weber Bilby, and Fletcher Davis.[27][28] White Castle traces the origin of the hamburger to Hamburg, Germany, with its invention by Otto Kuase.[29] However, it gained national recognition at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair when the New-York Tribune namelessly attributed the hamburger as "the innovation of a food vendor on the pike."[28]

In 2000, the Library of Congress recognized Louis' Lunch as the creator of the hamburger after being backed by United States Representative Rosa L. DeLauro.[30] The Library of Congress stated that Louis Lassen sold the first hamburger and steak sandwich in the U.S. in 1900.[31][32] New York magazine states, "The dish actually had no name until some rowdy sailors from Hamburg named the meat on a bun after themselves years later," noting also that this claim is subject to dispute.[33]

Detractors of the Louis' Lunch claim include Josh Ozersky, a food editor for New York magazine. In Ozersky's book, The Hamburger: A History, Ozersky denies the claim based on the definition of a hamburger and told the New Haven Register, "If you say it can be on toast, you're essentially redefining the hamburger out of existence. The hamburger as the world knows it means a sandwich of ground beef on a bun."[34] However, Motz's Hamburger America notes that the hamburger bun did not exist in 1900 nor did so for another 20 years.[9] Ozersky's book also notes earlier claimants and recognizes Walter Anderson for creating the modern hamburger.[35]

In 2006, a "mock trial" was held by the Hamburger Festival in Akron, Ohio. Louis' Lunch was noted to have taken the event seriously, in contrast to other representatives of other hamburger creator claimants.[36] Renny Loisel, public relations director of the Greater New Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau, submitted an affidavit and letter from the New Haven Preservation Trust and noted that the Library of Congress recognizes Louis' Lunch for creating the first hamburger, but the evidence was denied. According to an internet poll, Louis' Lunch placed third and Loisel noted that despite the evidence it was more about theatrics than truth.[37]

An article from ABC News sums up the problems of identifying the origins of the hamburger by stating, "One problem is that there is little written history. Another issue is that the spread of the burger happened largely at the World's Fair, from tiny vendors that came and went in an instant. And it is entirely possible that more than one person came up with the idea at the same time in different parts of the country."[38]


The restaurant has been the subject of shows on "the Travel Channel, the Food Network, the History Channel and even Oprah."[39] On Travel Channel's Chowdown Countdown, Louis' Lunch was rated #1.[40] Episode 10 of Burger Land, A Burger is Born, highlights the claim and history of Louis' Lunch.[23] According to Raichlen's book, BBQ USA, patrons of Louis' Lunch include United States presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, Charles Lindbergh, and Artie Shaw.[3] Food & Wine's website named Louis' Lunch as one of the "Best Burgers in the U.S."[41] Roadfood notes that it is an "essential stop on America's burger trail."[10]

Critics of the restaurant hinge on its dislike of condiments, particularly ketchup; customers who ask for it are ejected from the premises. In episode 10 of Burger Land, the "no ketchup" sign is visible hanging in the restaurant and an informative caption pops up to read "Yale students who try to sneak in ketchup are asked to leave."[23] According to "American Food Roots," signage and an exchange of stories confirms the policy. Tom Gilbert wrote, "Louis’ Lunch is a very friendly place as long as you get with the program, which always has been about serving quality beef and making sure that nothing ruins or upstages it. As Jeff [Lassen] will tell you, that means no puffy, sweet bun, no well-done meat and no ketchup..."[24] Both Connecticut Museum Quest and American Food Roots note the strong presence for the restaurant's way and Museum goes so far as to note it the #2 of "the 5 Least Welcome Places for Ketchup."[6][24][42] Even Esquire affirms, "You can get your hamburger sandwich topped with onions, tomato, and a squirt of Cheez-Wiz. Just don't ask for anything else."[43] On the wall a sign reads "this is not Burger King you can't "have it your way." You get it my way or you can't have it."[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ You've Got (1 March 2013). "The Original Hamburger: Jeff Lassen". AOL. Archived from the original on 2021-12-19. Retrieved 14 April 2018 – via YouTube.
  2. ^ a b Aldimar Video Productions (6 February 2007). "Hamburger Wars". Archived from the original on 2021-12-19. Retrieved 14 April 2018 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Raichlen, Steven (2003). BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America. Workman Publishing. pp. 336–337. ISBN 9780761120155. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Caplan, Colin (2013). Legendary Locals of New Haven. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 108–109. ISBN 9781467100960.
  5. ^ Price & Lee's New Haven (New Haven County, Conn.) City Directory. Price & Lee Company. 1899. p. 375.
  6. ^ a b "Burger at Louis' Lunch". Connecticut Museum Quest. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  7. ^ Hughes, Holly (2009). Frommer's 500 Places for Food and Wine Lovers. John Wiley & Sons. p. 229. ISBN 9780470480649.
  8. ^ LLC, New York Media (16 May 1977). "New York Magazine". New York Media, LLC. Retrieved 14 April 2018 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b c Motz, George (2011). Hamburger America: Completely Revised and Updated Edition: A State-by-State Guide to 150 Great Burger Joints. Running Press. ISBN 9780762442348.
  10. ^ a b Jane Stern & Michael Stern (2011). Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 800 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More. Random House LLC. p. 14. ISBN 9780307591258.
  11. ^ "The Burger: Louis' Lunch Burger Copycat Recipe". johanjohansen.dk. 16 February 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Menu - Louis' Lunch". Louis' Lunch. Archived from the original on 29 May 2014. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  13. ^ "Conveyor Archives - Star Manufacturing". Star Manufacturing. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  14. ^ DeJesus, Erin (15 April 2015). "Inside Louis' Lunch, the 120-Year-Old Birthplace of the Hamburger". eater.com. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  15. ^ "TOPONAUTIC Outdoor News-Events-Recipes: Identifying BRIDGE BEACH & CO Cast Iron". toponautic.blogspot.com. 1 January 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  16. ^ Harris, Howell (29 January 2015). "A Stove Less Ordinary: Hudson Erastus Bridge, the First Stove Founder in the Trans-Mississippi West". stovehistory.blogspot.com. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  17. ^ "I have a Bridge Beach Co. St. Louis stove. I would like to…". justanswer.com. 24 February 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Hamburger America". 29 August 2004. Archived from the original on 29 August 2004. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  19. ^ Zincavage, David. "Never Yet Melted » Invention of the Hamburger in Contention". neveryetmelted.com. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  20. ^ "Burger Recipes".
  21. ^ Eats, Serious. "A Visit to Louis' Lunch, Home of the Hamburger". aht.seriouseats.com. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  22. ^ "U.S. Patent #2,148,879". Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  23. ^ a b c "Birthplace of the Burger (Clip from Episode 10 of Burger Land - A Burger is Born)". Travel Channel. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  24. ^ a b c Gilbert, Tom (March 17, 2013). "Having it their way: eating at Louis' Lunch". American Food Roots. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  25. ^ "Celebrate National Hamburger Day in CT, where a burger-with-bread began". Shelton Herald. 29 May 2014. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  26. ^ "Long Lunch - Daily Nutmeg". dailynutmeg.com. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  27. ^ Sam Gazdziak (August 1, 2006). "Giving the BURGER its due: the hamburger's origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery, but there is no doubt as to its impact on American dining habits and culture.(Editorial)." The National Provisioner. BNP Media.
  28. ^ a b Nancy Ross Ryan (February 6, 1989). Great American food chronicles: the hamburger. (restaurant marketing). Restaurants & Institutions. Reed Business Information, Inc. (US).
  29. ^ Lance Gay Scripps (April 2, 2004). Birth of an icon: Hamburger's origins unclear, but it became popular 100 years ago. Deseret News (Salt Lake City).
  30. ^ Rogers, Owen. "Louis' Lunch and the Birth of the Hamburger". Connecticut History.org. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  31. ^ Louis' Lunch A Local Legacy. Library of Congress. Americaslibrary.gov. Retrieved on April 21, 2013.
  32. ^ U.S. Library of Congress Folklife Center Local Legacies Project retrieved on April 13, 2009 Louis' Lunch A Local Legacy
  33. ^ New York Media, LLC (1977). "New York Magazine". Newyorkmetro.com. New York Media, LLC: 42. ISSN 0028-7369.
  34. ^ Beach, Randall (February 3, 2008). "Louis' Lunch has beef with book claiming it didn't invent the hamburger". New Haven Register (New Haven, CT). Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2014 – via HighBeam Research.
  35. ^ Ozersky, Josh (2008). The Hamburger: A History. Yale University Press. pp. 29–38. ISBN 9780300154023.
  36. ^ Yagla, Elizabeth (August 25, 2006). "Burger beef; Louis Lunch defends its claims as home of the hamburger". New Haven Register (New Haven, CT). Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2014 – via HighBeam Research.
  37. ^ Yagla, Elizabeth (September 9, 2006). "Despite evidence, Louis Lunch takes 3rd at 'hearing'". New Haven Register (New Haven, CT). Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  38. ^ Berman, John & Millhon, Drew (February 20, 2007). "A Major Beef! Who Invented the Hamburger?". ABC News. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  39. ^ Wolf, Sarah (April 4, 2008). "A century later, Louis' Lunch still lives up to the hype". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  40. ^ "101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown". Travel Channel. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  41. ^ Ratha Tep & Lawrence Marcus. "Best Burgers in the U.S." Food and Wine. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  42. ^ Kohatsu, Kim (October 28, 2013). "The 5 Least Welcome Places for Ketchup". Menuism. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  43. ^ Gunnison, Elizabeth (8 August 2012). "The Hamburger at Louis Lunch". Esquire. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  44. ^ Wright, Chris (2015-07-03). "Visiting Louis' Lunch, Birthplace of the Burger (Or Not)". Gear Patrol. Retrieved 2022-05-04.

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