Louis' Lunch Landmark building
|Current owner(s)||Lassen family|
|Head chef||Jeff Lassen|
|Street address||263 Crown Street|
|Other information||Credit cards not accepted|
Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, United States, advertises itself as the first restaurant to serve hamburgers and as being the oldest hamburger restaurant still operating in the U.S. Opened as a small lunch wagon in 1895, Louis' Lunch was also 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 little brick building that had once been a tannery. In 1975, the restaurant was moved four blocks down to 263 Crown Street. Hamburgers cooked in the restaurant are made on antique vertical cast iron gas stoves from 1898 and the toast made in an antique toaster from 1928. The hamburgers are a broiled blend of five cuts of steak. Toppings include cheese, tomato or onion, but the restaurant does not offer other condiments. Louis Lassen's restaurant is recognized in the Library of Congress as the origin of the hamburger, but other claimants and detractors exist. The restaurant has been highly rated by Travel Channel's Chowdown Countdown and others, but has been the subject of criticism over condiments.
Louis Lassen was a "blacksmith by trade and preacher by vocation" and immigrated to New Haven from Denmark in 1886. He became a food peddler, selling butter and eggs from a wooden cart. Lassen purchased a home at 45 Elliot Street and stored his cart in a shed in the backyard. In 1895, Lassen began adding lunch items to his cart. According to the 1899 New Haven directory, Lassen was a butter dealer and included his home address.
According to family legend, one day in 1900 a local businessman dashed into the small New Haven lunch wagon and pleaded for a lunch to go. According to the Lassen family, the customer, Gary Widmore, exclaimed "Louie! I'm in a rush, slap a meatpuck between two planks and step on it!". Louis Lassen, the establishment's owner, 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. In 1917, Lassen moved into a square-shaped little brick building that had once been a tannery. Forced to move to make way for development in 1975, Louis' Lunch moved four blocks down, to its present location, 263 Crown Street in New Haven, CT. In the 1970s, Ken Lassen added cheese spread to the hamburger. The fifth generation of Lassens' owns and operates Louis' Lunch today.
The Louis' Lunch menu consists of "The Original Burger," potato salad, potato chips, and homemade pie. The restaurant serves Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, Snapple products, Fiji water, and Foxon Park soda.
Louis' Lunch makes their hamburger sandwiches from ground steak made from a blend of five cuts of beef. The hamburgers are then flame broiled vertically. The hamburgers are prepared with cheese, tomato or onion, then served on two square pieces of toasted white bread.
Louis' Lunch flame broils the hamburgers, the original way, in antique 1898 vertical cast iron gas stoves manufactured by the Bridge and Beach, Co., St. Louis, Missouri. The vertical stoves use locally made hinged steel wire gridirons to hold the hamburgers in place while they cook simultaneously on both sides. A sharp cheese spread is used, as opposed to sliced cheese. The restaurant uses a toaster manufactured in 1928.
The restaurant does not accept credit or debit cards and is traditionally closed during the month of August. In 2014, Louis' Lunch was closed from August 3 to September 1.
Many others claim to be the creator of the hamburger, including Charlie Nagreen, Frank and Charles Menches, Oscar Weber Bilby, and Fletcher Davis. White Castle traces the origin of the hamburger to Hamburg, Germany with its invention by Otto Kuase. 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."
In 2000, Louis' Lunch was officially recognized as the creator of the hamburger after being backed by United States Representative Rosa L. DeLauro. The Library of Congress has officially declared that Louis Lassen sold the first hamburger and steak sandwich in the U.S. in 1900. 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.
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." However, Motz's Hamburger America notes that the hamburger bun did not exist in 1900 nor did so for another 20 years. Ozersky's book also notes earlier claimants and recognizes Walter Anderson[disambiguation needed] for creating the modern hamburger.
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. 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.
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."
The restaurant has been the subject of shows on "the Travel Channel, the Food Network, the History Channel and even Oprah." On Travel Channel's Chowdown Countdown, Louis' Lunch was rated #1. Episode 10 of Burger Land, A Burger is Born, highlights the claim and history of Louis' Lunch. 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. Food and Wine's website named Louis' Lunch as one of the "Best Burgers in the U.S." Roadfood notes that it is an "essential stop on America's burger trail."
Critics of the restaurant hinge on its dislike of condiments, particularly ketchup. 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." 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..." Both Connecticut Museum Quest and American Food Roots note the strong presence for the restaurant's way and Menuism goes so far as to note it the #2 of the "The 5 Least Welcome Places for Ketchup." 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."
According to "America's Story from America's Library," a website from the Library of Congress, the hamburger was first served in 1895. This is not in agreement with the 1900 claimed by the restaurant itself. The wording of the claim is adjusted on the U.S. Library of Congress Folklife Center Local Legacies Project, highlighting Louis' Lunch's founding in 1895.
- History of the hamburger
- History of the hamburger in the United States
- List of hamburger restaurants
- Raichlen, Steven (2003). BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America. Workman Publishing. pp. 336–337. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Caplan, Colin (2013). Legendary Locals of New Haven. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 108–109.
- Price & Lee's New Haven (New Haven County, Conn.) City Directory. Price & Lee Company. 1899. p. 375.
- "Burger at Louis’ Lunch". Connecticut Museum Quest. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Hughes, Holly (2009). Frommer's 500 Places for Food and Wine Lovers. John Wiley & Sons. p. 229.
- New York Magazine May 16, 1977
- Motz, George (2011). Hamburger America: Completely Revised and Updated Edition: A State-by-State Guide to 150 Great Burger Joints. Running Press.
- Jane Stern and 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.
- "Menu - Louis' Lunch". Louis' Lunch. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- "Birthplace of the Burger (Clip from Episode 10 of Burger Land - A Burger is Born)". Travel Channel. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Gilbert, Tom (March 17, 2013). "Having it their way: eating at Louis’ Lunch". American Food Roots. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- "Celebrate National Hamburger Day in CT, where a burger-with-bread began". Shelton Herald. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- 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.
- Nancy Ross Ryan (February 6, 1989). Great American food chronicles: the hamburger. (restaurant marketing). Restaurants & Institutions. Reed Business Information, Inc. (US).
- 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).
- Rogers, Owen. "Louis’ Lunch and the Birth of the Hamburger". Connecticut History.org. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- Louis' Lunch A Local Legacy. Library of Congress. Americaslibrary.gov. Retrieved on April 21, 2013.
- U.S. Library of Congress Folklife Center Local Legacies Project retrieved on April 13, 2009 Louis' Lunch A Local Legacy
- New York Media, LLC (1977). New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. p. 42. ISSN 0028-7369.
- Beach, Randall (February 3, 2008). "Louis' Lunch has beef with book claiming it didn't invent the hamburger". New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- Ozersky, Josh (2008). The Hamburger: A History. Yale University Press. pp. 29–38.
- Yagla, Elizabeth (August 25, 2006). "Burger beef; Louis Lunch defends its claims as home of the hamburger". New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- Yagla, Elizabeth (September 9, 2006). "Despite evidence, Louis Lunch takes 3rd at 'hearing'". New Haven Register (New Haven, CT). Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- Berman, John and Millhon, Drew (February 20, 2007). "A Major Beef! Who Invented the Hamburger?". ABC News. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- Wolf, Sarah (April 4, 2008). "A century later, Louis’ Lunch still lives up to the hype". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- "101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown". Travel Channel. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Ratha Tep and Lawrence Marcus. "Best Burgers in the U.S.". Food and Wine. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Kohatsu, Kim (October 28, 2013). "The 5 Least Welcome Places for Ketchup". Menuism. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Gunnison, Elizabeth. "The Hamburger at Louis Lunch". Esquire. Retrieved 29 May 2014.