Legend Has It…
Did you know the inventors of the hamburger hail from right here in Akron, Ohio? Or, should we call it the “hamburg?”
That said, there’s a lot more to this story.
It all started in 1885 with two brothers from Akron named Frank and Charles Menches. They were vendors at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York – a rather prestigious fair in which the festivalgoers donned white gloves, lace parasols and formal suits
The festival – one of the largest of its kind – was held in Hamburg, an incredibly important and prosperous city at the time because it connected commercial shipping to the western frontier land.
According to John Menches, CEO of Menches Brothers restaurants in the Akron area and a third generation descendant of Charles Menches, it was important at these high-class festivities that the rich only indulged in sausage, widely considered the “king” of meats. At the time, beef was considered taboo and reserved only for the underclass.
Unfortunately, it was during the festival when things took a turn for the Menches brothers’ sausage sandwiches.
“It was my great grandfather who ran out of sausage. So, he went to the local butcher store in Hamburg to get more sausage. But, they didn’t have any more and they couldn’t slaughter any more because it was too hot on that August day,” said John.
As the story goes, Charles was forced to buy ground beef knowing very well that few would buy it if they knew what it was.
So, he took it back to his booth, rolled the ground beef into a patty, plopped it onto a hot-iron skillet and cooked it on an radiating cast-iron stove.
The result? Something that resembled a hockey puck.
“So, he found the old coffee pot and decided to start mixing together some items like coffee, brown sugar and other household ingredients with another patty of ground beef. Then, he took that patty and put it down on the black-iron skillet. It started cooking real nice,” John tells. “All of the sudden, a gentleman approached the booth and said, ‘Hey I’d like to try one of those because it’s smelling pretty good.’”
The brothers placed the patty between two pieces of bread and served it to the gentleman who took one bite and said, “This is good!! What do you call it?”
Frank looked up at the festival’s banner and replied, “It’s called a ‘hamburg.’”
Menches Brother’s Restaurant
After the passing of his mother in 1989, John and his siblings were going through some of her trinkets and keepsakes that she’d kept over the years. As it turned out, she had several items from her grandmother who also had some things saved from her mother-in-law, the wife of Charles Menches.
One important item: A recipe for the original “hamburg.”
“We thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ Inside the recipe was the coffee and brown sugar,” said John. “So we tested it out. And, truly it was a remarkable sandwich.”
Thanks to that recipe, the Menches family has operated two Akron-area burger restaurants the last 20+ years.
“We still use the same recipe in our restaurants every day.”
It’s no secret that the history of this iconic food has been hotly contested over the years. Several cities claim its origins.
So, during its second year, National Hamburger Festival organizers held “The Hamburger Hearings” to a find out who really invented the hamburger. Four cities were each given the opportunity to state their case in front of a real judge and four jury members who comprised the “Burger Commission.” After all the arguments, the jury could not come to a decision. And, therefore, the judge decided to have a two-week online vote.
The winner – unfortunately for Akron – was Seymour, Wisconsin.
Yet still, the National Hamburger Festival carries on in Akron – where everyone knows the real story.
More than 125 years later, the city of Akron salutes this all-American sandwich during the National Hamburger Festival. Each year, 20,000+ people converge onto the Northeast Ohio community for a summer weekend of family fun featuring over 20 area eateries serving-up 50 different styles of hamburgers.
For more than a decade, The National Hamburger Festival has been made possible by the City of Akron’s leadership, as well as the residents of Ohio.
The festival is the brainchild of Drew Cerza President/CEO of Just Wing It Productions located in New York. As founder of the National Buffalo Wing Festival and the Road to Buffalo Tour, Cerza has a history of managing successful events across the country.
TV, radio and print media are big fans of the festival as they feature stories about the festival throughout the week and the weekend. The National Hamburger Festival has been featured on the Food Network’s hit show “Unwrapped” and in PARADE Magazine’s “Eat Your Way Across America” as one of the top 50 festivals in the country.
The National Hamburger Fest is held at Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron. Each year, the festival raises money for one of Akron’s favorite charities, Akron Children’s Hospital.