One bite into their juicy burgers is a journey through time for your taste buds and mind, triggering memories of old-fashioned burger places.
Wally’s Burgers continues satisfying burger-craving fixes since 1959
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Burger places from the 1950s and 1960s are relics from a bygone era. Today, there are several fast-food chains available to satisfy your burger fix cravings: McDonald’s, Burger King, A&W, Dairy Queen, Fatburger and Five Guys.
However, there is something nostalgic and appealing about an old-fashioned small burger eatery where you can sit and inhale the wondrous odours of hot onions and beef patties cooking on the grill. Notably, one burger place that traces its roots back to the late 1950s, Wally’s Burgers, continues serving customers tasty, delicious burgers hot off the grill; and made with fresh local ingredients.
The original location opened at 2703 Kingsway in Vancouver by an Austrian immigrant named Wally Stritzel. He had taken over another burger place called Harvey’s. Several articles over the years about the famous burger eatery have written that it opened in 1962, but according to the current owner, Gord Bemister, the restaurant opened in 1959.
Eating at Wally’s Burgers is an ethereal experience. One bite into their juicy burgers is a journey through time for your taste buds and mind, triggering memories of old-fashioned burger places. And the taste of their delicious burgers is euphoric bliss for your senses—especially your tastebuds. Wally’s Burgers was also famous for its prominent neon sign that drivers and pedestrians could see heading east or west on Kingsway. Interestingly, a BC Lions home program from September 1966 showed Wally’s Burgers and Panasonic as co-sponsors of a CFL radio segment that aired on CKWX 1130. Wally’s Burgers would be the site for numerous car rallies. It was even featured in an episode of the Fox television series, 21 Jump Street, in the late 1980s. adding to the legend further, the restaurant even survived a fire in November 1995.
According to a Vancouver Sun article in March 2008, Stritzel sold the business in the 1970s; the restaurant then changed hands numerous times during the 1980s and 1990s. Stritzel sadly had health issues including diabetes and passed away in December 1996 at age 62. Stritzel’s brother, Hermann, stated large burger chains entering the Vancouver market like McDonald’s were one reason his sibling sold it. “He sold out as soon as McDonald’s started building up,” he told the Vancouver Sun. “They built a McDonald’s at Kingsway and Victoria, he had a hunch [it would hurt business]. So he sold it.”
But Hermann remembers how popular Wally’s Burgers was in its heyday. “It used to be the best in town,” he said. “Because everything was fresh, nothing was frozen. If he didn’t like the way the hamburger patties looked he’d send it back. The fries, the same way. He advertised his stuff as quality food, that’s why he built up his business [really] good. It was a gold mine at one time. Friday, Saturday night, that place was so damn packed.”
In March 2008, the Kingsway location closed to make way for condominiums. Several Vancouver news outlets did stories about the closure, showing customers lining up to order one last time from the iconic burger outlet. A piece of Vancouver’s past and cultural history was gone. Or so it seemed. A year later, Wally’s Burgers would be resurrected with new owner Gord Bemister. He reopened at Cates Park in North Vancouver (4131 Dollarton Highway). The location operates seasonally between May and September. Then in February 2010, Bemister opened his second location in Vancouver at Killarney Plaza (2661 East 49th Avenue).
Bemister said he is familiar with Wally’s Burgers being a significant Vancouver institution for decades. “I lived on Price Street in the [1960s] and my parents would bring our family to Wally’s,” he said in an email interview with the Other Press. “Of course things were different back then as we didn’t get to go to a restaurant very often. I continued the tradition with my own kids.” Bemister believes it is important to carry on the tradition that Wally Stritzel created. “We’ve always tried to remain true to the original Wally’s including the famous wagon bun, the sauce and having the original burgers on the menu,” he said. “Our legacy is that we are family-owned and operated, we work closely with other family businesses such as our butcher and baker and we cook everything to order.”
Bemister said when the pandemic arrived in March 2020, it posed many challenges. He had to close his business for two months when provincial restrictions were imposed banning indoor dining. But two years after the pandemic started, Wally’s Burgers is open for business as usual via takeout and limited in-person dining. “We still do regular take out directly, but we also give customers the option to order for delivery and pick up through the [DoorDash] app,” he said. “We are also going to be offering delivery and pick up from [Skip the Dishes] as well. It would have started already but due to the [truckers’] situation it’s delayed.”
Bemister is grateful to his loyal customers who continue to patronize his establishment: “We are truly appreciative of all the support we received through [COVID-19]. The past [two] years was hard on everyone, not just restaurants and having loyal customers really makes the challenges worth the effort.”
Lastly, Bemister is used to operating Wally’s Burgers with his family working hard alongside him. But if the “buns” were “turned” and Bemister was not wearing an apron with his hands holding a burger flipper, what would he order if he were a customer at his own restaurant? “My go-to [order] would be the deluxe wagon with cheese, a side of hand-cut [Kennebec] fries and either a chocolate malt shake or a beer,” he said. “I choose the deluxe wagon because Wally’s is the only place [where] you can get a wagon bun.” And that tradition and uniqueness alone is one reason Wally’s Burgers continues to be popular with burger lovers young and old.