Friday, November 14, 2008

Giant Loss for Austin

James Stanish died in his sleep Sunday Evening. If there was any justice in the world he would have died at his grill ,flipping one of the million or so hamburger patties he must have flipped in his life at Top Notch Burgers. As it is, the little family drive in has been left reeling, not knowing whether it can reopen. As his mother, the cashier there for as long as the place has been open said, “he was the backbone”. He takes to his grave with him the Top Notch secret sauce recipe. I suppose that that can be reverse engineered if they have any of it in the refrigerator, but they can’t replace James.


My family and II have been eating at Top Notch for almost three decades, and it has been open a lot longer than that. James was almost always behind the grill though and I did not have much interaction with him. The longest conversation I ever had with him was when he caught me removing trash from my table after I finished. “Hey” he said, “What are you doing ? This isn’t McDonalds, we have bush boys.” Forty years ago, James had been one of those bus boys at .50 an hour. He naturally evolved to running the place and as far as family operations go, this one was truly a family operation. Long, back breaking days for the Stanish family which probably resulted in an early death for James at 52. He also ate a double patty “Longhorn Special” everyday according to the paper, so while he enjoyed lunch, it probably was not that good for him. I can’t convey what it would mean to this town were Top Notch to close.


The hamburger is to America what the taco is to Mexico, the sausage is to Germany and Poland and the potato was to Ireland. It is our national food, it ties us together as a common people. It is the one item of food we would miss the most were we spirited off by an alien spaceship. The closing of top Notch would be yet another sign that the day of the hamburger place is over. Totally replaced by the shiny McDonalds, Burger King, Jack in the Box and a dozen other fast food places. The distinction between going to get a hamburger and stepping out for fast food, already blurred will soon be broken. No child having eaten all of his hamburgers at a fast food place has any idea what the world was like when you went to Johnny’s or the Chuck Wagon or Prince’s Drive In to get a burger. It was not served fast, you did not get a toy, but the meal was worth it. Those days are drawing to a close and it is said. In a year where the Federal Government has earmarked 700 billion dollars to save a bunch of folks who, truth be told, probably don’t deserve to be saved, couldn’t we save just a little for our country’s remaining hamburger stands ?If they close, I am going to miss James’s burgers, his broasted chicken and his home made fried pies. I am going to miss his bus boys on the inside, and pulling up to the place and ordering outside, having the little tray brought to my car. I am going to miss his ketchup pump machine which means  that I do not have to tear open three or four of those little ketchup packages with my teeth. But most of all I will miss the Standish family, working together as a unit, serving a wonderful product and charging a reasonable price. Thank you James, I’m sorry that I never said that to you before.


Blogger Jannie said...

I've probably driven by Top Notch burgers 2500 times, never been in. Was my loss to never have met James.

As usual, thought-provoking an dvery well-written piece.

Shouldn't you be submitting these to The Statesman?

1:24 PM  
Blogger jhmbthames said...

Another family-owned Austin business biting the dust? This is just too sad. When my kids were little, Top-Notch was a regular stop on Saturdays, especially in the winter. I hope the family finds a way to get the business going.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

They are not going to close :(. I have not eaten my last apple-fried pie.

3:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home