Watercolor by Marilynne Bradley

Hamburger Heaven

Hamburger Heaven was located in a misshapen little building at 7001 Olive Boulevard in University City, at the corner of Olive and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the creation of Aaron (Ernie) Shriber and his wife Ida. The structure was built in 1949 and the business was registered with the State of Missouri as "Ernie's Hamburger Heaven" on June 1, 1951 there was already a "Hamburger Heaven" registered on the East Coast.

Hamburger Heaven, 7001 Olive Boulevard

The cramped space housed an ordinary counter with a handful of ordinary barstools. One could place an order and wait, while burgers were flipped on an ordinary griddle. The burgers may have on occasion been served with ordinary ketchup or ordinary mustard. But what made Hamburger Heaven iconic was its extraordinary sauce.

Most everything at Hamburger Heaven was served with its special tangy-sweet barbecue sauce – double sauce and triple sauce. The burgers were drenched in it, their soggy buns adherent to the beef patties. The fries were thick and stubby not the thin fries served at Steak ‘n Shake or McDonald’s. They came out swimming in sauce, in a rectangular white cardboard trough, and could be eaten with sticky fingers or a white plastic fork that came with each order.

From day one, customers tried to charm the secret of Hamburger Heaven's sauce out of its employees. In a 1985 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Mary Lee Guillory of Overland seemed to let the cat out of the bag.

"At one time, there were two Hamburger Heavens, in University City and Overland. The employees there were constantly being asked how the sauce was made, but it was our 'secret.' I worked there for years and mixed many gallons of it. Since the 'Heavens' no longer exist, I feel safe giving out the secret.

"It was simply Brook's barbecue sauce mixed with simple syrup (sugar mixed with warm water).

"We must settle this matter once and for all!"

However, Marilyn Comensky, the Shribers' daughter, contacted the Post-Dispatch and told them Ms. Guillory's formula wasn't quite right. But she was unwilling to share the secret recipe "because she might produce the sauce commercially someday."

Hamburger Heaven was initially a drive-in, with carhops. The Shribers daughter, Linda Shriber Collins, remembers working there with her siblings.

"My sister Marilyn, brother Larry and I worked there while in high school. Several young car hops also worked there as one of their first jobs. They went on to become a surgeon, a CEO with Chrysler and United Airlines, an editor with a national magazine, etc. My dad offered free soft drinks to all the police who pulled in, and employed two of them as part time managers. The police always watched over the property; smart marketing!"

The Shribers actually opened three Hamburger Heavens. In 1957, they purchased the "Moo Shop" at 10854 Manchester Road in Kirkwood, just east of Clay Avenue, from the National Dairy Association. They reopened it as their second Hamburger Heaven location, complete with curb service. This location was closed by the Shribers due to illness, and in May of 1961, the property and its contents were sold at public auction by the Internal Revenue Service for nonpayment of taxes by the original owner.

Hamburger Heaven - Manchester Road and Clay Avenue, Kirkwood
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 23, 1957

Some time after 1957, the Shribers opened their third Hamburger Heaven at 1919 Woodson Road in Overland, just north of Page. A present-day foodie remembers the drudgery of taking inventory at his father's furniture store in Overland when he was a teen. His reward was lunch from that Hamburger Heaven – two burgers with double sauce and two orders of fries with double sauce. Woofies now serves hotdogs at the same location.

Woofies - 1919 Woodson Road, Overland

The Shribers closed Hamburger Heaven in 1973; Aaron (Ernie) Shriber died in May of 1974. His wife Ida remarried and lived until 2012.

In 1985, "Hamburger Heaven" was opened at Chesterfield Mall. However, according to the Shribers' daughter, Linda Shriber Collins, this Hamburger Heaven was never sanctioned by her mother. Burgers and fries with sauce were served there until the restaurant closed in 1995, but for those who grew up in University City, the burgers and fries didn't taste the same.

Hamburger Heaven - Chesterfield Mall

The funny little building at Olive and Pennsylvania in University City has outlived multiple businesses and multiple owners. The property has been on the market many times, the asking price in 2000 was $60,000. Perhaps one day someone will buy it and once again sell burgers and fries drenched in tangy-sweet barbecue sauce. It currently houses Chic Equipment, a women's clothing store.

Chic Equipment - 7001 Olive Boulevard, University City

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