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George Webb's Milwaukee Tradition Continues

Apr. 25, 2017
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This summer, as in every season since Major League Baseball returned to Milwaukee, George Webb predicts the Brewers will win 12 straight games. And if the crew fulfills the prophesy, Webb promises free burgers. The last time the Brewers hit 12 straight, in 1987, Webb kept its pledge. According to corporate records, 170,000 burgers were served in celebration.

Webb became a Milwaukee institution soon after opening its first outlet in 1948, Downtown on the corner of Ogden and Van Buren. Even after McDonald’s began to spread its network across the nation and other heavily capitalized national burger chains invaded Milwaukee, Webb held on and grew while maintaining a pre-war vision of American fast food. Webb is more Edward Hopper Nighthawks than Ronald McDonald or Colonel Sanders.

“Yes, George Webb was an actual person and the founder of the company,” says Ryan Stamm, vice president of George Webb Restaurants. The local chain’s connection to Milwaukee baseball began with the fandom of its founder, who died in 1957 while attending the Milwaukee Braves’ spring training in Florida.

As Milwaukee holds its breath for those 12 straight wins, Webb is still serving hamburgers 24 hours a day, seven days a week in many locations around greater Milwaukee. Webb began as a “hamburger parlor” with counter service only. Later, square footage was added to accommodate booths and tables along with a larger menu complete with breakfast any time of day.

Yet, circa 1948 comfort food continues to dominate the menu. One of the half-dozen burgers, called “The 1948,” is simplicity itself—a beef patty topped with lettuce and tomato and tucked into a bun. A “Wisconsin egg burger” features bacon, an egg and American cheese. Alternatives to the burgers include a fish sandwich, a fish fry every day and a shrimp platter. In an enduring diner touch, slices of pie are available for dessert—if you’re not in the mood for a Sprecher root beer float.

Take-out is an option, including “burgers in a bag” with seven hamburgers or cheeseburgers to go.

According to Stamm, the founder’s wife, Evelyn, developed many of the recipes—an assertion supported by signboards offering “Mrs. Webb’s soup & chili.” Seven soups of the day were available at a recent visit and a quart of soup to go sets the customer back $7. Given all those sevens, numerology seems almost as big as baseball at Webb. And speaking of numbers, what’s with two clocks on the wall of each location? “The truth is only George knows,” Stamm says. Apparently, he took the secret to his grave.

Milwaukee was a city in search of a bargain when Webb opened in 1948 and our reputation for frugality continues. Although prices have risen since the days of the 19-cent burger, the priciest thing on Webb’s current menu is a bag of seven cheeseburgers for $12. “While our menu has changed to offer salads and healthier options, we still stay true to who we are,” Stamm says.

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