Nestled in the heart of Paxton is a 50-plus-year-old tradition — Just Hamburgers. Since 1971, this unassuming eatery has been flipping burgers for locals and travelers alike and has maintained its status as a favorite for generations of area residents.
“Smash burgers and fries, that’s what it is,” says Jon Frichtl, the restaurant’s manager, describing the establishment. “This has been an institution around here, but even people come in who have never been here before and always enjoy it.”
Ironically, before opening as a hamburger joint, it was a meat locker. “My Dad [who grew up in Paxton] remembers his family having a meat locker here when he was a kid,” says Frichtl, whose family farm is located on Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative (EIEC) lines. “There was a little cooler locker, and they would store their meat in it.”
Skip Parcel, the original owner, is featured on the logo. His classic recipes are still used today, though the restaurant has changed hands a few times. “That was probably the hardest, making sure everything tasted the same,” Frichtl explains. “If it didn’t taste the same, the people who have been eating here their entire lives let you know about it.”
Parcel’s original slogan was, “Simple ingredients prepared with unusual skill.” According to Frichtl, part of that unusual skill includes cutting and grinding all their own meat. He jokes that since prepackaged foods weren’t readily available in the 1970s, they weren’t going to buck tradition and start buying it now. He says the locally sourced, high-quality beef is what gives the burgers that special flavor that keeps customers coming back.
“We just want to do it the way they [the previous owners] always did it … the food should always be the same,” Frichtl says.
As the restaurant name suggests, burgers are the No. 1 item on the menu. “The double cheeseburger with everything is the [most] ordered item,” says Frichtl. However, patrons have other choices, including roast beef, turkey and hot ham sandwiches, hot dogs, chili, fries, coleslaw, baked beans and potato salad.
Just Hamburgers also has a variety of sauces and toppings, like barbecue sauce, chili and barbecue pork, giving customers the option to mix up their burger order. Drink options include Pepsi products, tea, lemonade and milkshakes — vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Seasonal flavors are also served, such as mint, peach, orange, banana, blueberry and eggnog.
Daily specials feature breaded tenderloin, shrimp, steak sandwiches and chicken sandwiches, and there is always fish on Fridays. Diners can check ahead on the establishment’s Facebook page (facebook.com/justhamburgersoriginal).
The restaurant only offers carryout. There is no inside dining, but there are picnic tables outdoors where people can eat when the weather is nice. This does not seem to be a problem for customers, who are used to the grab-and-go style.
“During the week, we have a fairly regular lunch crowd,” Frichtl says, adding that they often serve 100-140 customers during the lunch hours. “We see a lot of the same people … some of them three or four times a week.” Just Hamburgers is also a popular spot for construction and other work crews, including lineworkers from EIEC.
The goal throughout its history has been to stick to tradition. However, a few modern updates have been made over the years, including the addition of credit card and digital ways to pay, as well as updating the colors on the building and signs to give the place a more modern look.
Although the retirement of the previous owner meant the closing of Just Hamburgers in April 2022, this Paxton staple was not closed for long. By August of the same year, it reopened under the new ownership of Brendan Healey and Todd Thorstenson. Both grew up eating at Just Hamburgers and couldn’t see it close for good.
The reopening proved just how important the restaurant was to the town. “I don’t know how many checks we did on the grand opening, but it was probably 180,” Frichtl recalls. Fans of Just Hamburgers can sport their love of the restaurant with T-shirts and hats, available for purchase at the front counter.
Frichtl says it’s always nice to hear stories from people who remember coming in with their grandparents or other family members. Even outside the restaurant, he gets recognized on occasion. “‘Aren’t you the Just Hamburgers guy?’ people will ask … and they always have something good to say,” Frichtl says with a smile.