100 Years of Burger Glory

Pasadena’s Cheeseburger Week honors Lionel Sternberger’s glorious ‘mistake’
Published on Jan 17, 2024

More than many, many summers ago, my oldest brother, Rick, took a summer job as a painter’s assistant at my dad’s body shop, deep in the heart of LA’s Koreatown. One day, somewhere in those two weeks of that hot summer, Dad handed Rick a sprayer filled with primer paint and pointed to that car right over there. 

The trick with laying down a coat of primer on a car, Rick told me the other night, is that you need to move the sprayer steadily and swiftly across the car body to make a light, even coat. 

Rick didn’t do that. 

Instead, he moved the sprayer very slowly across the car’s surface, back and forth, very slowly and continuously for quite some time apparently, eventually creating a thick, grey-ish layer of muddy sludge on the car.

When my Dad emerged from his office to inspect the work, he looked at Rick, and asked, “Why are you here again?”

“I want to buy a bass guitar,” Rick answered, somewhat sheepishly. 

“I’ll buy you one,” Dad told him.  “You’re done.”

This somehow relates to the oft-repeated tale of young Lionel Sternberger, who, in 1924, while working at his father’s Rite Spot Cafe on Colorado Boulevard, near the far western edge of Pasadena, accidentally burned a hamburger patty on the grill. Alarmed, and likely fearing his dad’s rebuke, he quickly picked up a slice of cheese and plopped it on top of the smoldering, burned hulk. 

He bravely served it to the customer, who took one bite, and pronounced the sandwich as the greatest thing since the steam engine, or thereabouts. And Lionel kept his job.

Thus begat the Cheeseburger, an American invention that proudly and rightfully takes its place among baseball, jazz, and Starbucks, as an international icon.   

This brings us to Pasadena’s annual Cheeseburger Week, sponsored by the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, and now celebrating 100 years of meat, bun and cheese (lettuce, tomatoes, and onions optional). 

This year, in honor of the 100th anniversary, the event is adding an Official Cheeseburger Passport.  Hungry Pasadenans can download the Cheeseburger passport, visit the participating restaurants, get a  passport stamped, and win prizes.

Your filled-in Cheeseburger passport can be redeemed for prizes, kinda like a Bingo card. Four purchases at different participants with a stamped passport wins a $5 gift card to a local restaurant.

Eight purchases at different participants with a stamped passport wins a ten dollar gift card to a local Chamber member restaurant.

And a dozen purchases at different participants , along with a stamped passport, wins a $15 gift card to a local restaurant.

Visit all 16 participants with a stamped passport and win the grand prize: a gift card for dinner for two at a Chamber member restaurant. 

That’s a lot of eating, but we have faith in you. 

There are also a few cheeseburger-themed events happening around Pasadena. In fact, several Pasadena Hotels are offering  burgers and specials with a stay there. 

And of course, you can still take the Cheeseburger Challenge and vote for your favorites.

Forty of Pasadena’s favorite restaurants, lounges and burger spots are offering some special creations and deals, such as The Raymond, El Portal, Yahaira’s, The Stand, and Kathleen’s, who are offering specially created burgers for Cheeseburger Week. 

One might also want to check out Lucky Baldwin’s special slider flight, The Great Maple’s specially crafted burgers,  or maybe the offerings at Pie ‘n Burger and Dog Haus. 

Eat like the wind.

Pasadena’s Cheeseburger Week runs from Sunday, Jan 21, 2024 through January 27. For more, click here.

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