The burger recipe has never changed, the menu has stayed stubbornly at a dozen items, soft drinks are still served in cans and many of its employees have worked there 20 to 25 years.
But one original feature that will change soon is its location. After 29 years in a 400-square-foot trailer, Nessy Burgers is moving into a permanent brick-and-mortar patio restaurant under construction next door.
The new location, on the same property at 3235 Old Hwy 395, is slated to open in late summer, according to its 72-year-old owner, Charlie Webster of Fallbrook.
The new restaurant will still have all-outdoor picnic table seating, but it will have indoor restrooms, a self-serve fountain drink station, a paved 12-space parking lot, two order windows and more cooking space, which might speed up service a bit, since customer lines are also a Nessy Burgers tradition.
Long a favorite on local “best burger” menus and a cult favorite with U.S. and international travelers posting on Tripadvisor, Nessy Burgers is popular not only for its half-pound burgers but also its friendly service and catchy name.
The restaurant was started by Fallbrook resident Sandra Webster and her business partner Alistair McBane, who suggested naming the spot after the Loch Ness Monster from his native Scotland.
They converted a 1960s-era camping trailer into a food truck and took advantage of a brief window in time when the California Department of Transportation offered leases to kiosk-size businesses in its Park and Ride lots along state highways. Webster and McBane leased a spot in the parking lot at Interstate 15 and Pala Road.
Their business plan was simple: serve with a smile reasonably priced burgers, dogs, sandwiches and sides made with quality, locally sourced ingredients.
Its signature Nessy Burger, priced at $7.45, is the menu star. Meat is delivered fresh every morning and hand-mixed with Worcestershire sauce, dried onions and spices, grilled to order and served on a toasted bun with fresh onion and tomato slices, iceberg lettuce, American cheese and “secret sauce,” which Webster described as a housemade twist on Thousand Island dressing.
On a busy weekend, more than 600 Nessy Burgers are sold, as well as 200 or so turkey burgers, 150 chicken sandwiches, 150 hot dogs, 75 steak sandwiches and 100 orders of chili cheese fries, Webster said.
In 2002, Charlie Webster married the restaurant’s co-owner, Sandra, and in 2006 they bought out McBane’s interest when he moved to Oregon.
It was about that time that Sandra began showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, her husband Charlie, a mortgage banker, took on more of the business responsibilities along with his son, also named Charlie. She passed away in June 2015 at age 65.
The younger Charlie Webster, 29, now manages the company’s social media accounts, email newsletter and online marketing. He said it’s very important to him to maintain traditions in her memory.
“We feel a sense of integrity and honor in keeping the restaurant the way my stepmother would have wanted it if she were here today,” he said.
In 2012, Caltrans gave Nessy Burgers six months notice to move because it was planning to expand Interstate 15 and the Park and Ride lot. With few options on such short notice, they found a strip of bare land around the corner right next door to the Pala Mesa Market on Old Highway 395.
Losing their freeway visibility did cause a temporary dip in customers but it taught the Webster family how to better market their restaurant on social media and soon business was better than ever, said Kurt Diesel, who has been a consultant for the business since 2012.
The customers who dine at the restaurant’s patio tables are a mix of construction workers who like the hearty portions, travelers passing through and visitors from other counties, states and countries who have read about Nessy Burgers online.
Among the lunchtime crowd on Tuesday was Murrieta resident Frieda Amiri, who was enjoying a Nessy Burger along with her two nieces. She said she’s been driving down regularly for 15 years.
“I like the taste of the burgers, I like the view and the atmosphere here and the people who work here are nice,” Amiri said.
Among those workers is 27-year-old Ayde Aguirre, who has five years under her belt at Nessy Burgers. She said she loves working hard and the fast-paced Saturday shifts fly by. She said the staff makes a habit of knowing their customers.
“We have a lot of people who come here every day and we know them so well we remember their orders in advance. As soon as we see them coming we start working on their food,” Aguirre said.
Because tradition is so important at Nessy Burgers, decorating consultant Cindy Gibson Lloyd said the front of the new restaurant has been designed to look like the old trailer.
It will have the same blue-green color scheme, all-outdoor seating on a front patio and a logo sign with the big green Loch Ness Monster. As before, customers will still be able to buy Nessy T-shirts and souvenirs and pose for pictures with a wood cutout of Nessy.
Despite the upcoming changes, the younger Charlie said customers can count on the same consistency and quality as in the past.
“We’re not trying to be something we’re not,” he said. “We’ll always be that quirky, funky roadside stand we’ve always been.”
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends.
Where: 3235 Old Highway 395, Fallbrook
Phone: (760) 712-1497