Popular Fallbrook roadside restaurant is known for its small menu, half-pound burgers and longtime employees who know regular customers by name
Thirty years after it opened in an old camping trailer parked along Interstate 15 in Fallbrook, Nessy Burgers has finally found a permanent home.
On March 3, the popular roadside attraction moved into a brick-and-mortar location just across the parking lot from its old trailer parking spot at 3235 Old Highway 395. The new walk-up restaurant was designed to resemble the trailer, with a green awning-style roof and its signature sign on top bearing a smiling Loch Ness monster holding a hamburger in its pectoral fin.
The new venue is twice the size of the old one, has public restrooms, a concrete patio with expanded and covered seating, and additional space for parking. There’s also a self-serve soft-drink fountain, a point-of-sale ticketing system to speed up orders and extra kitchen space, which has allowed owner Charlie Webster, 73, of Fallbrook, to add a couple new items to the menu.
But for all the hoopla surrounding Nessy Burgers’ new permanent digs, customers say the best thing about the move is that Nessy is there to stay and its food and prices have stayed the same.
“What I love the most is the consistency,” said Dennis Russell, a Hemet resident who has been dining weekly at Nessy Burgers for more than 20 years. “It’s always good. You can rely on it.”
On a recent weekday morning, Russell was enjoying his standard order, a grilled Polish Moon Dog (so named because it’s served on a round bun), at a table with his buddies Jerry Oliver of Vista, who ordered the same dish, and Frank Brown of Vista, who always gets a Nessy Burger with cheese. The trio shares lunch every Tuesday after a round of golf, since the restaurant offers a senior special on those days.
“We were waiting for so long for the new restaurant to open,” Brown said. “We like the new place but we also like that it hardly ever changes.”
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 and catchy name, but also for its friendly and familiar service. Virtually all of Nessy’s 12 employees have worked there for 10 to 25 years, so they know most of their customers and their orders by heart.
The restaurant was started on Jan. 1, 1989, by Fallbrook resident Sandra Webster and her then-business partner Alistair McBane, who suggested naming the eatery after the mythical aquatic creature from his native Scotland.
They converted a 1960s-era, 400-square-foot 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’s original location was in the Park and Ride lot at Interstate 15 and Pala Road/Highway 76. In 2012, CalTrans redesigned that parking lot, forcing Nessy Burger to move around the corner to a dirt lot next to Pala Mesa Market on Old Highway 395. Fortunately, the move had little impact on sales, which can top 600 Nessy Burgers alone on weekend days.
The Nessy Burgers business plan was simple: serve with a smile reasonably priced burgers, dogs, sandwiches and sides made with quality, locally sourced ingredients. The centerpiece of the menu is the half-pound Nessy Burger, priced at $7.95. Meat is hand-mixed daily 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 a “secret sauce,” which Charlie Webster described as a housemade twist on Thousand Island dressing.
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. Not long after that, Sandra began showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. As her illness progressed, Charlie took on more of the restaurant responsibilities, along with his now-30-year-old son, also named Charlie. She passed away in June 2015 at age 65.
Today, Charlie Sr. is a daily presence at the restaurant. Younger Charlie has his own private therapy practice but he helps out with marketing, social media and the company newsletter. Father and son say they receive two or three requests a month from customers who want to franchise or expand the Nessy concept, but they like being a one-stop shop with consistent staff and products.
“What makes Nessy so popular is its quirkiness and its quality-over-quantity menu. It’s been like that from the beginning,” said younger Charlie.
The new 934-square-foot location — designed by architect Michael E. Robinson and built by McFarland Construction Co. — has a much roomier kitchen. This has allowed the Websters to slightly expand the menu from the original 16 dishes. After a year of experimentation and customer taste-testing, Nessy now offers custard-style soft-serve ice cream and hand-spun milk shakes, which come with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Customer response to the new items and the new location has been strong, according to Kurt Diesel, who has been a consultant for the restaurant since 2012.
“We have been doing phenomenal business since we opened in the new location,” Diesel said. “The shakes are selling well, but business is really up in every category. It has exceeded all of our expectations.”
As for the old Nessy trailer, Webster said he donated it several weeks ago to a local couple who were longtime customers. They plan to refurbish it and drive it to St. George, Utah, where they will give it a new life as a family-owned walk-up restaurant.
Nessy Burgers is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Visit nessyburgers.com.