Wisconsin Public Radio

Solly’s Grille Wins James Beard Award

Glendale restaurant wins America's Classic's award.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Feb 18th, 2022 12:41 pm
Solly's Grille butter burger. Photo courtesy of Glenn Fieber/WPR.

Solly’s Grille butter burger. Photo courtesy of Glenn Fieber/WPR.

An 86-year-old Glendale burger restaurant has been awarded one of the culinary world’s highest honors. Solly’s Grille, and its Solly’s Butter Burger, has been named an America’s Classics winner by the James Beard Foundation.

On Feb. 10, Glenn Fieber received an email stating the restaurant that has been owned by his family since 1936 had won a James Beard award. Fieber told WPR he forwarded the email to his daughter Laura, who handles social media for Solly’s Grille, and asked her if she or her siblings had sent in an application for an award.

“And she said, ‘Just don’t do anything with that. Make sure it’s not fake,'” Fieber said.

He said Laura received a call back confirming the email, and the award, were real.

Solly's Grille. Photo courtesy of Glenn Fieber/WPR.

Solly’s Grille. Photo courtesy of Glenn Fieber/WPR.

“I mean, it’s just amazing,” Fieber said. “Just, I can’t, I don’t know another word for it. It’s just amazing.”

Fieber likens the recognition to getting a gold medal in the Olympics. He said he and his staff now have bigger and better attitudes, and it’s changed how they think about the restaurant and why it’s still around.

The news was especially sweet, Fieber said, in the wake of seeing a 24-seat dining area empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was the most horrible time in my life besides Vietnam,” he said. “It really was the most horrible time in my business life.”

Typically, Solly’s Grille has 14 employees. But during much of the pandemic Fieber said the restaurant was down to three employees, including himself, assembling carryout orders. He said his children helped immensely during those bad times by applying for federal assistance to keep the doors open.

“We’re shy about three employees, yet.” Fieber said. “And now, this James Beard Award happens, and we’re just very busy because it’s brand new and there’s a lot of people coming in that we haven’t seen for ages, and new people.”

Solly’s Grille is named after Fieber’s stepfather, Kenneth Salmon, who was known locally as Solly. He opened Solly’s Coffee Shop when the state and nation were moving on from the Great Depression.

He said Solly always liked putting butter on his burgers and introduced Wisconsin to what is known as the butter burger.

WPR asked whether there is any rivalry between Solly’s Grille and Culver’s Restaurant, which has become synonymous with butter burgers. Fieber said no, he and Culver’s owner Craig Culver are business friends, and Craig’s father used to bring him to Solly’s Coffee Shop for meals.

“And so, I once went to a dinner with Craig, and we had a nice dinner together. And I said, ‘Did you have to take that so far?'” Fieber said with a laugh.

Since buying Solly’s Coffee Shop from his mother in 1993, Fieber said he renamed the restaurant Solly’s Grille to honor his late stepfather. He added new burgers to the menu but kept many recipes the same including the stewed onions featured on the Solly’s Butter Burger.

He said during a busy Saturday in the summer, the restaurant can sell upwards of 200 butter burgers per day.

Fieber said it’s not unusual to go through between 130 and 150 pounds of butter per week, purchased from the same dairy Solly first went to 86 years ago.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Milwaukee burger restaurant named James Beard award winner was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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