Never mind the calendar, spring officially came to Polson last week with the seasonal opening of Richwine’s Burgerville.
The iconic drive-in celebrated its 55th year of operation on Friday, serving up its renowned burgers, milkshakes and more to throngs of deprived customers.
“We always do very well,” said owner and manager Marcia Moen. “There’s a lot of hoopla for the first couple weeks.”
For Moen, opening the restaurant for yet another summer not only fulfills a community’s craving, but carries on a family legacy essentially dating back to her beginnings.
The daughter of Burgerville founders Enoch and Lucy Richwine, Moen said her parents opened the restaurant in 1962 to pay for the medical bills from her premature birth.
“My dad came home and said to my mom, ‘Lucy, you’re going to need to get a job,’” Moen said.
The restaurant quickly charmed locals and visitors from across the country with an attention to detail that continues today.
Sitting in her office the day before the big opening, Moen was searching to find a replacement Burgerville’s signature red relish after their usual supplier changed its recipe.
“After 55 years, if we put green relish on the burgers the customers would freak out,” she said. (A similar situation happened in 2012 with their French fries, Moen said, and customers continue to gripe about the substitute.)
Maintaining these cherished practices has become the goal for Moen, who recently found herself as one of the last torchbearers of the family legacy.
Moen returned to help at the restaurant about eight years ago when her brother Shane was diagnosed with cancer. Following Shane’s death in 2009, Moen made the decision to formally take over the family business, trading tax season for burger season after a two-decade career at H&R Block. Moen continued to work alongside her mother Lucy, until she too died in 2015.
“Last year was really tough for me,” Moen said, adding that it’s difficult to walk in the doors every day, knowing her brother and mom would not follow her in.
“It’s hard knowing that the only reason I am here is because they aren’t,” she said. “I still have my moments.”
One of these came as longtime friend Caroline Bailey was helping chop vegetables for the famous “Do-Hinkey” garnishes.
“I remembered thinking, ‘Lucy would be here telling me not to cut so much off the radishes,’” Bailey said.
Such reflections nearly bring Moen to tears, but she said they also provide motivation. After 55 years of serving burgers, Moen said it’s the community support that keeps the business going.
“They’re not just customers, they’re family,” she said. “I appreciate them so much.”
Based on last week’s turnout, the feeling is mutual. On the afternoon before opening, Moen was already fielding phone calls from eager customers.
“That’s what I love to hear,” Moen said after talking with a particularly restless patron. “He told me, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll see you in the morning.’”