Flavor and tradition feed Brookings in beefy bites

Kali Lingen

Kali Lingen

“Buy ’em by the bag” is the tagline of Nick’s Hamburger Shop, a restaurant that is uniquely Brookings.

Dick Fergen, current owner of the shop on the corner of Main Avenue and Fifth Street, said his favorite thing about the restaurant is the people.

“It’s where everybody comes back to,” he said.

There is no other Nick’s Hamburger Shop in the country. In the 1930s, though, there were 77 hamburger shops like Nick’s in the Midwest. According to the restaurant’s Web site, Harold and Gladys Nikalson opened the restaurant on Nov. 2, 1929, that year’s Hobo Day.

The Nikalsons ran Nick’s Hamburger Shop until 1947, when their son, Harold, Jr., took over the restaurant. The busiest day in Nick’s history was on Oct. 18, 1947, a Hobo Day when the Jackrabbits played USD. That day, Nick’s Hamburger Shop sold 4,450 hamburgers.

In 1947, one Nickburger cost 10 cents. Today, a Nickburger sells for $1.48.

Harold Nikalson, Jr., sold Nick’s Hamburger Shop in 1975 to Duane Larson. Larson had worked at the restaurant for seven years during high school and college. During the years that Larson owned the burger shop, The Washington Post named Nick’s Hamburger Shop as one of the top 82 most popular hamburger shops in the United States.

In 2004, Fergen bought the business. His father owned Fergen’s Men’s Store downtown, so he grew up around Nick’s Hamburger Shop.

“I needed a job, so I bought one,” he said.

Fergen went to high school and college in Brookings. Prior to purchasing Nick’s, Fergen lived in Texas but spent a couple months every year in the South Dakota college town. To him, Brookings was always home, he said.

“It was something I thought about for 10 to 12 years before I came back [to Brookings],” Fergen said about buying Nick’s Hamburger Shop.

Linsey Zafft, an interior design major, said she orders the same thing every time she goes to Nick’s Hamburger Shop: a double cheeseburger with ketchup.

“I like the small burgers, and that they are not too greasy,” she said.

Sophomore Mitch Popko said his grandparents live in Brookings, so he has been going to Nick’s since he was 8 years old. Like Zafft, he always orders the same thing, he said: three cheeseburgers with ketchup and mustard.

Popko likes Nick’s Hamburger Shop because of the old-fashioned feel and the ambience of the restaurant, he said. Nickburgers are still served on a square of waxed paper, the same way they have always been served.

“I like that you sit at the bar, and they serve you and it’s so quick, not a lot of waiting time,” the chemistry and biochemistry major said.

#1.881471:711353826.jpg:IMG_4811.jpg:Nick’s Hamburger Shop has been a landmark in Brookings since its founding in 1929. It is well known for its bite-sized hamburgers served on wax paper instead of plates.:Robby Gallagher#1.881361:7527732.jpg:Hot.Spot.jpg::