When folks roll off of Interstate 5 and into Mrs. Beesley's Burgers they often have no idea where exactly they are.
All they know is that they’re hungry.
Luckily for the directionally-challenged masses that funnel off of the freeway, the Beesleys specialize in good old fashioned hamburgers and milkshakes. The driving directions are free of charge.
According to Dan and Dixie Beesley, owners of the Ma-and-Pa burger joint on the east side of I-5 at exit 59 for the last 40 years, famished travelers regularly walk in wondering where the exit for Longview is or how many miles they are from Portland. The kicker is, the belly-aching followers of Magellan are usually headed north.
Celebrities of all stripes have been known to stop into the burger shack as well. The big shots tend to stay in their luxury vehicles or limousines in the parking lot, but sometimes they sneak into the line incognito. The Beesleys noted that numerous rock-and-roll bands — the kind that “the kids would know” — have eaten their burgers and shakes, as well as the likes of seed magnate Ed Hume, former University of Washington football coach Don “The Dawgfather” James, and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell.
“We never really know who’s in line,” said Dan, originally of Centralia.
“That’s why you’ve always got to be nice,” noted Dixie, originally of Pe Ell.
“Of course Bill Russell, he doesn’t need an introduction,” added Dan of the 6 foot, 10 inc 11-time NBA champion.
April 1 will mark the official 40th anniversary of the Beesleys taking over operation of the popular roadside stop. Coincidentally this year is also their 50th wedding anniversary.
The Beesleys have lived in Toledo since they purchased the restaurant in 1976. Owning a burger joint was not some long-marinating plan, though; it just sort of happened. Following a stint in Vietnam as a cook in the Army, Dan returned to Lewis County and began selling auto parts to service stations in the area. One day while making a delivery to one of the four stations that serviced I-5’s exit 59 in those days, Dan decided to inquire about the availability of the quaint burger shop next to the freeway.
“I had asked the ol’ boy over there at the service station if whoever own this was ready to sell,” remembered Dan. Within a short time the former owner and the Beesleys had a deal worked out.
The rest is history.
What today is Mrs. Beesley's Burgers was originally owned by George and Eva Hammon. The restaurant opened in conjunction with service stations that sprang up when I-5 was routed through the area in the 1960s. The first incarnation was a simple trailer, which was later transitioned to a stand-alone building with a walk-up ordering counter.
A few years after the Beesleys took over the burger business they added an indoor seating area.
“It was just too teeny,” said Dixie, aka Mrs. Beesley. About 10 years ago they expanded the seating area for more reprieve from the winter rain or summer scorch for their growing customer base.
“It actually is good,” said Dan of business these days. “Out here by the highway we’ve got a lot of traffic, you know.” He added, “There’s as much truck traffic now was their was car traffic 40 years ago. You can trust me on that.”
All of that traffic brings in a refreshing number of familiar faces to the old time burger bar.
“We just love seeing them over and over,” said Dixie. “We have so many customers that we love and watched grow up.”
Road-trip pit stops to Mrs. Beesley's has become a family tradition for many folks, with customers telling stories of how their parents always stopped in so now they feel a need to bring their own kids in. The Beesleys even know of one family with five generations of visitors.
Aside from the burgers, it’s the real deal milkshakes that bring the station wagons in off the big road. “We sell a ton of shakes,” said Dan. Dixie noted that they especially pride themselves on their seasonally fresh strawberry shakes. The fresh shakes are usually available around April 1, but that doesn’t stop road weary customers from asking for the berry shakes in December.
In addition to the rotating cast of familiar families the Beesleys have enjoyed employing the young people of Toledo and Winlock for four decades. The restaurant is currently staffed by eight employees.
“We’ve had some really nice kids come through,” said Dan.
“It’s a great little business. A nice way to make a living and raise a family,” added Dixie.
While running their restaurant the Beesleys raised two daughters, Lisa and Kasey, and now employ their grandson Colt, 18, at their authentic burger shop.
After all these years Dan and Dixie still put in their hours at the restaurant working about four days a week. But, they admit that they do enjoy their well-deserved time away from the grill and paperwork.
“We do like to get out and play,” admitted Dixie.
The Beesleys are regular Pacific Northwest outdoor aficionados. Dixie loves riding her horses, Dan hunts ducks, and they both fish and dig for clams. “Next week we’re going to get down to the Columbia and try to get us some springers,” said Dan.
The getaways are nice but Dan, at least, has no plans to quit working the grill. “People always ask me when I’m going to retire and I tell them, ‘When you find me face down on the ground.’”
Mrs. Beesley's Burgers is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week in the winter with extended weekend hours during the summer. The burger bar is located at 393 Cowlitz Ridge Road, Toledo, and can be reached by phone at (360) 864-4866.