Al’s Hamburger Lives!

alsBy Ben Rodgers

There’s a new owner at Al’s Hamburger in downtown Green Bay, but all it takes is one bite to find out the classic burger has stayed the same.

Michael Wirz reopened Al’s Hamburger in August and already is churning out close to 200 of arguably the best burgers in Green Bay per day. And Al’s Hamburger still seats roughly 30 people at most.

The other menu staple, the famous corn beef and hash also remains on the revamped menu.

Wirz, an 18-year restaurant veteran, spent a few shifts in the kitchen before the Rank family closed the business in July to make sure he could get the preparation methods down pat.

“We tried to make sure to keep the hash and the burgers to as close as possible, and I think we did good with that,” he said.
For the hash he was just given the ingredients. From there it took a few hours and six attempts to recreate the famous dish that’s been served since Al’s opened in 1934.

“I was 80 percent right and the last two items I would have never guessed,” Wirz said of the recipe.

The burgers haven’t changed either as he still uses the same meat distributor and the same spices, down to the brand name. Although over the years the price has increased from the original nickel cost.

Al’s has been a breakfast tradition for some in the city for decades. The regulars still come in every day for breakfast and the same staff that served them under the old owners remain.

In fact the same meat grinder, which has been at Al’s since it opened, is still used for the corn beef.

“The thing that people use as an antique in their home, we still use that here. There’s something to be said about hand-cranking your own meat grinder.”

But Wirz saw opportunity where there wasn’t before. Now the iconic restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

“There’s a whole generation that hasn’t come here for that exact reason, if you had a 9-5 job, you couldn’t come here,” he said.
While the regulars order the same things in the morning, Wirz changed the menu for lunch and dinner to include a few items more unique than corn beef hash and the standard burger.

The Tail Gate Burger has fresh Wisconsin cheese curds and jalapenos pressed in with the meat. The end result yields a burger that contains the same colors as a popular area football team.

He also presses blue cheese into the Spicy Blue Cheese Burger, before topping it with buffalo sauce, bacon lettuce tomato and onion.

The BLETC adds a fried egg and cheddar to a standard BLT. While the Need A Name Burger comes with cheddar, Swiss, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and horseradish aioli, before being topped with lettuce and tomato.

But the Chicago native also added to the breakfast menu with Chilaquiles.

“The hangover food of Mexico. It’s basically breakfast nachos,” he said. “I put it on the menu for me to eat, but if people want to order some, they can too.”

The Chilaquiles are breakfast nachos topped with tomatillo sauce, chorizo, cheese, jalapenos, sour cream and eggs.

The new changes are what Wirz wants to attract new customers. He has plans in near future of staying open late for the bar crowd. He also eventually wants to install taps that would serve Wisconsin beers.

But for now he is working 85 to 90 hours weeks keeping up with the busy crowds. The first four days he was open, it was standing room only for the lunch rush.

His tenure as owner and operator is still just a blip on the grand scale of things, considering the place has been open for the greater part of 82 years. But Wirz said he is proud of what he’s accomplished so far, and is happy running one of the oldest restaurants in the city.

“It’s Al’s Hamburger. What cooler place to own in Green Bay? It’s the classic burger joint.”

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