HAMBURG — Hamburger fans and local residents alike may take in all their eyes, ears and stomachs can handle on Saturday, July 19, when the 29th annual Burgerfest shuts down Main and Buffalo streets, and the municipal parking lot in between, for a full day of festivities in celebration of the almighty burger and the town that birthed it.
According to publicity director Eileen Hotho, brothers Frank and Charles Menches traveled the fair circuit in 1885, including a stop at the Erie County Fair. The brothers created the hamburger at that local celebration, and America’s favorite sandwich has spread throughout the United States, ever since. The Hamburg Chamber of Commerce discovered the local connection in a history book in the early 1980s and decided to hold the first Burgerfest in 1985, to commemorate the 100th birthday of the beef patty.
“Legend has it that the Menches brothers ran out of their usual pork sausage that hot, fateful day at the fair and turned to local butchers to replenish their supplies,” Hotho explained. “When no pork was available, a butcher suggested ground beef. The Menches brothers purchased the beef, but added secret ingredients, including coffee grounds, to create a unique flavor. The hamburger was born! When asked the name of this wonderful concoction, one of the brothers reportedly looked up at the Hamburg Fairgrounds sign and commented, ‘It is the Hamburger, of course.’”
At past Burgerfests, descendants of the brothers had sold their burgers at the festival, but that vendor will not be appearing, this year. Hotho said that burger lovers have nothing to fear, because there will be plenty of other restaurants showcasing their wares, for carnivores and vegetarians, alike.
This year, Gary Rog has taken the reins as coordinator of Burgerfest, a position that gets passed along every two years, to one of the four service clubs that run the yearly event.
“The coordinator’s position serves as communication link between the clubs, administrator of the event details and referee on the occasional differences of opinions within the committee,” Rog said. That committee starts planning for next year shortly after the end of the current festival, kicking of an entire year of preparation.
“The day of Burgerfest, we start at 7:30 a.m., setting up, along with handling a ton of details, and finish around midnight. It is truly a collaborative effort of the four service clubs that results in a first-class event, within the village,” he explained. “We work in conjunction with the village government, police and fire to departments to ensure a smooth, enjoyable family event.
“I look at this festival as a great community event with a historical bent,” she said. “Visitors from all over Western New York like to come to the Burgerfest to check out our diversified restaurants in the Taste of Hamburg; to eat and drink and listen to live music all day.”
Rog’s favorite part of the festival is “right around 12:01 Sunday morning,” he said.
Hotho, a seasoned attendee as well as official, said that comfortable shoes are a must, as well as a hat with a brim. Information on the many events throughout the day are available at the information booth, as well as a map of participating restaurants. She recommended mapping out a route to get the maximum number of “tastes” in, before running out of time (or room).
The Burgerfest offers something for all ages, including the First Niagara Kidspace in the municipal parking lot, which includes bounce houses and inflateable games, a KeyBank classic car show, arts and crafts and vendors, for the shopping inclined.
For music fans, bands will take the Hamburg Gaming Main Stage from noon-11:30 p.m., with Rock n’ Roll to the Rescue and Nickel City Road Show from noon-4 p.m. on Main Street.
“If you like to people-watch, if you like to eat and drink, and/or dance outside to your favorite music, Burgerfest is the place for you,” Hotho concluded.
So what is Hotho’s favorite sight?
“As an attendee, one of my all-time favorite events is the Bed Race, renamed ‘Bed Parade’ last year, when stricter rules by the state of New York made it clear that ‘speed races’ on state roads such as Route 62 had to be carefully monitored,” she said. “Entrants come up with structurally sound and creatively outfitted beds that generally have one person lying on them, steering, and up to four persons pushing and guiding the bed.”
The object of the game is to get the bed through the course as quickly and safely as possible, but prizes are also awarded for the best-dressed and most creative get-ups, as well.
“Watching the brightly attired beds moving down Main Street, powered by enthusiastic ‘bedfellows’ is a hoot and will always be one of my most fun things to do there, along with eating and quaffing a few cold brews on a beautiful day,” she added.
The Burgerfest is put on by a collaboration between the Rotary Club of Hamburg, Hamburg Rotary Sunrise Club, the Lions Club of Hamburg and the Kiwanis Club of Hamburg. Any proceeds after the bills are paid for such things as entertainment, tents, tables and chairs and lavatory facilities, go back to the community in the form of college scholarships and programs that fund local foundations and charitable causes.
For more information and a complete schedule of events for the day, visit www.hamburgburgerfest.com.