November 27, 1980
Jim’s Hamburgers is crowded every day, so Jim and Jay Overlie stay open on Thanksgiving. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
JIM’S OPEN DOORS ARE A THANK YOU TO SOME FAMILIAR FACES
BY SANDY BATTIN OF THE NEWS-TRIBUNE STAFF
Time was, Jim’s Hamburgers was about the only place open on Thanksgiving. Jim Overlie kept his restaurants open on the holiday pretty much to serve his regular customers and anyone else passing through town – those with no place else to go.
There wasn’t any turkey and dressing, but the hamburgers and hotcakes were abundant.
Times have changed. Businesses have come and gone; buses that once brought hungry travelers downtown now arrive in western Duluth. And places like senior citizen centers offer hot holiday meals to the elderly.
But Jim’s Hamburgers still is open on Thanksgiving – as well as Christmas.
It’s a tradition that started in 1937, when Overlie first went into business. He worried about his regular customers, many old and without families, and about where they would eat holiday meals like Thanksgiving dinner.
"I always worked on the theory ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ " Overlie, now retired, says. "A lot of our regular customers were retired people who didn’t have facilities to cook. People were good enough to give us their business all year around," so Overlie figured he’d make sure those same people had someplace to eat on Thanksgiving.
Holiday business was a family project. Overlie’s son, Jay, who manages the four Jim’s Hamburgers restaurants, two on West Superior Street, one on East Fourth and the other at 502 E. First St., started working holidays as a boy.
"My daughter and son always came down on holidays," Overlie says. "They’d rather come down at Christmas than stay home. They got greater satisfaction doing that than unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree."
Waitresses would make cookies for some of their favorite customers and the elderly diners often would reciprocate with gift boxes of candy.
At one time, Christmas Eve was the busiest night of the year at Jim’s. Worshippers from nearby churches came in for after-service meals and last-minute shoppers thronged the place.
Jay Overlie stands in front of the Jim’s Hamburgers restaurant on West First Street. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
Jim’s Thanksgiving business has dropped off a bit. "There’s a few you always get, but it’s not like it used to be," Jim Overlie said.
But the restaurants stay open on the holidays.
"It’s a hard thing to put in words," Jay said. "It’s more of an obligation where customers appreciate the fact you’re interested in them, too.
"The customers recognize each other. They don’t always talk, but when one is missing, they notice. They care about one another."
Even though he no longer works day-to-day in his restaurants, the elder Overlie expects to drop in at the three restaurants that will be open on Thanksgiving (the store at 414 W. Superior will be closed).
According to a News-Tribune article from April 1982, the Jim’s Hamburgers location at 414 W. Superior St. was sold off that month and became a restaurant called Bragg’s. That left three Jim’s Hamburgers locations – 502 E. Fourth St., 2005 W. Superior St. and 205 W. First St.
On June 10, 1995, the News Tribune carried news that the original Jim’s Hamburgers location, the one on First Street, had just closed. Jim Overlie had sold his restaurants in 1985. New owner Dick Christensen said the cost of required health and fire code improvements were too high at the First Street restaurant, which seated 14 at the counter and 24 in the booths, and which in its earliest days was called the Blue and White Restaurant.
At the time, Christensen also owned the Jim’s Hamburgers locations on Fourth Street and in the West End on Superior Street. Here is a photo of the Fourth Street location from December 1996:
And here is a photo of the West End location from February 2001, when its owners were fighting the city smoking ban:
The East Fourth Street Jim’s Hamburgers location now is home to Quizno’s sandwich shop, which opened in April 2006 (though Jim’s Hamburgers is still listed in the phone book at that address). That leaves the West End location of Jim’s Hamburgers as the only one still in business.