in memoriam: Billy’s Burgers

By Jim Stanford on March 30, 2012

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Billy's burgers were known for being large, cheap and served on a toasted bun with mayonnaise and a side of waffle fries. Legions of tourists and locals came as much for the atmosphere and boisterous staff as the food.

Today is the last day of Billy’s Giant Hamburgers. The landmark Town Square eatery is closing after 28 years.

So devotees better move fast to down one last gut bomb, at least in the tiny nook with ’50s-style counter service that distinguished the place. The burgers may resurface in some yet-to-be-determined dining venture, possibly down the street at Teton Theater, but the character of Billy’s will disappear into history like a coating of burnt gristle scraped from the grill.

I worked in Billy’s my first winter in Jackson Hole. I had been hired that fall to wait and bus tables in the adjacent Cadillac Grille, but it quickly became obvious that Billy’s was more my speed. I only had been in the valley a few weeks when, on my first day on the job, Harrison Ford came in for a Billy’s burger. He sat with his back to the window and ate quietly. I knew I had come to the right place.

Working the grill at Billy’s left me coated in grease and sweat, with burn marks up and down my arms. Sometimes I had 10 or 12 beef patties sizzling at once.

I don’t miss those days, and moving on to working on the river was probably one of the healthiest changes I’ve ever made in my life. But we had some fun behind the counter, which was a lot like being on stage. I worked with two of the actors from the Jackson Hole Playhouse, Scott and Roy, who with a theatrical flourish could mess with the tourists without them knowing it.

Can we close yet? The scene last night.

One of the more absurd moments came one night when we were rocking out to Phish’s “Golgi Apparatus.” Scott didn’t even know the band but played along. The song builds to a crescendo, and as Phish blared, “I SAW YOU …” the three of us bounced up and down in unison, Scott flipping burgers on his spatula in time — all while a crowd of blank-faced Midwesterners chewed another bite.

Since roughly 40 percent of Jackson Hole has worked at the Cadillac at some point (Tony’s Coffee, anyone?), there is a long list of notable Billy’s alumni, including KMTN’s Fish-Mon, former DJ Mike Hangin’, DJ Mr. Whipple, Igneous skis founder Adam Sherman and author Storms Reback, to name a few.

Last night I went back for one final Billy’s cheese with grilled onions and jalapeños. They already were out of fries. The staff was suitably surly and rowdy. As people offered condolences, a server shrugged. “There ain’t no better way to collect unemployment than a restaurant closing,” he said.

As Ben Roth and I passed the farewell guestbook around, a family from Wisconsin chatted us up. I had a flashback when the mother began calling the server “Billy.” “Are you Billy?” they used to ask, back when I was a grease-slinging skid. The tourists would be lined up at the door on a summer morning, waiting for us to open.

Mercifully, those days are gone. Last night, as always, we left full. I think I’m still digesting the half-pound burger.

(Top photo via Cadillac Grille)

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32 Comments so far

  1. Cara March 30, 2012 1:07 pm

    I’ve been waiting for you to write this story for weeks!

  2. Tater March 30, 2012 1:11 pm

    Bye Bye Billy’s it was nice knowing you. You were always there for us after a long bike ride, day on the river or to warm us up after a long day skiing. There will never be a gut bomb like you…You will be sorely missed

  3. js March 30, 2012 2:27 pm

    One night that first winter when I was taking out the garbage, I found an elk eating out of the dumpster in the back alley. I went inside and re-emerged with a carrot and lettuce trimmings, and tried to get the elk to eat out of my hand. It eventually ran off, and I later saw it trotting up the boardwalk past Jackson Drug and Fred Joy’s gallery heading east.

  4. jd March 30, 2012 4:23 pm

    Billy’s was my first job in Jackson back in 93′ I worked with scott,roy,kevin,chris and storms as well. I still look back and smile at all the crazy times we had in that place. I’ve never had so much fun at work since and I’m sure I never will.

  5. MarkB March 30, 2012 5:50 pm

    From my first ski trip out to JH. Now as a long time Fly Fishing guide in JH. Billy Burger was what made a day/trip vacation complete . You will be missed!

  6. sc March 30, 2012 7:02 pm

    Bye Billy’s we’ll miss you! I too have had my stint as a Caddi employee. Good times and good memories.

  7. js March 30, 2012 10:52 pm

    @jd: Now I’m making the connection. I think you came on board just as I departed. KB was a solid part of the crew.
    I would be remiss in not mentioning some of Cadillac bartenders from that era, including Jeff Thornton and Steve Gagnon.
    The Polo Store was next door on the corner. Jackson was truly a different place back then.

  8. Tony Chariott March 31, 2012 9:43 am

    As the creator of Tony’s Coffee, I feel like a major part of me has departed. I moved back east about two years ago and am headed out to Jackson this Spring with no Cadillac to look forward to.

    When my daughter Siobhan, a former waitress at the Cadillac, was visiting friends last Christmas, she said that the Cadillac still had a case of Tia Maria, one of the ingredients of Tony’s Coffee, waiting for my return. Guess I’m too late.

    The wait staff looked very upscale wearing Polo oxford shirts as their uniform while the Polo Store was next door.

  9. John Sullivan March 31, 2012 3:12 pm

    Another nail in the coffin for the town square clearing the way for the unstoppable Aspen-ification for the 1%. Was a regular during my visits and winters spent living there going back to ’95.

    RIP Billy’s Giant.

  10. Rob W April 1, 2012 9:28 am

    I’m a little confused. Is the Caddie closing as well, or just Billy’s?

  11. js April 1, 2012 12:56 pm

    The whole operation has closed. Co-owner Ken Rominger is retiring and wanted out, from what I’m told. The dining room closed the weekend before, and the last night for Billy’s and the bar was Friday. Trio is putting a new restaurant in that spot by this summer.

  12. Brad April 1, 2012 7:54 pm

    Was in Billy’s for our last one an hour before it closed Friday night. Said goodbye to Ken, saw a lot of old friends in the bar for the sendoff, many I thought had left town long ago. Bittersweet. Also, the word is spreading that there will be no Caddy/Billy’s derivative at the Teton Theatre. Like Smilin’ Ed, gone forever, no shit. Any confirmation, Suzanne?

  13. Storms Reback April 1, 2012 9:07 pm

    I’d love to take your throw-away phrase, “But we had some fun behind the counter” and run with it, but I’m not sure the statute of limitations has expired yet. I do remember insisting on getting tipped with tequila shots one night, playing Jane’s Addiction when 50s music was required, telling a guy I’d buy him a burger if he ate three then watching him do it, giving KB way too much assistance one July 4th, and nearly getting killed when the grill blew up. Good times.

  14. Jim F April 2, 2012 8:10 am

    Took my inlaws to JH last winter for their first trip – they loved the Cadillac Bar…what a shame when I tell them…

  15. Rob Weinstein April 2, 2012 10:27 am

    Dang…I leave for three months and all hell breaks loose…

  16. mp April 2, 2012 2:16 pm

    Sad to see Billy’s go. @ John Sullivan Don’t really agree with you on it being a nail in the coffin. It’s not like the cadi and billy’s were forced out to create some sort of grandiose restaurant. The owners wanted to retire. 28 years is a long time. Glad to hear its a local group stepping up to take over and it sounds like the trio guys are going to have solid bar menu that isn’t going to be over the top or outrageously expensive.

  17. Xd April 3, 2012 9:33 am

    man, that blows.

  18. Cynthia April 4, 2012 4:42 pm

    SO SO SO SAD!!!!!!!!

  19. Daryl L. Hunter April 4, 2012 7:47 pm

    I worked at the Caddy in 1988, hate to see them go. I’m going to miss my billy’s fix :(

  20. Heather April 6, 2012 11:58 am

    Well, I’m glad I had a couple of burgers before they closed, those were mighty tasty.. sad to see them go.

  21. Brad April 7, 2012 3:14 pm

    mp@16, that’s not the word around town. They were forced out to some degree. The rent was raised by a Snidely Whiplash landlord who may have had the fix in with the Trio boys. Ken may have wanted to retire, but not so Suzann and Dan. So the Caddy gave in when Ken may not have wanted a fight. Word also is Suzann wants to bring it back in some form, somewhere, if only as Billy’s. Jim, you may have better avenues to confirm what’s being talked about. I don’t believe it’s over.

  22. Gracie May June 5, 2012 10:27 am

    Unfortunately I was out of state when this news came. My coworker recently visiting Jackson Hole for his first time I shouted Youve got to go to BILLYS! its just what you do when in Jackson!

    He came back that following Monday to tell me Billys was boarded up. After panicking and searching google I found this article We were crushed that we did not get our last billys burger.

    RIP Billys I will miss you and so will my fellow ranch pack.

    -Gracie May

  23. Iaminpain! August 1, 2012 10:05 pm

    I’ve loved Billy’s since it opened. They say, “All good things must come to an end,” so I am grateful to have gnoshed there as many times as I have. But DANG! I am grieving the loss! Best burgers I’ve ever had anywhere and so many memories of all the shenanigans taking place behind the counter. Billy’s was truly an institution, a legendary spot in the best place on earth. Like everyone else, I will really miss the place. Thank you, owners, for 28 years of gastrointestinal bliss!

  24. Frank August 15, 2012 4:14 pm

    I’m going to miss this place!

  25. Bob September 3, 2012 5:55 pm

    Billy’s was a must stop on our all-too-infrequent trips to Jackson. I remember one year our cook/server was an actor from the theater who abused the clientele. In a hilarious way. They should make more like him. It was always a high point of our trip. Going to JH without Billy’s will not be the same. RIP.

  26. Tulsa Cyclone September 13, 2012 8:44 pm

    Absolutely loved Billy’s. Best burger anywhere. I’ve been skiing JHWY for >20 yrs. Taking my daughter for the last 8 yrs. When we would fly in late at night, we’d call in an order to Billy’s from the airport. They stayed open until 9:30 one time because they knew we were coming. The only place we’d eat at more than once on a ski trip. Loved the people who worked there too.

  27. Rick May 11, 2013 12:55 am

    On a 5 day ride last July 2012, as usual stopped by Jackson for one thing and one thing only – a Billy burger. Found some other restaurant where Billy’s was supposed to be, they said they had good burgers, really? doesn’t even look like a burger place. Nice lady at Vom Foss recommended “the Bird” about six miles south of Jackson. Ah… that worked, great burger, but I still miss Billy’s.

  28. Peter July 17, 2013 3:17 am

    One of the best burgers in the country! Always stopped their while passing through , big sigh. Any hints on how to create one at home? Like is the meat a combo of sirloin and chuck, with any special Seasoning? I think the buns just had mayo any special brand? Signed desperate for a Billy’s fix

  29. Jeff Voegtlin January 11, 2014 4:58 pm

    My most memorable Billy’s: It was the summer before my senior year in high school (88). I just finished climbing the Grand Teton with my dad and two other men. We went to Billy’s to replenish. I ate one, then ordered and ate a second. As I was mowing through that one, the server said, “If you eat a third one, I’ll give you a forth for free!” I probably could have eaten three, but I was sure I wouldn’t be able to eat four, so I declined. I guess I wasn’t the only one to get that offer/challenge. :) Good memories. Hope they can return someday.

  30. Laurie Froebel June 4, 2014 5:03 pm

    I’m planning a return trip to the area and so sad to see that Billy’s is gone. We ate there 5 times in 7 days on the last trip and it was great and SO MUCH FUN!

  31. kevin p. June 10, 2014 9:45 am

    Billy’s Burgers relives at The Lift:)

  32. Rob W June 19, 2014 2:28 pm

    Billy’s definitely does not live on at The Lift.

    Buying the old Billy’s grill doesn’t = the same delicious hangover cure.

    Also, I’m not sure how a fully staffed restaurant gives shittier service than a diner with two tweaked out, overworked employees…but The Lift somehow manages.

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