On warm summer weekends, the scent of onions cooking fills the downtown air of Prairie du Chien. Follow your nose and you’ll likely find hungry customers placing orders for a Pete’s Hamburger. Specify “with” or “without” when ordering to indicate your onion preference. Ketchup, mustard and salt are the only other condiments available.
In a time when anything goes on a burger, Pete’s keeps it simple, just as they have since 1909 when Pete Gokey started the business.
It’s not what’s on the burger that makes a Pete’s hamburger unique, it’s how it’s cooked. Back in the day, Pete Gokey grilled hamburgers the conventional way. But when he had a grill full of burgers leftover after a rush he added water to keep them from drying out. Customers loved the moistened meaty morsels and have been crazy for them ever since.
Pete’s granddaughter Mary Gokey Huser explains, “the secret is it gets better with each pan. Because it makes its own broth and each pan tastes better than the first.” In fact, the broth is so loved locally that sometimes customers show up at the end of the night with jars to take the precious elixir home.
“There are people that still believe it’s something else besides water. And it isn’t,” says Paul Gokey, another grandchild still in the burger business.
It’s a simple formula that has kept Pete’s Hamburgers going strong through three generations.