After diving deep into Saginaw’s hamburg history over the last several weeks, we were hungry for more. We were hungry for answers—and we were hungry for a burger. We decided it was time to explore Michigan’s Kewpee remnants and finish out this series right. Here’s what the Castle Test Kitchen staff found:
We started at Weston’s Kewpee Sandwich Shoppe in downtown Lansing, just a block from the capitol building.
Weston’s began in 1923 at a different location in downtown Lansing, but has remained a Kewpee ever since. Now holding the title of the only remaining Kewpee in Michigan (of just a few left overall in the Midwest).
Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs, while a franchise, were allowed to have local options on their menus. While Saginaw’s Kewpee emphasized a “real Mexican Chili,” Weston’s claim to fame was (and is) the olive burger.
A Salty Sidenote.
Upon researching burger history, one CTK staffer (a non-Native to Michigan) noted that olive burgers were an enigma of Michigan cuisine. The rest of us Michiganders scoffed—who hasn’t seen an olive burger on a menu!? But alas, that first staffer was right—the olive burger is unique to Michigan and does not often infiltrate menus beyond the Great Lakes.
Why? We were unable to find any definitive information on the history of olives in Michigan and why they would end up on our burgers, other than the Kewpee controversy of who invented the olive burger—Weston’s, Sam Blair at the Flint Kewpees, or Gerald Boyles, owner at a Grand Rapids Kewpee.
Controversy aside—olive burgers have been around since at least the 1920s in Michigan and are here to stay in two variations: an olive sauce or loose olives held to the burger with mayonnaise. We tried both variations.
Back to the Burgers.
Based on Weston’s history and ours, we knew we had to sample the Deluxe Burger (a standard Kewpee Burger), the Olive Burger, and the Miami Burger (their version of a “crumbled burger”).
Some of the taste testers did not care for olives, but they stayed pure to the mission. Others loved them. We tried not to let this variation cloud our judgement of the overall quality and taste of the burgers.
The difference between the Deluxe and the Olive Burger is a slice of tomato. In addition, each came with lettuce.
Without getting too weird, we peered into the open kitchen at Weston’s and spied the kitchen staff hand pattying fresh ground beef for the burgers—and that showed in the flavor of all three variations. The beef was good quality and tasty.
The olive sauce was okay. Surprisingly, not overbearing in its oliveyness (yep, that’s totally a word). Those CTK staffers who liked olives, thought the olive sauce’s ratios should have been more olive-heavy as there was not enough of the salty, briny flavor of the olive to compensate for the quantity of creamy, fatty, mayonnaise. This did not stop any of us from eating it, by any means. It was still delicious and an overall good burger.
The Miami Burger was the CTK’s favorite of the three. This crumbled burger was in larger pieces than we believe Doyle scrambled his burger into but was still tasty. Same great beef quality but with even more crispy goodness throughout because the crumble edges had that extra love from the grill. The crumbled burger was topped with olive sauce and cheese sauce, and this burger won the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2020.
We asked if the burger was invented for the competition, and our server asked the owners and reported back to us that it was based on a recipe that her grandmother used to make, but it was put on the menu as the Miami burger after winning the competition. As far as flavor goes, Dale Doyle (and apparently Grandma Weston) was really onto something with the tactic of crumbling or scrambling the burger. The balance was outstanding.
Even though we arrived on the early side for lunch in the middle of the week, the place was hopping the whole time with a diverse crowd. We wished we could have asked more questions, but it was so busy.
Next we visited Halo Burger in Birch Run.
We wanted to go to the Saginaw Street location in downtown Flint, the oldest location still operating, but sadly it is currently closed, so we did the next best thing and picked the only location in our own beloved Saginaw County - Birch Run.
For those who know their burger basics, you may recall that Halo Burger was a name change of Sam Blair’s original Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs in Flint Michigan after they were sold to former Kewpee manager Bill Thomas.
Bill Thomas faced changes in the Kewpee franchising agreement that he did not agree with and thus, Halo Burger was born—ending the Kewpee outfit in Flint but maintaining many of the Kewpee standards (albeit with a far less disturbing mascot).
Halo Burger sought to expand but was unable to compete in the larger fast-food market, now down to just four locations in Michigan.
The restaurant itself is a typical fast-food joint. Clean and comfortable enough. Our visit showed off some festive (and somewhat intense) Halloween decorations, but overall, it didn’t quite have the same atmosphere as a standalone restaurant like Weston’s.
Halo makes a solid fast-food burger. Whether you opt for olives (or not), Halo Burger is a great option when in the mood for a quality fast-food burger. Their buns are simply grilled, but they put the effort in.
We tried the QP Burger, a clever nod to Halo’s Kewpee roots, and the Olive burger. One thing we noticed was the square patty, harkening back to the original Kewpee shape. The QP was a standard deluxe burger with cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickle, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Perhaps the staff was a bit too exuberant with the sauces, but it was a satisfying burger, nonetheless.
The olive burger differed from Weston’s because the olives were simply smushed into the mayonnaise rather than blended as a sauce. Halo’s olive burger was also topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and mustard. To be honest, it was a lot going on. Our olive burger purist did not want all the additional condiments. For some, it made it a little less olivey.
We hope you enjoyed our burger series and learned a little something about Saginaw’s tasty traditions and ground meat past. We had a great time putting it together. If you’re still hungry, scramble yourself a burger and try out our version of olive sauce below.
The Recipe: Olive Sauce
The Weston’s Kewpee recipe is under lock and key, so we had to do a bit of internet sleuthing, and here’s what we’ve come up with.
1 small jar of Manzanilla olives with pimentos (green olives)
½ cup mayonnaise
Drain the olives, reserving the brine. Pat olives dry and then roughly chop.
Combine chopped olives with mayonnaise and a splash of the reserved brine. The mixture should remain fairly thick.
--Make sure you wash your hands at Weston's. The bathroom is worth visiting. Trust us.
--Weston’s also has amazing fries. Thick and seasoned perfectly crinkle-cut fries. If you’re not too full from the olive burger, give them a try as well.
--Not relevant to the burger story, but we also tried the Halopeños at Halo Burger- battered and fried jalapeños. They were delicious!
--Halo Burger also features a “Boston Cooler” made of Vernors and vanilla ice cream. The Vernors really helped settle our stomachs after so much food. You can’t beat that medicinal quality of good ole Vernors.