The way things are going at Nearly Famous Burgers, its name may soon be obsolete.
Opened late last year, this tiny burger joint in east Arlington – run by a father-son duo - is well on its way to becoming a local sensation.
For the past several weeks, throngs of burger-lovers have swarmed Jeremy and Kevin Lowe’s shack-sized homage to old-school burgers. Made with thin, freshly grilled patties, crisp veggies and buttered white buns, their burgers bring to mind Friday night football games, family cookouts and roadside diners.
“More and more restaurants are getting away from making simple hamburgers,” says customer Angela Wilson, a regular who eats at Nearly Famous at least once a week. “Restaurants want to be creative, I get it. But sometimes you just want an old-school burger and they’re getting harder to find. Thank God for this place.”
The Lowe’s burgers buck most current burger trends - there’s no Wagyu beef here, or designer ketchup, or $15 price tags. Most burgers are priced around $5; combo meals max out at $8.99
“There’s nothing wrong with high-end burgers,” says Jeremy. “I love them. But I think a lot of people are nostalgic for what they had when they were kids. They’re simpler burgers and they remind them of simpler times.”
Jeremy, 42, and Kevin, 64, operate their business, whose full name is Nearly Famous Burgers & Hot Dogs, out of a double drive-thru spot on East Arkansas Lane, near Sam Houston High. Aside from a few benches that the Lowes sometimes put out, and sometimes not, there is no seating area.
Part of Nearly Famous’ charm, though, comes from the sense of community it forces its followers to create. A recent Friday night saw a broad consortium of people gathered in the surrounding parking lot, eating burgers and the restaurant’s popular crinkle-cut fries in the backs of their trucks, on the sidewalks, on the hoods of their cars.
“I’ve seen people bring lawn chairs or eat off their tailgates – it turns into an event,” Jeremy says. “Being cooped up for a year, some people are ready to start going out again, and some aren’t. I think one reason people come here is you get to eat good food and be around people but you’re outside, so you’re less at risk.”
Cooking the burgers, Jeremy says, is as simple as the burgers themselves. Each thin, USDA beef patty is grilled for approximately two minutes on a 36-inch flat-top grill, then piled high with crisp vegetables: tomato slices as red as lipstick, crisp lettuce and, if you like, onions. Hamburgers and cheeseburgers get swiped with mustard; bacon cheeseburgers get mayo. Cradling the ingredients are Mrs. Baird’s buns, buttered and toasted.
Each burger is made fresh after an order is placed.
“There’s no pre-cooking or sitting under a heating lamp or nuking them in a microwave,” Jeremy says, standing in the middle of his pint-sized kitchen, flipping patties, a swirl of grill smoke around him. “When we say they’re served fresh off the grill, they’re served fresh off the grill.”
The menu includes single, double and triple-patty burgers, the latter of which Jeremy carefully constructs while doing this interview. It’s so big, it’s hard to imagine eating it would be possible.
“Oh, it’s possible,” employee Jeremy Monigold retorts, in between taking orders from customers. “You ever see a snake eat an egg? That’s what it looks like.”
Kevin says the secret ingredient – the thing that convinces people to wait in lines that sometimes last up to an hour – is the seasoning. When asked to divulge the recipe, he politely declines.
“He’s not going to tell you and I’m not either,” Jeremy says with a laugh. “He developed that recipe 51 years ago. He’s still using it today.”
Kevin and his father, Webster Lowe Jr., spent decades in the corporate restaurant world. At different points in their careers, both worked for Bonanza, a well-regarded steakhouse chain that flourished in the 1970s and ‘80s. Webster was a CEO, Kevin an area manager.
Eventually, Kevin went out on his own, opening a string of drive-thru hot dog stands – called Nearly Famous Hot Dogs - throughout North Texas. After a few years, he sold the business so he could rest and spend time with his family.
“But then he got the itch again,” Jeremy says. Like his father, Jeremy had long been a part of the corporate restaurant world but was anxious to open his own place, like dad had done years before. The two put their heads together and came up with a concept that combines their two loves: hamburgers and hot dogs.
The hot dogs side of the menu includes a Chicago dog, a chili cheese dog and a Kraut dog, piled high with so much sauerkraut, you can barely see the dog.
Nearly Famous wasn’t an immediate success. But members of a Facebook foodie group called Arlington Foodies fell in love with Kevin and Jeremy's food and encouraged other members to try the son-and-pop burger shop.
"The first post brought in some people and then I had to hire another employee and the next post brought in more people and so then I had to hire another employee and from there it just took off," Jeremy says. "If it weren't for Arlington Foodies, I'm not sure if we would have been able to survive."
Surviving, Kevin says, is all they want to do. "We don’t make a lot of money at this," he says. "I don't want to be a millionairie or even a hundredthousandaire. That's how I came up with the name Nearly Famous. I don't want to be real famous, just enough to spoil my grandkids."