Louis’ Lunch (New Haven, Connecticut)

Photo by Amanda

The humble hamburger was created, so the story goes, in 1900 in response to a customer’s hurried request for a lunch to go. It was at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut that this historic event is said to have taken place, and Louis’ claims (with some compelling evidence) to be the oldest hamburger restaurant in the United States. Louis’ Lunch not only claims to be the first hamburger restaurant in the United States, it ts recognized as the official (but still disputed) birthplace of, and effective grandfather of, all the hamburgers in all of the lands.

Opened by Louis Lassen who immigrated to New Haven from Denmark in 1886, Louis’ Lunch effectively started as a small lunch wagon in 1895. Louis’ originally sold goods people could use in their own kitchens like eggs and butter, but it wasn’t till 1895 that it became a little lunch cart as well. Louis’ was one of the first, but only one of many in the U.S. at this time that served steak sandwiches on toast. In 1917, Louis moved the business from his small cart to a little brick building that served as Louis’ Lunch home till it was forced to move in 1975. In 1975, Louis’ was forced to relocate for city development purposes and moved just a few blocks down to the current location at 263 Crown Street.

The Louis’ Lunch menu is largely unchanged and extraordinarily limited, consisting of “The Original Burger”, potato salad, potato chips, and pie. The original options for burger toppings were tomato or onion, and it wasn’t till the 1970s, Ken Lassen, a third generation operator, added cheese spread to the hamburger.

Their ground steak hamburgers are flame broiled in the original 1898 vertical gas broilers manufactured by the Bridge and Beach, Co. of St. Louis, Missouri. The burgers are held in place with gridirons manufactured by Luigi Pieragostini and patented in 1938. They are then served on two square pieces of white bread toasted in a 1929 Savory Radiant Gas Toaster.

After being backed by Rosa L. DeLauro, the U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s 3rd congressional district, the Library of Congress recognized Louis’ Lunch as the creator of the hamburger in 2000. The Library of Congress wrote at this time that, “Louis Lassen sold the first hamburger and steak sandwich in the U.S. in 1900.” Despite Louis’ being recognized by the Library of Congress as the origin of the hamburger, other restaurants still claim to have been the first. There is also some argument that because Luois’ serves its burgers on toast instead of a bun, that they aren’t actually hamburgers at all.

Important Note: Louis’ Lunch is traditionally closed for “annual spoon-counting” during the entire month of August. This can sometimes last into September as well.

Louis’ Lunch Facts

  • Luois’ Lunch is one of The Ten Oldest Restaurants in the United States.
  • All of the hamburgers at Louis’ are cooked on the original cast iron vertical gas broilers from 1898.
  • Luois’ Lunch has had numerous famous patrons over the years. That list includes at least two United States Presidents, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
  • There is a sign on the wall at Louis’ Lunch that reads “this is not Burger King You can’t have it your way. You get it my way or you don’t get the damn thing.”
  • The unique method of cooking the burgers vertically insures that both sides are heated at the same time (for whatever that’s worth).
  • The fifth generation of Lassens’ own and operate Louis’ Lunch today.
  • Ketchup is not allowed at Louis’ Lunch. They will in fact kick you out if you try to sneak any into the building.
  • The 1917 building that served as Louis’ location for almost 60 years was once a tannery.
  • Food & Wine named Louis’ Lunch one of the “Best Burgers in the U.S.”