White Grill has been famous for burgers (and more) since 1938.
NEVADA – Sizzling burgers and fresh-cut Suzie Q’s have drawn diners to Nevada’s White Grill for nearly 80 years. But while its customers originally came for their tastebuds, many come back for the memories.
“People grew up here, and it draws them back,” says waitress Peggy Ellis, who has worked at the grill for the last five years. Her story there, however, is actually much longer: Ellis grew up in Nevada, and spent many youthful evenings parked out back, circled in cars with her friends. “Our parents knew where to find us,” she recalls. “Back behind the grill.”
And old ghosts still call. “When anybody comes back to town, they always come back here,” she says.
If on cue, a man a sits down a few barstools away: It’s Dick Wachtel, a fellow Ellis grew up with at the grill. Wachtel doesn’t live in Nevada these days — he’s just back in town for a golf tournament — but he couldn’t resist stopping by for a burger, and a wave at Ellis prompts memories.
“It’s just the old hangout,” Wachtel says, waiting on his double bacon cheeseburger and Suzies. “My baseball coach used to be the cook for years. … People used to come in here for him.”
How it all began
When White’s Grill began in 1938, it wasn’t one of a kind. Original owner Red McLaughlin — who is said to have invented Suzie Q’s — opened the business as part of a chain. At one time, a handful of other restaurants operated in places such as Fort Scott, Chanute, Iola, and Pittsburg, Kan. Today, however, the Nevada stop is the only one left.
Those nearly eight decades in operation have given ample opportunity for some stand-out memories. President Harry Truman stopped there for burgers; another time, Susan Ford, President Gerald Ford’s daughter, photographed the place. Prom dinners have been held there. And then there was the moment when a car crashed through the front wall in June 2016. “(A man) decided to try to make it a drive-thru,” jokes Diana Wessley, one of the diner’s owners. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the restaurant was open again within a week.
Wessley entered the picture in the early 1960s, when her father, James Novak, became part owner in the business and later acquired the entire enterprise. Today, she owns the restaurant along with her sister, Linda Gower; daughter, Megan Foster; and Mike Lile, a cook at the grill.
The diner itself
Patron Dick Wachtel (left) grew up at the diner, and came back for a burger on a recent visit to Nevada.
Despite the grill’s longevity, its booths were only added around a decade ago. Before then, most diners ate in their cars, taking advantage of the grill’s curbside service. It’s something that’s still offered today. “You come around and honk your horn,” says Wessley of placing an order.
Those orders could be comprised of a variety of choices, because burgers aren’t the only thing on the menu. The diner offers breakfast, lunch and dinner selections, although there are a few things Ellis says stand out from the rest — and one is simply a mess. Or rather, The Mess. It’a a dish created by one of the grill’s cooks, says Ellis, and is hash browns, egg and cheese “all mixed together in a mess.”
The early-morning offerings includes standard fare such as pancakes, French toast, omelettes and egg sandwiches. Later in the day, diners may choose from barbecue, plate specials, homemade onion rings (on Thursdays and Fridays) and sweet treats such as milkshakes.
While many options are menu classics, Ellis notes that the effort behind them is often out of the ordinary. “We make our own biscuits from scratch,” she says. “We bread our own tenderloin.”
That food is really what Wessley believes has kept the business so popular for so many years. “All our food is prepared as you order it,” she says — except for their barbecue selections, which take a little longer to cook than diners can wait.
And, of course, burgers are also a best seller. “We use 100 percent beef,” says Wessley, and notes that they also roll their own patties every day.
Those burgers sizzle mouthwateringly as they’re flattened onto the grill, each one topped with a pile or raw onions — something that Ellis says helps their flavor stand out from the crowd. But there’s something else, too, that helps. “The grease,” she says of the finger-licking tasty eats. “I think when you see several napkins on a table, it’s dang good food.”
Want to eat?
White Grill (200 N. Commercial St., Nevada; 417-667-9388) is open seven days a week, although opening hours vary. To learn specific hours or to connect with the diner online, visit its Facebook page.