Photos by Steve Hilton.
Halo Burger has been serving up hot, juicy burgers with all the usual fixings – plus green olives – since 1923.
Located on Saginaw Street in Flint, Michigan, inside the old Vernors soda shop (complete with chandeliers), the venerable Halo Burger serves up a true taste of the self-styled Vehicle City with each and every drive-thru order. The whole store is worn in like a good pair of work boots – familiar, cozy, and dependable. It’s an institution. Stuck in the past, when the UAW was king and what was good for General Motors was good for the country, they still use fresh patties instead of frozen, processed beef pucks, and the onions sting, baby. And did I mention that you can get olives on your burger?
Halo Burger’s mantra is simple: if the past tastes this good, why would you ever want to move on?
Biting into one of their signature Q.P. (quarter pound) burgers, it’s hard to disagree. Is this what McDonald’s used to taste like? Is this why we fell in love with hamburgers in the first place? The rough, imperfect shapes of the patties create jagged edges that your saliva cascades down as your teeth tear into the sinewy fibers of the perfectly grilled meat. The rich scent fills your nostrils and sends your brain to womb-like world of beef serenity. It’s perfect. Unbelievable. Bliss.
The only way to cap off a moment like that is to order a Halo Burger Boston cooler – a mysteriously named ginger ale milkshake flavored with Vernors. Made under the auspices of the store’s ancient wrought iron V’s, it has a hint of a magic that a shake machine alone couldn’t deliver. Maybe it’s the work of the Vernors gnomes depicted on the lovingly restored mural outside, rolling barrels of mellow aged ginger ale from their massive medieval fortress to Halo Burger. Or maybe it’s the simple power of nostalgia.
Hmmm. Let’s say it was the gnomes.
Halo Burger is an inspiration. Flint, if you hadn’t already heard, is a hard-luck city. The old Buick City industrial complex, where GM once employed tens of thousands of people, is now a deserted concrete prairie along the Flint River. Genesee Towers, the city’s tallest building, sits vacant and forlorn, the sidewalk around it cordoned off to protect pedestrians from falling concrete. Historic inner city neighborhoods like Carriage Town are half-demolished and resemble rural outposts.
Flintites need something they can believe in, something they can hold onto. Something tangible. Like a burger, or an On Time vinyl by Flint’s Grand Funk Railroad. The jobs, the people – it’s all disappearing. The past is fading fast, and there’s nothing to replace it.
But maybe that gives what remains a chance to shine that much more. It could be Halo Burger, or the old bearded man on the corner in his UAW shirt – you just gotta open your heart.