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Blake Pontchartrain: The Lee and the Bud in Lee's and Bud's

The stories and the names behind the New Orleans area burger joints

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Hey Blake,

I'm curious about the history of two of my favorite hamburger joints. Who is the Lee in Lee's Hamburgers and who was the Bud behind Bud's Broiler?

Dear reader,

  A native of Hot Springs, Arkansas, Lester "Lee" Hash opened his first hamburger stand in New Orleans in 1901. According to his 1968 obituary in The States-Item, he opened his first hamburger stand on Canal Street before moving next to the Orpheum Theater. The burgers, cooked on a cast-iron griddle, were packed with chopped onions, Lee's signature. "Once in a while, when a weirdo came in, you'd hear a shout, 'Hole-la onions,'" wrote Times-Picayune columnist Frank Schneider in 1984. "When you're at a place that sells juicy hamburgers with onions, you don't ask them to hold the onions. It's like asking Arnaud's to hold the remoulade on the shrimp."

  After 16 years, Hash moved his hamburger restaurant to 3022 Tulane Ave. After his death, his former business partner and meat supplier, Leon Saizan, continued the burger business, using Lee's recipes and name. Today, his relatives and franchisees continue the tradition.

  Alfred J. "Bud" Saunders opened the first Bud's Broiler in 1952 on Airline Drive near Cleary Avenue. Saunders came to Louisiana from Austin, Texas, according to Bud's Broiler's website. A 1954 newspaper ad for Bud's charcoal-broiled burgers touted Saunders' winning formula: "High quality meat in glowing charcoal makes the difference." Saunders opened a second Bud's at 500 City Park Ave. in 1956. Other locations on Calhoun Street and Banks Street followed.

  "To call Bud's places unfancy is probably the understatement of the year," wrote Richard Collin in his "Underground Gourmet" column in The States-Item in 1976. "The older Bud's locations exult in the New Orleans preference for places that obviously devote themselves to food rather than decor." Still, Collin said, nothing could beat a Bud's No. 3: meat, grated cheddar, mayo and onions, which he called "one of the great hamburgers in America." In 1980, Saunders retired and his wife Mary took over the business and welcomed new franchisees. In 1992, the business was purchased by longtime employee Joseph Catalano. Currently there are eight locations in the metro area, and a franchise is set to open soon in Baton Rouge.

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