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Santa Fe bids farewell to a burger icon

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Customers lined up to the street on the last day of business for Bert\’s Burger Bowl in Santa Fe on Wednesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE —- A temple to the green chile cheeseburger here saw its last worshipper on Wednesday. Legions of faithful were lined up all day long outside Bert’s Burger Bowl on North Guadalupe Street for one last burger on the drive-in’s last day.

The inscription on the menu says it all: “One location worldwide,” adding in what may be a point of dispute, “We are the creators of the green chile cheeseburger in Santa Fe.”

Property owner Fred Decastro said Shake Foundation hamburger restaurant owner Brian Knox would be taking over the lease for the Bert’s location.

Bert’s was founded in the 1950s, and Fernando and Debra Olea have owned it for about 25 years. On Wednesday, Fernando was too busy to talk as he heated up tortillas on the grill. Debra and three helpers dished up burgers and fries. Customers lamented the closing as they spoke to reporters while they waited, sometimes for as long as two hours to order and get their food.

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Fernando Olea, owner of Bert\’s Burger Bowl, shouts out order numbers on the last day of business for the Santa Fe burger joint. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“I’m super sad its closing,” said Brittany Espinoza of Santa Fe. “I’ve been coming here since I was little, so I just wanted to come and have it one last time.” Espinoza’s choice was the “super delicious” single burger combo.

Pat Pitel of Santa Fe has been a Bert’s aficionado since her grammar school days, and there was no doubt why she was in line. “One last fix — a green chile cheeseburger fix,” she said. “I’m just sorry they didn’t give us a little more time (notice)” before the closing became public on Tuesday, said Pitel.

“They have the best green chile cheeseburger. I’m going to miss them,” said Pitel. “We came at 11:30 and the line was longer. They were placing orders for 30 hamburgers at a time.”

For Barbara, who didn’t want to give her last name, her visit was more of a tribute although she never met the Oleas. “I’m here to celebrate their retirement and to honor them,” said Barbara. “It’s pretty special, Bert’s has won the heart of Santa Fe.”

Next to the busy cash register sat a thick, plastic cheeseburger with green chile sliding between the buns, something that Brittany Espinoza has never forgotten. “I always remember that little cheeseburger by the register,” she said wistfully.

Bert’s also has a part in national pop culture. The 1971 movie “Two Lane Blacktop,” a hippie-era road picture with a substantial cult following, features a scene where a young and not-yet-famous James Taylor accepts a challenge to drag-race on Airport Road.

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