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Richwine’s Burgerville celebrates 60 years in the family

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POLSON — In 1962, a loaf of bread cost 22 cents. A gallon of gas cost 31 cents. A lot can change in 60 years, but some things stay the same. As of today, April 20, Polson’s own Richwine’s Burgerville has been open for 60 years, and it’s still owned and operated by the Richwine family. 

Purchased as a small hut by Enoch and Lucy Richwine in 1962, Enoch bought the land it sits on now in 1965 from local teacher and coach Royal Morrison, after whom their famous Royal burger is named. The classic cow sign that still stands out front came with the original hut, marking it as “Burgerville #2” as there were once two other locations in Montana.

Burgerville has changed hands a few times since then, but has never left the Richwine family. After he and his sister spent their youth working the drive through with their parents, Shane Richwine took the restaurant over from his parents after Enoch retired in 1986, running it as a partnership with Lucy for three years before it became officially his in 1989. Shane ran the restaurant for 20 years before cancer claimed him. After he passed away, Burgerville was passed on to his sister Marcia Moen in 2009.

“I don’t think Mom and Dad ever envisioned this,” Moen said of the anniversary milestone. 

Moen had been just 11 months old when her parents bought Burgerville. While she had worked there as a teenager and helped on weekends in college, she took a 20-year break from the business to pursue a career in accounting in Missoula until Shane called her up to ask for her help. Upon her brother’s passing, Moen said she decided that as long as her mom was alive, she wanted to make sure that Burgerville was still succeeding. While Lucy retired in 1989, she kept working until she passed away from cancer as well in 2015.

In the 12 years since Moen took up the reins, she’s made a few minor changes to enhance the dining experience. For one, she brought back sundaes, which hadn’t been offered at the restaurant in years, along with a new huckleberry option. Bacon and a new cod for their fish and chips were added by her as well, along with one of the most significant new options: the Bernie Burger. 

Named after a longtime nickname of her brother Shane, known as “Bernie Burger” to his friends in school and even touting the title as a license plate for a time, the cheese deluxe with ham was added to the menu in his honor. A portion of the proceeds of its sale are donated to the American Cancer Society in his memory, or, Moen said, given directly to families in Polson battling cancer just as her own had. 

“I felt it was important we have something for (Shane’s) memory,” Moen said. “If I can at least help alleviate some (families) of their concerns, for transportation to and from the doctor or even just to put a meal on the table… If I can give them at least a little bit of relief, then I’ve done a good thing.”

For the last few years, the restaurant has also held a blood drive before Mother’s Day in May in honor of Lucy Richwine. “It’s our way of trying to give back to those who gave to Mom when she had to have blood transfusions,” Moen explained. While the Red Cross blood bus can no longer come to the restaurant due to COVID, they’ve held the drive in the Polson Red Lion the past couple of years instead. This year it’ll be held on May 7, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Beyond these innovations, not much has changed inside the local drive through. The building itself has been kept as original as possible according to Moen, with the sole exception being the update of vents and the air conditioning system this year. The beef is still from Montana bulls, anywhere from 12,000-14,000 pounds seasoned with salt and pepper and ground down right inside the restaurant. The classic “do-hinkey,” the slice of fresh celery, carrot, and radish on a toothpick still comes with every sandwich and burger, and now even has a magnet counterpart customers can buy to take home. 

It may be the consistency of their tried-and-true recipes that has earned the drive through national appreciation. Visiting columnists from all over the country have raved about the Richwine’s burgers, giving tourists instruction to try out their famous Royal. Local filmmaker David W. King and his wife Jessica, the producers of the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest, even made a documentary of the restaurant in early 2020 titled “Burgers, Fries & Family Ties.” 

A “love letter” to Richwine’s Burgerville according to King, the film covers the ins and outs of both the business and the family history entwined with it, aided by the rigorous restaurant records maintained throughout the years by Lucy, and even features locals who grew up going to the restaurant and remain longtime customers like Showboat Cinema owners Gary and Becky Dupuis. Since its debut, the film has won several awards, including the Spokane International Film Festival’s “Jury Award Winner: Best of the Northwest Feature” and “Audience Award Winner: Best of Northwest Feature,” along with the Award of Merit from the IndieFEST Film Awards and, most recently, Best Feature Length Documentary from the 2021 International Media Arts Film Awards held in Kempala, Uganda in December.

“There’s a lot of humor in it, but then there’s a lot of tears that are shed too,” Moen said fondly of the documentary. “It turned out very well, I’m very proud of (King) for what he’s done and the accomplishments that he’s had on that documentary.”

Even as its popularity grows as Polson does, “Burgs,” as its affectionately called by locals, is still a simple family business at its core according to the Richwines. Moen is helped daily by her older brother Corey and nephew Jeremy. Her daughter Cassidy, who was only eight when Moen took over the business, now visits from college to help out on Fridays and Saturdays. Her niece comes by to contribute too. And, as always, there will be a Burgerville Days celebration this year to mark another year in business, this one a special milestone. 

Though former Polson mayor Pat DeVries officially declared the restaurant’s opening day of April 20 as Burgerville Day back in 2012, the celebration of the drive through’s 60th anniversary will be held this weekend, from April 22 to 24. To celebrate, Burgerville will be offering customers the option to enter a raffle each day to earn one of two $60 gift certificates, one dollar for every year they’ve been in business. At the end of each day, two names will be drawn from a hat to receive the prize. 

“It’s a thank you to the customers for being there for us,” Moen stated. 

Moen’s arthritis and a changing workforce has caused the restaurant to run fewer hours. They’re currently open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily with the exception of Wednesdays when they close for family day. Though the hours are long and demanding, Moen intends to keep going one day at a time. 

“Emotionally, can I say I can leave? No. But there will be a time when I can’t physically do it anymore,” Moen said. “I’m just taking each day one at a time… (This anniversary) is a testament to my parents and what they did. They’ve allowed me to be here... This is something that I get to do. I don’t have to do this; I get to do this. I feel every day when I walk through that door I’ve been blessed with the privilege and honor to be here.”

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