It looks like a mid-December opening for the reincarnation of the old Little Holland Drive-In, the burger stand — famous for its creamy frozen custard and “Mikie’s Famous Burgers” — that went out of business last summer.
When it comes to the new version of Little Holland, the “drive-in” part of the name has been dropped. The new Little Holland is opening as a walk-in restaurant in a strip mall across the street from where the original drive-in restaurant opened in 1965 on Center Street. The question brewing among Little Holland fans: will the food stay the same?
I spoke by phone this morning with Chi Baek, who with husband Soungwon “Tony” Hong has bought the name, equipment and recipes of Little Holland from previous owners Dave and Dorothy Viskup.
The new home for Little Holland is a strip-mall space that used to be a barbecue restaurant. Right now, it’s just a storefront with windows covered with paper, but soon it will be a walk-in burger restaurant with counter seating and the familiar Little Holland red-and-white color scheme.
Baek said she’s optimistic about a mid-December opening, but she might push the opening if training takes longer than she expects. She said the Viskups will begin training the couple how to prepare the Mikie burgers and the famous frozen custard next week. Baek also said the former owners will work at the newly opened Little Holland the first few weeks of business.
And now for the big question: what’s going to change on the menu? Baek’s answer? “Nothing.”
Baek said she has tracked comments posted on News Tribune reporter Kelly Kearsley’s story here, where some News Tribune readers predicted the dilution of the menu with teriyaki. “I read the replies from the people and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, we’re not going to have teriyaki or kim chi,’” said Baek.
Baek had these additional words for skeptical fans worried they’ll stray from the original recipe for Mikie burgers, “I want them to know that we’re going to try so hard. This is our first restaurant business, but we’re not going to change anything. I promise. It’s not going to be Little Holland Teriyaki. I’m the one who loves the Mikie Burger and the custard, and we’re not going to change anything.”
She said she didn’t quite know what she was getting into with the purchase of the restaurant that has a loyal, vocal following, but she said she is heeding the advice of the Viskups, who have urged her to stick to the burger formula that made the restaurant so popular. Even her young children have been approached by their elementary school classmates asking about the menu and when the restaurant will open. She said the volume of inquiries, and even the young age of the restaurant’s fans, has come as quite a surprise.
She said she’s committed to recreating the restaurant and its food – and even intends to use the same suppliers. I grilled her, so to speak, on the menu, a copy of which I have here at my desk. I read down the list of burgers, and the list of Mikie’s sandwiches and fish, chicken and hot dog items. She said she would serve them all.
She said one promise she can’t make is that she’ll keep the prices the same. She said she’s researching food costs right now and will decide whether or not to charge more. She noted that it’s been a few years since Little Holland had a price increase, and it may be time to do that.
Baek said she was a regular diner at Little Holland, so she’s familiar with the tastes and flavor of the food. Now she’s preparing to learn the techniques.
Like many Little Holland fans, I’m curious to see how the food will be executed. I’ll reserve judgment until after the new Little Holland opens, but I will say that when new owners take over any restaurant institution, expectations always will be elevated. There were a lot of things that I liked about Little Holland burgers, which I wrote about here during my Burger Trail series in the spring. I’ll be watching for the same hallmarks at the new Little Holland: crunchy bun, juicy burger, a smear of tangy Mikie sauce and a dish of creamy frozen custard on the side.
What’s on your Little Holland checklist?
And another question to ponder: Will walking into a strip mall and ordering a burger be the same experience as the nostalgia of a drive-in burger stand? I certainly don’t think so. What do you think?
Opening: Around mid-December, possibly later if training takes longer.
Address: 4915 Center St. Space C, Tacoma