Come midwinter, the people of Auburn will share a neon oasis known to the carnivores of Fife since 1949.
Pick-Quick is expanding.
After more than 60 years, the family-owned burger stand has found a partner and is about to build a second outlet.
Pick-Quick chief Joe Burgi – president of the Burgi Family Trust, which owns the Pick-Quick building, property and brand – emphasized Wednesday that the original store along Pacific Highway East will not change.
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He, along with son Greg and son-in-law Dan Nelson, will continue to work daily. The veteran staff will remain. The potatoes and meat will still be fresh, not frozen, and flowers will bloom in the garden next spring as they have bloomed every spring since the buck stopped at Harry Truman’s desk.
In Auburn, a new Pick-Quick is about to rise in partnership with Icon LLC.
That’s a Seattle company owned by Gerard Centioli. He already operates a dozen Krispy Kreme franchises in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and British Columbia, plus Joes’ Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab outlets in Chicago and Las Vegas.
The deal with the Burgi family has been in the works for at least four years, he said Wednesday.
It’s been on his mind for much longer than that.
He grew up in Seattle, the son of the man who in 1953 established Gil’s – which was the King County precursor of 19-cent burger outlets including Dick’s, Dag’s and Herfy’s.
Driving through Pierce County, the Centioli family would stop at Pick-Quick.
“That’s where we always went,” he said. “It was the best burger, and the french fries were always fresh. The other place we always stopped was Brown and Haley.”
His first memories of the burger stand in Fife derive from the early 1960s.
“It’s been in the back of my mind for a long time,” he said. “It’s the best in its class and it’s stood the test of time.”
That’s what Icon looks for in an icon.
Meanwhile, over the years, Joe Burgi has kept a list of people making serious inquiries about partnerships of one sort or another.
“I’ve had people want to buy it, people who wanted to expand it. Franchise deals. Brokers. One guy wanted to write me a check, right there.”
Six figures, right there, take the money and walk away.
But for Burgi, Pick-Quick is more about family than money. For Centioli, it’s about culture.
That’s what he hopes to maintain at the new Auburn store.
It will, however, contain differences. Where the original Pick-Quick totals 485 square feet and offers counter service and outdoor, picnic-table dining, the new store will offer 2,450 square feet with indoor seating and drive-thru window. Where the original closes between December 1 and February 1, the new one will be open 12 months a year.
The menu will remain the same and the new building – which will likely earn LEED gold status, Centioli said – will be “architecturally correct to 1949. That means that when you look at them, they will look like they were built in 1949.”
By “them” and “they,” he seems to infer that the Auburn store might represent the first store of a larger second generation of Pick-Quicks, although neither he nor Burgi would offer plans for outlets beyond South King County.
“Our approach is one-at-a-time,” Centioli said.
Neither partner would offer financial details of the deal, although Centioli said he was investing “more than a million dollars” in the project.
“It’s a big bet on burgers,” he said. “What does it take to succeed? It’s ‘What is the brand? What is the concept? What is the market looking for?’ America will always eat burgers. Over time, they will become more discriminating.”
And what is it about a little burger place in Fife that has prospered for six decades, a little burger place that served 8,000 milk shakes in July alone?
It’s about a father who drives out of his way to make sure his young son gets a good meal and a memory worth keeping.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people stop and just take a picture of the sign,” said Burgi.