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Fair deal: Bob’s Burger is being brought back

Scott Corey (left) and Gina Dankenbring (right) look on as Bob's Burger Express founder Bob Corey signs a contract for the name to be used at upcoming fairs by Dankenbring. (Photo courtesy Gina Dankenbring)
Scott Corey (left) and Gina Dankenbring (right) look on as Bob’s Burger Express founder Bob Corey signs a contract for the name to be used at upcoming fairs by Dankenbring. (Photo courtesy Gina Dankenbring)

Of the Keizertimes

So much for the trial run.

Gina Dankenbring, owner of the Golden Grill Concessions company that temporarily operated The Dog House location at River Road and Dietz Avenue in Keizer early last year, recently announced an agreement to bring back Bob’s Burger Express to the Oregon State Fair in August.

Dankenbring planned to use next week’s Marion County Fair as a trial run to make sure everything was up to snuff for next month’s bigger fair, especially because Bob’s Burger was such a cultural icon locally since the chain was started in Salem by Bob Corey in 1955. The chain, which initially sold hamburgers for 19 cents, had a number of locations in the area, including a Keizer store at 5130 River Road – where the Carl’s Jr. currently sits – from 1965 to 1999. The chain went out of business in 2001.

Dankenbring has a history with Bob’s, dating back to 1991, the year after Corey sold the chain.

“I was 14 when I started,” she recalled Monday. “I was too young to use the tomato slicer. It was right about the time of the sale. I was there until 1999. On my 18th birthday, I was named general manager at the one on Capitol (Street). I was a shift supervisor at 16. Later I was transferred to one in West Salem with a grill, not a broiler.”

While the Bob’s Burger “secret sauce” has been sold at Roth’s over the years, the ability to get an actual burger didn’t exist.

Dankenbring wanted to change that.

“I’ve been working on this in my mind for a couple of years,” she said. “I have been wanting a Bob’s booth. It’s such a big part of city history. I contacted Scott Corey, Bob’s son.”

From there, conversations between the 94-year-old founder and Dankenbring got going. The talks led to Dankenbring’s June 20 announcement that she would have a Bob’s booth at the state fair.

“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. “Bob asked me, ‘You’re going to grill these, right?’”

That is indeed the plan. In fact, Dankenbring is going to great lengths to accurately replicate all aspects of making a Bob’s burger, including using Franz’s buns and all of the correct sauce ingredients.

“Some jobs, you forget things,” she said. “With this one, all of the details are ingrained in my mind, how to make everything exactly. It’s the little things. Nothing has left my mind. My friend Allen Wright worked there for 22 years. He was a higher up. I’ve been in close contact with him. He remembers everything.”

Dankenbring said the exact replication of the recipe will be needed since she’s bringing back the beloved name.

“It was really neat,” she said of being able to sign a contract with the Coreys. “Back when I was there, (Bob) was a local celebrity. It’s still the same feeling. There was kind of a ‘wow’ factor. It’s definitely more pressure. I thought it would be fun, and it is fun. But I’m not feeling the fun right now. There’s a lot of pressure.”

While the exact menu is still in the works, Dankenbring will be selling hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, Big Brutes and fries as well as Bob’s apparel and secret sauce. Net proceeds from the bottled sauce as well as a portion of all food sales will go towards Bob Corey’s non-profit Chemeketa Community College scholarship fund.

“That’s really important to him,” Dankenbring said of Corey.

Dankenbring figured she would quietly set up a Bob’s booth at the Marion County Fair as a trial, fine-tuning the process in preparation for the Oregon State Fair on Aug. 22 to Sept. 1. That changed, however, with this June 24 post on the Marion County Fair’s Facebook page:

“How many of you remember Bob’s Burgers?” the post read. “If you know what we are talking about then you can remember how delicious they are! Well we have good news for you all. Bob’s will be joining us at The Marion County Fair.”

Dankenbring said she’s still penciling out how to make things work next week. She’ll need more equipment and more staff to operate the Bob’s Burger stand, which will be in addition to several other Golden Grill booths.

On a camping trip last week, Dankenbring was crunching numbers.

“It costs me $.40 just for a meat patty,” she said. “I decided to go with the price of $2.19. I thought keeping the 19 cent part would be fun. I wanted to keep (the cost) as low as possible.”

By keeping the cost low, Dankenbring realizes the profit for her won’t be much. That’s fine with her.

“It has to do with my ties to Bob’s,” she said. “Bob’s was always there; it was my rock. I was a young mom with a baby. I want to see Bob’s come back. Tens of thousands of people do. The time is right.”

Dankenbring is hopeful the Coreys will be pleased to see her work.

“I think they will have mixed feelings,” she said of the name being brought back. “They don’t want to see a mockery of what Bob’s was. Bob kept asking me things like what kind of bun, wanting to make sure I have the right mixers for the sauce. Yet they are also excited. You can see the glow in their eyes. Bob’s excited.”

Dankenbring herself is excited, not to mention confident she will do the name proud. If all goes well, she wouldn’t mind expanding upon the current contract.

“We haven’t discussed doing something permanent,” Dankenbring said. “For me, this is a foot in the door. I want them to be happy with my work. I want the community to be happy with the return of Bob’s and I want to be happy with the bottom line as well. We’ll see how it goes.”