by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
Pull up a chair and feel like you’re at home.
That’s the philosophy Marty Hall has brought with him to work every day for nearly five decades in the restaurant business.
And it’s how you’ll feel when you take a seat at Sid’s Diner in El Reno and Hall spins around and asks ‘How ya doin?’”
“I love the people I meet,” said Hall, who has turned the tiny onion burger joint into a destination.
Hundreds of people daily flow into Sid’s, which is just 880-square-feet of real estate (including the walk-in cooler).
“I didn’t have any money left,” Hall said of why it’s not bigger. “When I opened the door I had $300 to my name.”
Hall built the diner in 1990 after owning the old-style walkup Dairy Hut just around the corner along Route 66 which his mother and father helped him purchase when he was 21.
Hall started working in the restaurant business at age 13, peeling onions and washing dishes at 50 cents an hour.
He also got to eat anything he wanted.
“I had to work. I was just trying to help my folks out,” Hall said.
The restaurant’s namesake – Hall’s father Sid – was a highway foreman who supervised I-40.
“Dad never saw this place. He died before I could get it done,” he said. “A year from retiring he passed away from a heart attack.”
A NATIONAL SUCCESS
The walls of Sid’s Diner are covered with magazine and newspaper articles from food critics who have made the trek to El Reno – population 18,000 – to see what all the fuss is about.
“I’ve got magazines I haven’t even put up yet,” Hall giggled.
Adam Richman brought the The Food Channel’s Man Vs. Food show to El Reno a few years back.
What he found at the corner of Wade and South Choctaw blew him away before meat even touched flattop.
“We make our own spatulas. We don’t buy them,” Hall told Richman. “We use brick trowels.”
Hall used one to flatten a freshly-formed third-pound of ground beef on the seasoned grill and topped it with a heaping handful of thinly-shaved Spanish white onions.
Hall says there’s nothing fancy about any of it. The 200 or so burgers he smashes out every day for lunch trace their roots back to the Great Depression, which, as legend has it, was when Ardmore restaurant owner Ross Davis paired five cents worth of beef with half a onion.
Oklahomans and travelers along Route 66 have been enjoying the meaty marriage ever since.
Hall’s diner has been featured in Best Roadside Eats, Delicious Destinations with Andrew Zimmern, Favorite Places on Route 66 in Oklahoma, Top 5 Burgers in America by the Food Network, Is this a Great State or What with Galen Culver and Discover Oklahoma to name a few.
Visitors have come in from as far away as Africa and Korea.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Hall was born at Tinker Field while his dad was fighting in Korea. His mother used to tell the story of how she went into labor around 10 p.m. one May 7.
His grandparents put his mother into dad’s 1948 Chevrolet and sped down Route 66 until the wind and hail forced them to pull over.
“They got caught in a storm and mom said it was a bad one,” he said. “She was pretty sure there was a tornado but they made it.”
Eight months later his father came home to meet him for the first time.
“I wouldn’t change a thing. I love what I do,” Hall said.
Working six days a week, Hall swaps off with son Adam on long and short weeks, with one working 32 hours and the other working 42.
Sid’s will one day become Adam’s, who at 35 is the same age Hall was when he built the diner.
This December, Hall’s book detailing it all showed up on Amazon.
A Burger Boy on Route 66 contains decades of stories and photos of those who traversed Route 66 and stopped by for a bite.
The flip was switched a few years back for Hall to write a book. “I’m a Christian and my wife is the one who really encouraged me,” he said.
The gravity of it all struck him a few years back.
A friend and her mother stopped by for lunch. She asked how he was getting along.
“I always say I’m doing fine, I’ve got a really good shepherd,” Hall said. “She said ‘I know. He likes to watch you cook those hamburgers.’ I had never thought about it that way.”
“There’s a whole lot more going on here than cooking hamburgers.”