Jim-Denny’s

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By Steve LaRosa

I’m not one to miss a historic event. So when I caught wind back in 1989 that Jim Van Nort, the owner of downtown Sacramento’s legendary burger joint, Jim-Denny’s, was about to retire, I requested the honor of eating his last burger. I was working in television at the time, so we brought in cameras. I still remember the shot of a lonely spatula resting on an empty grill.

Luckily for us, other owners have come along to keep the tradition alive. The latest are Sean and Joanna Lane, who in May reopened Jim-Denny’s after it had been closed for several months.

The Lanes stopped short of a makeover, but they did spruce things up, adding outdoor seating and a walk-up takeout window while keeping the integrity of the place intact. The original stools and counter are still there, although the pattern on the Formica countertop is worn through. (I’m guessing a combination of elbow grease and greasy elbows.) The wood shelving and original graphics (Fancy Jumbo Hot Dogs 10¢ . . . Fancy Cheeseburgers 5¢) remain, along with a framed note instructing patrons seated by the phone how to answer it and take an order.

And the food? The Lanes still order the Jim-Denny’s custom burger mix from Del Monte Meat Company, and they still fry the patties on the grill like in the old days, but now there are more choices: eight of them. You can order the old-fashioned 5-cent burger (although it costs more than a nickel these days). Or supersize your order and get the Megaburger: a 1-pounder with tomato, onions, lettuce, pickles and your choice of a side of fries, chili, potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw or a small green salad. (In Jim’s day, the answer to “Can I get fries with that?” was a resounding no. I wish I had a nickel for every time head waitress Beulah had to answer that question.)

The Lanes serve breakfast and have added a number of sandwiches to the lunch menu. They make the milkshakes with real ice cream.

The only thing missing is Jim-Denny’s famous Sky Room: a bench facing a window in the kitchen. It was a great place to bring that special someone. Good times. The Lanes are mulling that one over. Stand by for bulletins.

816 12th Street, Sacramento; (916) 443-9655; Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday.