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JENNIFER HARRIS/The Warren Record

Wilson Somerville manages Warrenton’s Burger Barn, which is busier than ever, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burger Barn owner Ted Echols stumbled upon a fitting description for the Warrenton drive-up joint that has been in his family, under one name or another, since the 1950s, and now survived long enough to thrive amid a global pandemic that has upended much of the restaurant industry.  

“It’s nothing too sophisticated,” Echols said of the menu. “It’s really good food that I like to eat.”

It’s straightforward, matching the demeanor of manager Wilson Somerville, who gets to work around 7 a.m. to prep for their daily (they’re closed on Sundays) 10:30 a.m. opening. 

The simple, old “Burger Barn” sign with small lettering in front of the small and unassuming white building that Echols’s grandfather built, isn’t likely to pull in much traffic off the road.  

No matter. They probably don’t need it. Nor have they needed an active social media presence. Their Facebook page hasn’t been updated this year. Longtime patrons know where to find them, in the often bustling lot on Highway 158 Business between the Armory and downtown.

The lot has been bustling even more than usual recently, in contrast to the National Restaurant Association’s May 15 report that “adjusting for inflation, consumer spending at eating and drinking places plunged to its lowest level since October 1984.”

“Naw, it’s been pretty good,” Somerville said of Burger Barn business. “We’re actually doing better.”

“I think it’s just been a terrible time for generally anybody in the restaurant business,” Echols added. “We have just been fortunate enough that we weren’t as impacted as much as most restaurants where you have people that go in and order and sit down. I can’t imagine. But I hope, finally, we’re beginning to come out of it.”

Somerville wonders whether some folks haven’t been able to find meat, especially ground beef, in the grocery stores, and choose to dine out instead. 

Burger Barn, the 2020 Warren Record Readers’ Choice for Best Burgers and Best Milkshakes, certainly has plenty of that, along with other menu items like fried chicken and pork chops, hot dogs, sausage dogs, and steak and chicken sandwiches. 

Somerville was grilling burgers and dogs by 9:30 a.m. on Monday, a few hours before the lot filled for lunch traffic. Two days prior, there was a steady stream of vehicles on a hot and sunny Saturday, even after 2 p.m., with soft-serve ice cream cones a popular choice. 

If not for the “Please respect and adhere to social distancing (6 feet away from others)” sign out front and accompanying Xs to mark the spots, the average customer wouldn’t notice much of a change at Burger Barn. 

“Everything was already set,” Somerville said. 

Kind of like the old-fashioned sliding takeout window that now has an added benefit of preventing employees from coming face to face with customers. 

Some wait in their cars after walking up to order while others hang around outside, some doing their best to social distance, although that’s not easy when it’s crowded. 

Echols said the Burger Barn has sought a loan, as many small businesses around the country have, with some more successful in receiving the government protection than others. 

Before permanently moving to the area about 20 years ago, Echols grew up in Georgia, but regularly visited Warrenton with his mother, Nancy (Harris) Echols, a Warren County native. 

She owns the Burger Barn building, and Ted oversees the business, although he says he won’t take credit for how good the milkshakes are. The day-to-day operations fall under the direction of Somerville, who doesn’t anticipate business slowing anytime soon. 

Why would it?

“People love Burger Barn,” Somerville said. “That’s why it’s been here so long.”