An Iowa couple has cornered the market on burgers in the Black Hills.
Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. is the brainchild of Claud and Christie Smith, and has quickly become a staple of the food scene in Custer.
Originally from Iowa, the Smiths worked in the grocery business for around 20 years. It was during this time that they acquired a small store in Custer and instantly fell in love with the area.
“I kind of just felt that the Black Hills was my home,” said Christie.
In August of 2012, the Smiths made the move to South Dakota, and found a small building where they would begin a new venture into the food industry: Black Hills Burger & Bun.
In recent years, the demand for gourmet and craft burgers has skyrocketed across the nation.
“We kind of knew it was coming, and we felt that Custer didn’t have anything in that niche,” said Christie.
And so, in that first small building, the Smiths transitioned from retail to service.
“We loved retail,” said Christie, “But we’ve fallen in love with the restaurant business now, and it’s been a new challenge. It’s a lot more work and longer hours, but it’s also more rewarding.”
The Smith’s original location sat only 35 people, and allowed the couple to start out small.
When they opened, they served just three burgers, and would add new options weekly, as they became more comfortable.
It didn’t take long.
In 2014, they won TripAdvisor’s award for the “Best Burger in the Nation,” and business promptly exploded.
Not long afterward, in April 2015, the restaurant relocated to a larger building on Mt. Rushmore Road.
After moving, they began offering a special Burger of the Week, to keep people interested.
Since business has grown, however, they’ve adjusted to a strictly off-season Burger of the Week schedule. During the heavy tourist season (mid May to early October), they’re simply too busy to coordinate it.
“Summertime just gets crazy,” said Christie, “and we think of it as something special for our local people in the off-season.”
The atmosphere at Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. is laid-back and family-oriented.
“We’ve got beer for Mom and Dad and milkshakes for the kids,” said Christie.
Seating at the new location is around 65 – and they’re usually full.
It’s easy to see why.
All burgers are crafted with specialty cuts of beef, ground in-house, and sandwiched between a soft, white, house-baked bun.
The menu features something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of the Classic with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and house-made pickles, or something a bit wilder, like the Hot Granny, which features bacon, cream cheese, jalapeños, and a sweet and spicy sauce.
Even the health-conscious can find something here. All burgers can be substituted with a house-made black bean patty or an UDI’s gluten-free bun.
But it doesn’t stop there.
When it comes to sides, the Smiths bread their own cheese curds and pickle chips, whip up coleslaw and baked beans from scratch, and use their leftover buns to make bread pudding for dessert.
“There’s not much we buy that’s pre-made,” said Christie.
And yes, they also offer bison burgers (locally sourced and ground in-house). It is South Dakota, after all.
Local support and the power of community are key to a restaurant like Black Hills Burger & Bun Co.’s success.
The city of Custer recently held a restaurant week, featuring 10 local eateries.
“It was nice to see people coming together to do something that we all benefit from,” said Christie. “We all rely on each other, and we all do something a little different.”
At Black Hills Burger & Bun Co., a dedication to doing things – in their case, burgers – differently is what makes them so successful.
For more information, visit blackhillsburgerandbun.com.
STANDOUT BURGERS OF THE WEEK
During the off-season, the Smiths reward their loyal, local customer base with a unique Burger of the Week (BOW) line-up.
According to Christie, these recipes won’t pop up more than once during the off-season. She has an entire book full of potential BOWs (like the recent California Burger), and makes sure to mark the ones they’ve tried already.
A FEW FAN FAVORITES
The Thai Burger (This is one of BHB+B’s all-time most popular burgers.)
Similar to a Banh Mi, it features peanut butter, sweet chili sauce, mayo, a carrot and jalapeno slaw, cilantro, and a pork patty.
The Mac Daddy
A new classic, this creation marries a burger and mac and cheese, to make the ultimate comfort food.
The Bloody Mary
A unique take on a favorite cocktail, this burger features a special vodka-spiced Bloody Mary sauce, olives, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and celery salt.