Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. has been a staple of the Custer dining scene for nearly a decade, and it’s their unwavering commitment to fresh ingredients married with a family-driven standard of excellence that keeps the crowds coming back.
The craft burger joint first opened its doors in a smaller location back in 2012, and three years later, thanks to an overwhelming response in business, it relocated to its current, larger space on Mt. Rushmore Road.
That extra space came in especially handy when COVID-19 hit in 2020, giving them room to rearrange tables and allow for social distancing.
Jessica Hartmann is the general manager of Burger & Bun, and she’s also the daughter of owners, Claude and Christie Smith.
“As far as the core principles of it—the burgers and the buns and everything—that has consistently stayed the same. We’re not willing to change on the quality of product we put out.” -Jessica Hartmann
Hartmann says the business didn’t see much of a slowdown in reaction to the pandemic, but it was the type of customers that changed.
“We definitely had a busy summer, but the biggest difference was the amount of takeout people were doing,” she said. “We had always offered it, but this year it was about 40 percent of our business. People would take food to go and eat in a park or in their car, and it worked out great.”
So, what is it about these burgers that kept hungry customers flocking in, even in the midst of a pandemic?
“Our biggest thing is that we make everything from scratch or fresh, as much as possible,” said Hartmann. “We grind the burger, my mom bakes the buns, and everything is just very fresh.”
But it’s not just about the ingredients. Hartmann says there’s a strong element of passion and dedication that goes into the restaurant’s success.
She remembers growing up in Iowa where her dad started out his career as a grocer, just like his father before him.
Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. was the 2014 winner of TripAdvisor’s Best Burger in the Country.
“I remember, I was probably 10 or 12, and my dad bought a huge outdoor grill,” explained Hartmann. “He had this little shack out in front of the grocery store, and he would sell burgers, brats, and steak sandwiches. That’s what really started the burger thing.”
She continued, “And in the summertime, I was down there helping him take people’s money and bagging up burgers.”
Take that entrepreneurial spirit, add a healthy dose of discipline and quality control, and Hartmann says that’s the key to the Smiths’ success.
“My parents are there for every single shift,” she said. “My dad is the only one in the restaurant who’s ever cooked a burger. They just don’t want to sacrifice that quality,” she said.
Recently, the family found a way to keep their grocery tradition alive, too. In June 2020, they opened up Wild Spruce Market right next door to Burger & Bun, with Hartmann as the manager. The shop features a mixture of specialty and organic foods, as well as gifts by local makers.
“Custer really didn’t have anywhere to buy natural, organic, local foods,” said Hartmann. “We opened in June, which was insane trying to do it in the midst of COVID, but we did it and it worked out fine. It had been in the works for quite a while.”
The Original 3
When Burger & Bun first opened, they had just three burgers on the menu. Today, the menu features 13 burgers (among other items), as well as a special Burger of the Week during the off-season. These were the original three:
+The Hot Granny
A bar inside the shop sells local beer and wine, plus kombucha on tap, which Hartmann says has been a huge hit with customers. There’s also an outdoor courtyard area where customers can bring food over from Burger & Bun and enjoy the drinks from Wild Spruce’s bar.
Having the shop next door fits in perfectly with the Smiths’ commitment to simple, high-quality ingredients.
Hartmann said, “We’ve always really felt that what you put into your body is a big part of your health, and it’s important to use minimally processed foods. We’ve just always eaten that way.”
For more information, visit blackhillsburgerandbun.com.