Biz Beat

What makes these burgers so good? VFW Auxiliary debuts new booth at Stanislaus fair

For some of us, the fair is about livestock shows and carnival rides and demolition derbies. For others of us — including some in the newsroom who will remain nameless — it’s all about VFW burgers.

The VFW Auxiliary 5059, comprised of about 200 members, has been slinging made-to-order burgers for six decades at the Stanislaus County Fair. This year the charity group debuted its brand new burger stand, which was constructed largely through donations. But don’t worry, the burgers are exactly the same — down to the group’s top-secret, secret sauce.

Built in the same spot as the original, the new building gives workers in the all-volunteer run booth a lot more elbow room to maneuver and much-needed modern conveniences. VFW Auxiliary President Rebecca Sandoval said the upgrades were long in the works, but they didn’t get serious about making them happen until last year’s fair ended.

Then last fall they made a list of what they needed, and Sandoval and her core staff of Auxiliary volunteers started making phone calls. The stand cost around $153,000 when all was said and done, and a good 83 percent of the structural construction and materials were donated by area businesses (their names are proudly emblazoned on a banner that hangs on the booth).

There’s also a new, snazzy neon sign hanging on the front, because there’s no such thing as too much neon at a fair.

The nonprofit raised about $15,000 for new equipment, including a deep fryer. The stand didn’t have the equipment, or the space, to make fries before. But now they’ve added “Warrior Fries” (fries slathered in chili and cheese sauce) to its menu item.

The old booth, made largely of wood and plywood, was torn down in February. Over the next five months the new stand was constructed, with durable metal siding and a roll-up front window. The building added six feet of space to the interior, and doubled the width of the front of the booth.

Local lore about the hamburger stand is fuzzy on its exact origin. According to Modesto Bee archives, plans for the hamburger booth were first mentioned in 1953. Then another article from 1960 mentioned the new staff for the VFW Auxiliary’s hamburger booth to be sponsored by the VFW Auxiliary. The burgers are now a fixture at the fair, and Sandoval estimates they crank out at least 1,500 burgers each night during the fair’s 10-day run.

But the all-new booth kept one important part of the old stand: the grill. Sandoval said she wouldn’t dream of buying a new flat-top after decades of seasoning from burgers sizzling to perfection on the old one.

“We’re still using the original grill. We didn’t want to lose that original magic that the burgers had,” she said.

It’s hard to describe what, exactly, makes the VFW burger so good. Perhaps it’s just the allure of a fresh-made burger with all the fixings (don’t be fussy, get it with the works — American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and that secret sauce).

Or maybe they taste so good because all of the money raised by the Auxiliary goes to VFW programs to help veterans and their families and scholarships for area school children.

Either way, eat up. You’ve only got one more weekend before the VFW fair burgers are gone for another year.

Elsewhere around the Business Beat:

Save Mart has started hiring for its new, under construction Save Mart store in Modesto.

The company was at the Modesto Certified Farmer’s Market this Thursday and will have another hiring event Saturday at the Stanislaus County Fair. Look for the Save Mart booth at the Turlock fairgrounds to apply. Jobseekers will be able to complete an online application on site. Company representatives will be at the booth from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The new Save Mart being built at the corner of Oakdale Road and Sylvan Avenue will be the grocery chain’s flagship store. The project is on track to open this October. The new supermarket will need to hire some 135 jobs before opening. To apply visit

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs multiple times a week. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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