Business Lead Story West Edition

South L.A. hamburger stand is latest victim of coronavirus

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A hamburger stand that has served residents here for more than 60 years has become another victim of the coronavirus.

Many residents were dismayed to hear the news last week that Bernard’s Burgers would be closing its doors for good May 20. Members of the community were granted just a few days’ notice before the well-known burger stand would close.

Considered what old school folks would call a “hole in the wall,” the bright pink location is nestled between two buildings on Avalon Boulevard and 120th Street, where it has been a South Los Angeles staple since February 1953.

Nathan Murray, the third and current owner of the legendary burger joint, is set to retire, ending the long legacy of Bernard’s Burgers.

The establishment was first owned and operated by Herman Matfield, a retired Navy cook. The second owner was Octane Bernard, who was like a father figure to Murray.

Murray had been asking Bernard to let him work at the burger stand for quite some time, but Bernard never took him seriously.

But when Bernard began feeling sick, Murray stepped up and ran the business while Bernard was in the hospital to prove he could handle the challenge. That was back in 1998.

Shortly after, Bernard offered to sell the business to Murray for $500.

As the third owner, Murray has grown the menu from 13 items to 33, which includes healthy beef alternative options such as turkey burgers, veggie burgers and chicken sausage burgers.

He said he has a passion and love for culinary arts, which were instilled in him at a young age and grown over the years.

Once a Facebook post got the word out that Bernard’s Burgers was closing, people began lining up around the corner to have a Bernard’s Burger for one last time.

“I waited in line for two hours on Saturday,” said Shea B. “I was next in line and he said he ran out of burgers so I had to come back today.”

The dedication and loyalty to this black-owned establishment is real. There are plenty of positive reviews on the modestly priced juicy burgers and many people who have had the delectable meal have encouraged their friends to taste a piece of history, too.

Kori W. came May 17 for the first time and when asked what she expected she stated, “I’m expecting a great burger because I’ve heard so many reviews and my friends said I have to try this before he closes. And to hear that he’s a one-man show and has been in business for so long, I’m willing to stand in line to try this and support.”

Murray is truly a one-man show. He runs the kitchen, takes orders and preps the meals by himself.

His business will be remembered as a place where you could sit, talk and enjoy a burger with a sense of community. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing requirements, that sense of community has been demolished. Customers who begin lining up before 9 a.m must now stand six feet apart and they are not allowed to sit down to share a meal or soak up Murray’s wisdom. They must now wear a mask before entering and wait outside for their food.

They talked and shared stories while they waited, but no one could see their smiles hidden behind the masks. Murray had intended to close May 17, when other small businesses closed, but his customers, or as he calls them his “members,” have been keeping his doors open.

“I didn’t get a stimulus check or a small business loan,” he said. “Y’all are my stimulus check.”

When asked about his best memory of running Bernard’s Burgers, Murray said, “The people, the community and the lives that I touched that I didn’t realize I was touching and keeping God first.”