Destination Nick’s

Hometown hamburger shop serves flavor, charm

If you laid all the Nickburgers ever served in a line, there would be miles and miles of burger aficionados following along and scarfing them down.

Dick Fergen, far left, chats with Nick’s Hamburger Shop customers in the pocket park he’s built just south of his iconic building.

Dick Fergen, far left, chats with Nick’s Hamburger Shop customers in the pocket park he’s built just south of his iconic building.

Not only do hamburger fans love Nickburgers, they’ve also acquired an appetite for the ambiance that wafts wall-to-wall in the quaint little shop on a busy corner in Brookings, where the lowly Nickburger has survived more than eight decades of whatever fast food giants could sling at them.

It’s just fun to go to Nicks. You may see someone who looks strangely like an old classmate from college, or a friend who’s passing through town, or the son or grandson of your former boss, or someone who occupies some other corner of your memory.

Those you don’t know you soon will, because the place is a manifestation of gregarious owner Dick Fergen, who attended SDSU in 1960.

Customers of all ages from every stratum of society settle in on 29 red-covered, single-legged swivel stools lining the shop’s U-shaped counter.

Fergen, a Brookings native and only the shop’s fourth owner in its 84 years, resists the temptation to serve hot dogs or French fries, opting instead for good, locally grown ground beef.

Little has changed since Gladys and Harold Niklason drove up from Iowa in 1929 with a stove that burned white gas lashed to their rattling old car’s rear bumper. They were headed for nearby Madison, but liked Brookings better.

Natural gas now heats the cooking pot, and daily-baked buns have replaced the dinner rolls. Hamburger patties are now a bit larger, surpassing by an ounce or so the Depression days silver dollar-sized Lilliputians.

But the way that Dakota beef patty is prepared turns it in to something special that is helped along by those fresh buns baked with a secret additive.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says the personable oldest son of well-remembered Jackrabbit cager Jim Fergen, ’43, who after graduation established the town’s famous haberdashery that still serves collegians and locals their sartorial needs.

Fergen loves what he does. For example, he gave a rating of ten to a recent winter vacation in Florida, but his first day back on the job in Brookings with the familiar spatula in hand, he rated an enthusiastic eleven.

He holds a special fondness for Brookings and his family’s roots here, and still remembers his first visit to the shop as a child, dressed up in cowboy hat and chaps, a cap pistol and holster on each hip, and his trusty broomstick steed reined up outside the door.

Fergen has the Nickburger gene, as have so many others who have the shop sketched in on their vacation’s “to do” list when back to visit relatives and friends.

The owner, a recent recipient of the state’s Business Person of the Year award, mixes the special relish each day following a Niklason recipe, then mans the mop for a good cleaning before unlocking the door.

Your order is still served on a nine-inch square of waxed paper. The only plates in the place come with slices from the six thick homemade pies baked daily by the town’s Pie Lady.

In this age of food on a stick, crammed in a cardboard box or wrapped in a hurry, there’s a change of pace at Nick’s that just keeps bringing them back.

Nick’s Hamburger Shop is a Brookings destination.


Chuck’s Column is sponsored by Nick’s Hamburgers If you’d like to make a comment, e-mail the author at

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