Monday, November 30, 2009

Big Jud's: Pass on the yak

Published in December 2009 in the Post Register.
ARCHER – The original Big Jud’s was the brainchild of a 23-year-old Ricks College student who now admits that he really had no clue what he was doing.

More than 16 years and many, many hamburgers later, Jud Niederer has figured out the details of the restaurant business and, despite the odds, has kept the doors of Big Jud’s open in a tiny town five miles from the nearest highway.

“I just wanted to do something, be my own guy,” says Niederer (prounounced “Needer”). An Archer native, Niederer converted a former gas station into a small eatery and eventually managed even to secure his own 15 minutes of fame.

The Boise version of Big Jud’s, owned by Niederer’s brother, Chris, was recently featured on the Travel Channel show, Man Vs. Food, and Food Network magazine has named the one-pound Big Jud’s the best burger in Idaho. All that may be worth more than 15 minutes, particularly since the reruns are still showing.

Niederer is the first to admit that the restaurant business is tough, even if you don’t choose to renovate a former gas station in a small town well off the beaten path.

“You can really burn out pretty easily. Back when we first opened the only way we’d get a vacation was to close.”

But while dozens, maybe hundreds, of restaurants have come and gone in eastern Idaho since 1993, Big Jud’s has not only stuck around but bred two other eateries – his brother’s place in Boise and a Big Jud’s in Ashton owned by Todd Bossard, who is married to Niederer’s cousin. With some minor distinctions, each Big Jud’s has essentially the same menu.

At the Archer location, however, there is one unique item: The yak burger. The guy who provides Niederer with his locally grown (naturally) Idaho spuds for french fries also runs a yak farm just up the road, so the yak burger is on the menu. Jud's sells about one of those a day, so I ordered one up -- it's so lean that it's a little light on flavor and not terribly tender. Stick with the ground beef, I say.

After getting a nice deal on rent for the building in his first year, Niederer was successful enough to buy the building in 1994 and it’s since become something of a landmark.

“I’d never cooked for other people,” says Niederer. “Fortunately, my wife (Irene) brought her restaurant experience to the table.”

Of course, the legendary menu item at Big Jud’s is the three-pounder (three patties each weighing 18 ounces before cooking). The whole thing actually weighs in at more than six pounds when the bacon, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato and bun are brought together. Finish it and you get your photo on Jud’s wall of fame.

Niederer says parents who bring their kids to Rexburg for school have made Big Jud’s a ritual stop, starting a tradition. On a recent Monday night, groups of students from Brigham Young University-Idaho regularly came through the door, keeping the place busy on a chilly night. It’s been that way for 16 years.

5 comments:

  1. awsom burggers try the ice cream

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  2. I went there with my daughter (a student at Boise state) and my girlfriend. great place , great service!!!

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  3. emma loves you and is a big fan

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  4. I LOVE YOU BUG FAN!!!!!!!

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