Grandpa’s Burger Haven seeks a new owner. The cost? $1,575,000, with a side of nostalgia.

For nearly sixty years, the Federal Blvd. burger joint has been dishing out some of Denver’s tastiest fast food. If retiring owner Randy Goddard has his way, that’s not going to change after he’s gone.
7 min. read
A large single served up at Grandpa’s Burger Haven on Federal Boulevard. April 29, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

In 1964, six-year-old Douglas Martinez tasted his first greasy cheeseburger at a new roadside dive at 23 South Federal Blvd. Now called Grandpa's Burger Haven, the Barnum staple is part of a long, mostly gone tradition of mom-and-pop order-to-go fast-food restaurants on major strips.

"I was a kid over here in Westwood and then moved down to the west side of Denver," Martinez said. "We always came up here because it was a standby. It was the place to go all the time with good quality food, and it hasn't changed in years."

Douglas Martinez is a longtime regular at Grandpa's Burger Haven on Federal Boulevard. April 29, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Martinez has been eating Grandpa's double cheeseburgers every couple months from the restaurant's earliest days, to the early '80s when he worked as a journalist for Lowrider Magazine, through his more recent career as an educator. Now retired, with a thick white beard and yellow-stained mustache perfect for catching ketchup, he hopes to enjoy his burgers for years to come.

In the early '60s, the restaurant was a Jim's Burger Haven, part of a local chain founded in 1961 in Thornton by Jim and Arlene Moser.

After a long run, the Federal restaurant eventually split from Jim's. According to state records, the spot was renamed Grandpa's Burger Haven in 1980. Former owner Virgil Uber trademarked that name in '85.

His nephew, current owner Randy Goddard, said the business passed through multiple generations, surviving divorces and deaths. Along the way, Grandpa's Burger Haven -- "#1 on the Big Bun" -- has served up fresh meat, beer-battered onion rings, multi-flavored milkshakes and some of the biggest buns in the West.

Grandpa's Burger Haven owner Randy Goddard. April 29, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

"We used to have the slogan: 'A square meal on a round bun,'" Goddard said. "When my aunt and uncle got their divorce, we were able to keep the name Grandpa's. But she got the 'square meal on a round bun.' So that's when [Grandpa's slogan] became '#1 on the Big Bun.'"

Goddard's aunt opened her restaurant in Westminster and named it Tami's Burger Haven. When she decided to sell it, Goddard considered putting in a bid and turning it into a Grandpa's, but the asking price was too high. Now, it's one of two remaining Jim's Burger Havens. The other is in Arvada.

Goddard's mom purchased Grandpa's from Uber around 2003 and soon after was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, Goddard said. So he started to help take care of Grandpa's and has been running it ever since she passed away.

Federal Boulevard seen in the reflection of a window at Grandpa's Burger Haven. April 29, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The restaurant struggled in the early 2000s and had one of its roughest patches when the city decided to expand Federal Boulevard. The city pulled up trees and bushes where the restaurant had picnic tables and constructed a median that made getting to the restaurant from the east side of the street a headache.

During the pandemic, Grandpa's bounced back -- in part, because it did not depend on indoor dining. Its biggest struggle was keeping enough meat and produce in stock.

On the last Friday in April, Martinez was one of many people who crammed inside the one-story building to order lunch from Loretta Hopkins, an energetic woman who stood behind the counter with her hair pulled back in a blue bandana.

Hopkins has been working at Grandpa's for eight years. That's not so long compared to one employee who has worked there for more than 30 and others who have been working the grill for over 25 -- some starting as teenagers.

Loretta Hopkins, an eight-year veteran of Grandpa's Burger Haven, serves up lunch on April 29, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

"The wait's 24 minutes,"  Hopkins warned customers. For most, it was worth it.

After Martinez and other customers placed their orders, Hopkins handed them hand-drawn numbers on card stock, and they walked outside to shoot the breeze and wait for their numbers to be called over speakers. When they were called, customers went back inside, grabbed their grease-stained white paper sacks and walked to their cars, trucks and motorcycles, just like they have for over half a century.

Still, the neighborhood's changed over the past decade, Goddard said, and not just because of nearby construction. Grandpa's tradition of calling out numbers raised noise complaints from curmudgeonly newcomers who moved in several years ago.

"They called and complained on me for calling out my numbers during the day," he said. "We call the numbers out over a microphone. We've been doing that forever. And, you know, it's like 'number five.' And they called and complained on me and tried to get me shut down for calling out my numbers."

Grandpa's Burger Haven on Federal Boulevard. April 29, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The microphone wasn't those neighbors' biggest issue. They were most frustrated by the cruisers who parked in Grandpa's spacious lot.

"The lowriders come on Sundays," Goddard said. The new neighbors "were like, 'Do you have permission to have this event?' And it's like, I'm not having an event. This is not an event that I'm putting on. These are people that come and hang out and eat a hamburger, man. That's all it is... I wasn't doing car shows and needed to go get permits and all this stuff. And I'm like, 'No, it's nothing like that at all. It's just part of the nostalgia, man. Really, come on.'"

Through it all, Grandpa's has refused to change its recipe for success, and Goddard said that's why it has survived for so long -- even if cutting corners might have saved him money in the short term.

He's had companies offer cheaper frozen, processed meat, he said.

"I'm like, no, I'm not doing that. I want fresh meat. This meat's never frozen. It's always fresh. I'm not changing."

The restaurant's signature bun was originally a Wonder Bread product. But when that brand temporarily went out of business, Bimbo Bakeries took over -- and eventually quit doing business with small restaurants. Now Aspen Baking Company bakes the buns and delivers them daily, crafting each one by hand.

"That's one of the reasons they're not perfectly round," he said.

Robert Hucal waits for lunch outside of Grandpa's Burger Haven on Federal Boulevard. April 29, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Goddard, 59, is ready to retire and plans to sell.

The company, land and building are listed on the real estate site Loopnet for $1,575,000, but he has been trying to keep his interest in selling quiet. He doesn't want employees to quit, thinking the business is closing.

Grandpa's isn't going anywhere, he said. Goddard wants a buyer who understands the Burger Haven tradition and why changes, from adding a drive-through to creating sit-down dining, would be bad ideas.

"I won't sell it to somebody who's going to come in here and bulldoze it down and turn it into a parking lot, you know?" he said. "I want to keep it the same, and I want somebody to come in and do the same, you know, keep it the same. We already have McDonald's and Burger King and all that stuff. We don't need another one of those, you know?"

So he's willing to wait for the right buyer.

"I've got to find the right person," he said. "And it could take me a couple years to do that. And it may come along next week. We just don't know."

Martinez, who has heard rumors of the sale, doesn't want to see Grandpa's shut down like so many of the city's other favorite classic spots.

"I hope that they keep it in the family or somebody local buys it and continues the tradition," Martinez said. "Denver deserves to keep some of these old-fashioned businesses here that serve great food, because we're losing so many of them."

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