Burger House

Burger House was a short-lived failed concept for a fast food chain based out of Houston during its brief existence in 1985. Despite being only around for a couple of months, the chain has left a noticeable impact on the retail landscape of Houston. The chain starts with the Purtee family. Les Purtee had purchased an A&W Drive-In in Manhattan, Kansas, in the 1970s. Manhattan is home to the main campus of Kansas State University, and throughout the ’70s, Les watched as his business at the drive-in began to dwindle. With customers opting for newer, often cheaper competition from fast-food chains, Purtee planned to redevelop his restaurant. In a 1982 interview, Les stated he planned to demolish the drive-in and build a “Western Themed” restaurant named The Branding Iron. The new restaurant would feature burgers, sandwiches, BBQ, and Seafood. It would prominently feature a drive-thru and seating for up to 94 diners. Purtee stated that he had plans to expand to 30 locations across six states. Purtee’s plans were ambitious, but he acted on them and was able to build his new restaurant. While Les was working on his dream restaurant, his son, Jim, was working his way up Houston’s fast food industry ranks, landing a local management position at Burger King in the 1980s.

Throughout 1983 and 1984, Les would experiment with The Branding Iron. Adjusting his advertising to emphasize value and takeout service. By the end of 1984, Les was preparing to relocate to Houston. Upon arriving here, his formula would be changed a bit. Rather than going with the “The Branding Iron” concept, the father and son duo would work on perfecting what Les had already started in Kansas. Using Jim’s knowledge of franchising operations and Les’s knowledge of restaurant operations, the duo set out to create a chain that would fit into any market. The new concept would be named “Burger House” and was the core of what had made The Branding Iron successful. The chain would feature a limited menu and a tiny footprint. Items would be priced cheaper than competitors and use a Texas theme. The menu included Hamburgers, Chicken Sandwiches, “Ranch Fries” (potato wedges), Onion Rings, and Blue Bell Ice Cream. The restaurant would be designed to prominently feature drive-thru service and feature only a tiny dining room. To help bring in franchisees, Jim and Les addressed one of the biggest gripes they knew of by cutting their franchising fees to 4.5% of yearly sales. This was a considerable discount compared to the 10% and above larger chains would want. The small footprint also meant lower construction costs and the ability to employ a smaller crew, further helping to expand the pool of potential franchisees.

In April 1985, Jim and Les Purtee would take their plans for Burger House public. They were just completing the finishing touches on their first location. The store in Spring was a unique structure. Rather than imitating the outdoor dining-only establishments like Rally’s or Checker’s, each Burger House would include a tiny dining room for the few who chose to order and eat inside. The first Burger House would open in April of 1985. Starting small but mighty, the chain planned multiple locations by May, including scouting sites in Corpus Christi. It appears the first four locations in the Houston area would be company-owned, and the fifth would be rented to a franchisee. The Purtees worked with Lexford Realty Corp to Houston locations. Focusing mainly on areas where Lexford was already working to develop shopping centers. With these five locations and a new business model, Burger House seemed like it would change the face of fast food in Houston. However, with big dreams come big risks, and unfortunately for Burger House, this expansion was one of those risks.  By August of 1985, Burger House was operating two locations, and by September, they were both out of business. While no direct reason was ever given for closing these two Burger House restaurants, speculation is that the company had trouble expanding.

The firm had managed to construct three locations, with Rosenberg nearly complete when the company went under.  Documentation from Harris County indicates that the company likely became insolvent as a supplier took Burger House to court, and the state filed a lien for unpaid taxes. With a need for cash to pay off these debts, the leases on the completed buildings were sold. One of the first franchisees for General Joe’s Chopstix picked up the two operating locations. Frenchy’s reportedly leased the Rosenberg store, although it’s unclear if they ever opened in the space. The two planned stores one on Old Galveston Road, and the other on Seton Lake at FM 149, would be abandoned. Over the following 35 years, the legacy of Burger House has largely gone unnoticed, with even die-hard retail fans misattributing the existing building to General Joe’s. Burger House would not be the end of restaurants for either Purtee. Les would also operate a more traditional restaurant named Nellie’s out of the Spring Deauville Fashion Mall, which would outlive Burger House, if only for a few extra months. On the other hand, Jim would go back to Burger King for a few years until starting a signage business where he infamously quarreled with the City of Houston over their laws on inflatable rooftop signage.

Location List

1507 Farm to Market 2920 Spring, TX 77388Uhaul building, Last China Wok
12004 Veterans Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 77067Church's as of 2023, Since at least 2007, Previously a Gen. Joe's
1001 Herndon Dr, Rosenberg, TX 77471Completed but never Opened, Little Ceasers as of 2023, Previously Scholitzkys?, Gen Joe's
Old Galveston RoadProperty Purchased According to News, However building was likely not constructed
Seton Lake at FM 149Location planned but never constructed