“After 41 years, we’re an overnight success,” said Mike Hardin, co-owner, who jokes about being “born with a greasy spoon in his mouth.”
Although Hardin is not the type to take life too seriously, he has an undeniable passion for his craft and the employees and customers, whom he interacts with daily. As further proof of his dedication, Hardin has several tattoos of burgers entwined throughout his smattering of other designs.
Like many of his faithful Ocean Beach customers, Hardin wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of adding a second Hodad’s downtown. After some convincing from the building owners, he now views the expansion as a new challenge on which to focus his energy.
“We’re not bringing the beach downtown, we’re bringing our attitude, along with our food, name and atmosphere,” he said.
With license plates and stickers covering the walls and giving a beach vibe to both Hodad’s locations, Hardin explains how customers feel more invested and develop a sense of pride when they contribute their personal kitsch to the restaurant’s décor.
Hardin has been a part of the family business since Hodad’s opened in 1969. The building in Ocean Beach was purchased for $600 and started out as more of a seasonal destination for summer tourists. The other nine months were used as an exploration time for Hardin, taking new jobs and learning about the attributes embodied by successful, respected bosses.
Inheriting the restaurant from his parents, Hardin started making burgers the way he’d experimented with them at a young age — not scrimping on any portions. He runs his business with the most basic of governing principles: one should treat others the way they would like to be treated themselves. Unlike most restaurants, Hodad’s requires all staff members to begin their training in the kitchen — typically the most specialized among restaurant jobs. An accurate indicator of whether or not the employee will work out or not, the process inevitably creates a knowledgeable and flexible staff.
“We take care of the employees so that they’ll take care of the customers,” said Hardin. Hodad’s provides full health benefits to staff members and has many longtime employees who appreciate “Bossman” Hardin’s mantra: “It’s not life or death. It’s just lunch or dinner.”
Producing around 4,000 burgers per day between both Hodad’s locations, the restaurants often see customers lining up before operating hours, with a line spilling out the doors consistently for most of the day. Even with the large quantity of food served daily, Hodad’s refuses to sacrifice its quality. All products are delivered fresh to the restaurants daily.
But Hodad’s didn’t reach its astounding success without a little help from the Food Network. Guy Fieri, host of the popular show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” featured Hodad’s during its “Seaside Eats” episode in 2007, which continually reruns on the network. Fieri endorsed the restaurant again on the show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” during the “Burgers and Angry Mussels” episode, where Fieri claims Hodad’s bacon cheeseburger as his favorite bacon dish.
Hardin was unfamiliar with “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” until a week before Fieri’s production crew arrived in his kitchen. He now sings Fieri’s praises and compliments his spontaneous, off-the-cuff hosting style.
Hardin knows better than to mess up a good thing. Burgers are what he knows, and what he’ll stick to making in the kitchen.
“Don’t fix anything that’s not broken … or getting better,” said Hardin.
He recently added two new burgers to the menu, which had not been altered in 30 years. Consistency is one of his main focuses, ensuring their burgers are the same whether served to a regular customer or acclaimed food critic.
Apart from slinging beef patties, Hodad’s also likes to flex its philanthropic might. The restaurant participates in a biannual fundraiser to benefit local schools, giving back to the same beach communities where Hardin’s two children were raised. Hardin was personally selected by Fieri to be one of America’s Chefs, a nonprofit that works with the military to provide entertainment and education to boost morale through culinary-related shows and demonstrations, both domestically and abroad. The chefs have traveled to places like Guantanamo Bay; Puerto Rico; Norfolk, Va.; Great Lakes, Ill. and Atlanta to perform cooking competitions and offer troops a taste of home.
“I kept seeing my son’s face in the wounded soldiers who, many times, were around his same age,” said Hardin.
His itinerary will soon be filled with additional destinations as the popularity of the chef’s program has prompted organizations like Armed Forces Entertainment to bring spirited downtime to the troops.
So what does Hardin like to eat? When not eating a Hodad’s burger straight from the kitchen, he said he can be found noshing on fare from some of his favorite local food joints such as OB Noodle House, The Old Townhouse Restaurant and Pokéz.
For more information, visit hodadies.com.