“Part of our success is that people see how genuine it is,” said Hardin, who has his nickname tattooed on his knuckles and personally backs the claim of his Ocean Beach restaurant at 5010 Newport Ave. as having the “world’s best burger.”
Hardin said the Hodad’s burger is second to none, not only because it’s one of the biggest, but also because his eatery makes them the “right way.”
“Do not ever squeeze the hamburger patty (containing all the flavorful juices),” Hardin warns his employees.
“Most people put the patty on the bottom and all the fixings on top: That’s upside down,” contended the restaurateur. “The way to do it is to put everything [fixings] on the bottom with the last thing being the shredded lettuce, and then you let all the juices from the burger go down through the lettuce to flavor everything.”
Hodad’s, whose name is derived from the 1950s beach term for surfer wannabes who were into cars, music and counterculture style, is marking its 45th anniversary in OB this year.
Begun in 1969 by Hardin’s parents, Byron and Virginia, who purchased both the business and its name, the restaurant was originally located on the beach at the end of Santa Monica Avenue.
In 1991, after several moves, Hodad’s opened at its present location on Newport Avenue in the heart of Ocean Beach. Two other locations, at 10th and Broadway in downtown San Diego and seasonally inside Petco Park, have opened since.
The ambiance of Hodad’s can best be termed as eclectic. License plates from all over the planet dot the walls.
“The deal is, you bring in a personalized license plate and we’ll feed you for it,” said Hardin, noting the objective of the restaurant’s décor is to “allow the customers to decorate this place.”
There are also historic pictures; lots of beach memorabilia and picnic tables with surfboard-shaped seats. A giant menu board over the customer counter proclaims “99 Gazillion sold.”
Simply put, Hodad’s over the years has become an Ocean Beach institution and a rags-to-riches, mom-and-pop success story.
“The whole summer, every summer, we break records,” said Hardin. “We’ll do 2,000 burgers a day out of this space. That’s crazy.”
The reason why customers keep coming back to Hodad’s is equally as elemental as its recipe or its décor.
“Hodad’s started out as just a hamburger stand on the beach, no décor or anything,” said Hardin, who added that since his family has injected some real personality and sense of place into it, there have since been “lines out the door every single day.”
Hardin said Hodad’s has been featured on the Food Network, which has named it “one of the top 10 burgers in the country.”
There are two kinds of restaurants, in Hardin’s view.
“There’s the type that starts out ready-made, spruced up, just the way it’s going to be from the very first day. Those are the restaurants that are only going to deteriorate from there,” he said. “Then there are restaurants that start off slowly and build themselves up to what they’re going to be. That’s our style.”
Hardin is a big backer of the military and has been taking Hodads’ show on the road every year to Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, and other ports of call worldwide to treat the rank-and-file to a home-grown meal.
“Those are our children over there defending our country,” Hardin said of the military personnel. “Every time I see them, I shake their hand and thank them for my freedom, for being able to talk and say what I want.”
“Bossman” said he has a 23-year-old son who may be the next Hardin in the clan to go into the burger business.
“When he can pry it from my cold, dead hands, he can have it,” he said.
But Hardin said he is having too much fun to relinquish control anytime soon.
“I’m just like a little kid,” he admitted.
Asked if Hodad’s will be around to celebrate its centennial, Hardin said he — and the restaurant — will.
“I’ll be 12 years old when it turns 100,” he said.