Latham’s Hamburger Inn, one of New Albany’s popular landmarks known for its unique sandwiches, is open again with a bright new look after undergoing what owner Vicky Latham calls a “much-needed facelift.”
But although the Inn has a new, clean look, Latham is quick to reassure customers that the important parts of the café are still there. “Same menu, same good taste, same everything,” she said. And of course that means the Latham hamburgers themselves.
Although it was reported that Latham’s might be closing, she also put that story to rest. “This place will never close and never be sold unless Josh wants to, someday,” she said. Josh is Latham’s son and she said they are co-owners of the Inn. “In fact, it’s his inheritance in a way,” she added. For those who have not seen him lately, Josh is no longer the little boy in the photo by the cash register; he is 20 and this week he graduates from a commercial diving academy in Jacksonville, Fla. and his mother will be there.
Latham ran the approximately 55-year-old business herself until she started teaching about five years ago. Lately, she said she had become concerned it was losing some of the qualities that had made it such a success. “I was getting some complaints about cleanliness and having to wait and was worried about the integrity of the business,” she said.
Latham decided to make a management change and also try to be more of a hands-on owner. “I think that makes a difference to people,” she said.
It also happened that Latham was a long-time friend with Wally Rakestraw, whom she thought might be interested in the business. “He is retired and said he was looking for something to do (after working for R and S Haulers sand and gravel mining at Tremont),” she said.
Rakestraw was indeed interested in managing the restaurant and soon after, Latham was able to get Kathy Williams, another familiar face in local restaurant circles and one with a good reputation for her cooking.
They set about cleaning Latham’s old building, installing new flooring and ceiling, cleaning and painting the walls, adding some lights and making other improvements. They even managed to get a couple of old lightning rods – fairly rare in these parts – from a silage barn owned by Vicky’s brother.
What may be more important to old regular customers is that still there are the old swivel stools from the original Staggs Hamburgers trolley car eatery that preceded Latham’s with a 20-year history, the same counter and cash register and drink box. “We talked about getting rid of the counter but decided we just couldn’t” she said. So it is still there, but with some new paneling. The stool bases and supports have been painted but the seats are untouched.
Also still present are most of the old wall plaques with wise and witty sayings. Latham said the previous management gave some away but many of those have been returned and some others have been added to the freshly painted red wall. The drink cooler looks like new and is working again, able to offer patrons the popular small glass-bottle Cokes (along with a couple of other varieties in small bottles such as Diet Cokes, Sprite and Dr. Pepper) that many patrons prefer with their Latham burgers.
Latham also emphasized that her Latham burgers are again being cooked the way they were when she was running the business herself, a change from recent years. “You can’t get them anywhere else,” she said. “No one else has the rights to sell them or even sell the Staggs burgers. No one owns the recipe but Josh and me.”
She does not call them doughburgers or slugburgers and in fact has never tasted a slugburger, but said that she believes the Lathams may have altered the recipe when they bought if from the Staggs family very slightly, making them truly unique.
She said Rakestraw may eventually add some items to the menu, but not for the time being. “He does have onion rings like I used to have,” she said. “And I used to have soup and things like that sometime.”
But for now, the most radical change on the menu is a switch from regular to crinkle-cut French fries.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from people already and I just want to thank all my loyal customers for the business they have given me and I hope they will give it to Wally,” she said.
Latham’s Hamburger Inn is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday (and will be open extended hours during RiverFest for the benefit of visitors who may have read some of the area stories about Latham’s but never tasted their burgers). They are waiting for their new phone number to be assigned but once it is, they will welcome call-in orders. Latham’s is at 106 W. Main St.
New Albany News-Exchange