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Neon Night at Waylan’s Kuku Burger

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This is one of a full series of articles about interesting food locations along Route 66. See "related articles" or search "Route 66" for the full series.

 

 On our way to a fancier restaurant, somehow we got drawn into a 60s hamburger stand that has tried to move with the times, but kept its menu the same.

Maybe it was the neon sign. Or maybe it was the fact that every single guide book we picked up mentioned this Route 66 icon as being the last remaining KuKu stand, out of a franchise once totaling close to 200.

Whatever the reason, we stopped.

“What’s good here?” we asked the counter clerk.

“The giant cheeseburgers,” was her immediate, unhesitating answer.

So, giant burgers, it was. And, considering the chain started with little burgers that sold for 15 cents, the quarter pound of meat on a five-inch bun for under $4 were a tasty, good deal. We passed on the waffle fries with chili, cheese and green onion on top, settling for plain—and delicious—waffle fries, with just a hint of seasoning.

The big burgers are what Eugene Waylan used to set his burger place apart, particularly on a street in Miami, Oklahoma where chains now thrive. It’s a remnant of Route 66 that clings to a few of the old ways, even while moving with the times. Waylan took over the restaurant in 1973, becoming part of a Miami heritage that started in 1965.

“In 1973 I didn’t even do $100 the first day,” he recalls. “But I built it as a local business, with local people.” In fact, he smiles with pride acknowledging he has sponsored girl’s softball for 38 years, sometimes with more than one team at a time. Waylan’s Kuku has had such an impact on the community of 14,000 people, in fact, that he now hosts the grandchildren of some of his original customers, including for graduations and special events.

The Kuku chain itself died a natural death around 1969, and Waylan says his store survived simply because of the way he ran it, with good food and a local presence—not to mention his personal presence. He’s a force in the restaurant, cooking, greeting, getting to know his customers. “I’ve been 50 years cooking hamburgers,” he says. “I don’t have to do much advertising. Everyone does it for me.”

And, of course, the neon sign, which helps attract people from miles around. Waylan grins as he says, “I have a sign man downtown who’s just pretty proud of it—he keeps track of it for me.”

Besides the sign, the building is host to an original Kuku bird. With chagrin, Waylan says the bird isn’t as easy to see as it once was. “In the 70s I thought I needed more seats.” So, he expanded and covered part of the view from the road. “About mid-80s, when 66 started coming back, I thought, ‘Boy, I messed up.’”

People still find it, though, and from all over the world. The night we were in, we encountered a couple from Italy who were driving Route 66 and were attracted by—what else—the sign.

“You can kind of tell when they are traveling 66,” says Waylan of his customers. “They come in and stop, kind of look around, or take pictures. I enjoy talking to people from everywhere.” So do his regulars, who mix easily with the newbies and help them choose the best things on the menu, as well as provide directions and pointers about what to see on the road.

So, get your big burger, with fresh squeezed limeade and a cherry on top, and don’t leave without a Cyclone. I recommend the Turtlette, with butterscotch, pecans, and big flakes of chocolate.

It goes great with neon.