A Bloomington Tradition Since 1930

Hinkle History

Family will miss the warmth and cheer of Max Hinkle

Life portrait

by Laura Lane331-4362 | lane@heraldt.com

March 31, 2006

Back in 1939, Hinkle's restaurant was about the only place in the Knox County town of Bicknell where you could get a hamburger.

Norma Beck went there occasionally. George Maxwell Hinkle, known as "Max," was usually there behind the grill, frying hamburgers.

So she recognized him when she ran into him at a party in nearby Bruceville.

She liked to dance; he didn't. But they got past that, and after dating for five months, the two ran off to Owensboro, Ky., to tie the knot.

Norma Hinkle recalled that since she was only 19, the minister called her parents to get their permission for the marriage. Max, 20 years old and male, didn't need anyone's OK.

The couple was married 66 years before Max's death earlier this month. They lived mostly in Indianapolis and Bloomington, raising five children together.

A year after their marriage, Max went off to the U.S. Army. He was there, his brother Leon said, at the initial invasion of France.

When asked to describe his brother, he paused. "He was short," he said, then added: "He was really a cut up, lots of laughs. Everybody liked him. He was off and on in the hamburger business."

When Max returned from the military, he and Norma moved to Linton for a stint, where Max worked at his brother Charles' restaurant - called Hinkle's.

The Hinkle's Hamburgers empire got started back in 1930 when oldest brother Winfred Hinkle opened a hamburger joint in Bloomington at the corner of 10th and Grant streets.

Norma may have married into the Hinkle hamburger clan, but she never put a beef patty on the grill. "I just washed the dishes," she said laughing. "They would not have trusted me to cook the hamburgers."

She said the secret to Hinkle's famous hamburgers was that they used high-quality beef and ground it themselves. They would scoop it out with an ice cream scoop, toss some raw onions on top and then flatten it onto the grill.

When the couple moved to Bloomington, they started up their own restaurant - called, you guessed it, Hinkle's - at the corner of Seventh and Rogers streets.

They served hamburgers, and other kinds of food, too. "I did some cooking then," Norma recalled, "but not the hamburgers."

Then Max got a job at Ford Motor Co. They moved to Chicago, then back to Indiana, where Max worked another 21 years at Ford in Indianapolis before retiring.

In the early 1970s, brother Leon Hinkle opened the Hinkle's Hamburger restaurant at 206 S. Adams St. He sold it, and retired, in 1989.

Max and Norma moved from Bloomington to Indianapolis a year before he died. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, then fell and broke his hip.

"He went to sleep and slept for two days, and that was it," his widow said.

He was 86 years old.

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2006

George "Max" Hinkle

Herbert Leon Hinkle

Leon Hinkle bids farewell to the burger biz

By Mike Leonard

June 18, 1989

Most of the signs taped to the blond paneled walls of Leon Hinkle's hamburger joint are meant to be funny. But there's a little more than humor to be read into the one which reads: ``This is not Burger King. You don't get it your way. You take it my way or you don't get the son of a gun.''

Since 1930, Hinkle's Hamburgers has grilled the distinctive Hinkleburger for Bloomington customers, never varying from the basic ingredients of fresh ground chuck, fresh onions, pickles, salt and pepper.

And while the westside hamburger haven will open as usual Monday morning and serve the same Hinkleburgers once cited by The Washington Post in a list of ``82 Great Hamburgers,'' one thing will be dramatically different.

The benevolent hand of Leon Hinkle won't be guiding the griddle. Beginning today, the 67-year-old Bloomington native is officially retired.

``I say I'm not going to think about this place when I'm gone but I will,'' Hinkle admitted Friday morning. ``I know I'm going to miss the people. I've got a lot of good, steady customers.''

Hinkle credits the loyalty of his customers for carrying him through in these times of huge hamburger chains with huge advertising budgets and quickly produced food. ``The kids all go to McDonald's. Quality doesn't seem to be the byword any more. Fast is what they want,'' he surmised.

Today's Hinkleburger is the same diner hamburger that Leon's older brother, Winfred, served when he opened the first Hinkle's restaurant at 10th and Grant streets in 1930. The meat arrives at the restaurant fresh and is ground daily by Leon, who then uses an ice cream scoop to produce ground chuck balls which are kept in a holding refrigerator. All burgers are grilled to order with fresh onion sprinkled on the meat balls and then mashed into the sizzling hamburger.

``When you freeze meat you lose something. Not a whole lot of taste but definitely some of it,'' Hinkle explained.

The veteran restaurateur acknowledged that his way of making hamburgers takes time. That's why he professes: ``Keep it simple. You just get in trouble if you try to do too much.

``The reason they come is for the hamburger,'' Hinkle said. Hamburgers and cheeseburgers, tenderloins, fish and grilled cheese are Hinkle's only sandwiches. Potato salad, potato cakes, chili, bean salad and cole slaw are the sides.

The menu differs somewhat at Hinkle's East, a store restaurants. Longtime customer Tim Taber who bought the Hinkle's West location plans to operate it much as Leon did.

The Hinkle's legacy will be difficult to maintain, Leon admitted. ``It's hard for little guys to make it, it really is,'' he said.

Leon kept the Hinkleburger alive by working long hours, keeping a small, loyal staff and offering a distinctive, quality product - as well as a friendly, unpretentious atmosphere.

Westside workers frequent the place more than anyone else these days, though luminaries such as Indiana University Chancellor Herman B Wells still pop in occasionally. A couple of years ago Olympic skater Jill Watson autographed a photograph for Hinkle and wrote, ``Hinkle's is always the first stop when I return home!''

Leon admitted, ``It's kind of hard to quit, really. But after this many years, I figure it's about time.''

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 1989