Not far off of the highway and tucked into the Perry District of Spokane, Wisconsinburger is a Midwestern-themed burger stop you don’t want to miss. From its creative menu to its authentic Wisconsin custard and cheese, visitors get a real taste for the dairy state with every visit. I recently sat down with Jeff Nordvall, who owns the joint with his wife, Laura Paisley, to learn more about the inspiration behind the Spokane spot.
Jeff and Laura are familiar faces in the Perry District. They owned and ran The Lantern Tavern for about four years until they decided it was time to move on, and sold the place. After considering opening a pizza restaurant and having their plans fall through, Jeff and Laura ended up opening Wisconsinburger in 2014.
The couple knew they wanted to open another restaurant, and after living in the community for about 10 years, that a good burger restaurant would do well. They had established such a positive reputation that it wasn’t long before Wisconsinburger was bustling with familiar and new clientele.
“It had a lot of buzz just in our local immediate neighborhood, and I’m talking just the Perry District here, from the clientele we had built up from before,” Nordvall said.
Wisconsinburger has enjoyed well-deserved success since it opened. Accolades include being recognized as “Best Burger” by The Pacific Northwest Inlander (2014-2020), “Best Burger” by Gonzaga (2017, 2018), “Best of the City” by Spokane + CDA Living Magazine (2015-2018) and Nextdoor “Favorite” (2017-2018).
“Success has been a lot of work. Even with success it doesn’t get easier. In fact, in the restaurant industry you get busier so it sometimes gets harder. I’m super proud,” Nordvall said.
Jeff, a Germantown native, left Wisconsin right after college to head west. However, even years later, the dairy state is still influencing how he approaches his business. The Midwest is known for its friendly service, a focus for the Wisconsinburger staff. Even during our interview, Jeff spoke to different patrons like they were old friends.
“I really hope that the service is more akin to the service that you would find in the Midwest. And I mean like friendly, ‘I enjoy my job’ service. It’s more genuine Midwest that way,” Nordvall said.
Sourcing Quality Ingredients
Serving fresh, high-quality ingredients is also a cornerstone of the burger joint. There are no microwaves on the property and they grind the beef in house everyday. They are dishing out previously unfamiliar butterburgers, delectable sausages, cheese curds, custard and more. And as a native Wisconsinite, biting into the delicious Manitowoc butterburger had me thinking of home.
Jeff and Laura get many ingredients, including their bread and meat, locally but go straight to the source for authentic custard and cheese. In fact, Jeff and Laura work with the same company that makes all of the custard mix for Milwaukee staples like Kopps and Leons. Even getting a custard machine out West was difficult, but after lots of research and establishing their own distribution lines, Jeff and Laura were in business.
“That’s not a Washington state thing. Custard is unheard of on this side of the Mississippi for the most part,” Nordvall said.
And just how did they come up with the creative names on the menu? Wisconsin inspiration paired with alliteration and creativity. The Madison burger is a veggie patty, paying homage to the progressive city. The Germantown includes half of a german sausage and the Spooner burger has a spoonful of bacon jam. The South Beloit (a town actually found in Illinois) offers “south of the border” flavors featuring spicy barbecue and grilled jalapenos.
“The names came pretty easily. We think we are really funny obviously, as well. And I’ve gotta say my heart melted the first time that I heard my back of the house yelling ‘I need two Awe Geez’s,’” Nordvall said.
Grinds Of The Week
The restaurant also offers “grinds of the week” or a “chef’s whim burger” to add variety to the menu. After about a year in business, Jeff and Laura decided to use these burgers to give back. Since then, they have been dedicating one dollar from each “grind of the week” to a local charity and distributing the funds every month, a tradition they have upheld even through a global pandemic. Despite Wisconsinburger’s success, COVID has presented the restaurant with some challenges.
“Rewriting our business plan was a big challenge… I would prefer to serve these burgers here in a sit down setting because it just comes off the grill and hits your face faster… It has been very hard,” Nordvall said.
The community has rallied around Wisconsinburger, ordering takeout and keeping the restaurant going. In fact, Jeff and Laura had a record-breaking September, greatly fueled by takeout orders, which make up for the 50% seating capacity. Now that they have instituted new systems and practices to fine tune to-go orders, offer different menus and table settings, and ensure the appropriate spacing between visitors, things are running a lot smoother.
So where will the restaurant go from here? Jeff and Laura have considered opening a food truck or a second location. They have looked into solar panels, as well, but have had to push “pause” for now. Even amid the pandemic, they are continuing to envision their next steps.
No matter what is next, there is no doubt that Wisconsinburger will continue to bring genuine Midwestern charm to Spokane and offer nostalgia to other Midwesterners like Jeff, Laura and myself who have moved West but never forgotten where they came from.
To learn more or place an order, visit wisconsinburger.com.
Photos by Wisconsinburger.