People often exclaim, “Oh my gosh! Is that a hamburger phone?” while walking up to the counter at Wibbley’s. It’s hard not to play with it, feeling the nostalgia of a phone with real buttons in the fanciful shape of a burger. Customers also fawn over the cute collection of miniature hamburger-themed toys.
It’s the small details: things that connect with the emotional joy of the most comforting of comfort foods — along with a history spanning 25 years — that make Wibbley’s Gourmet Burgers a beloved Eastside staple.
Wibbley’s opened in 1992 in the Evans Plaza strip mall on 140th Avenue in Bellevue, where it still serves up hot burgers today.
Founded by the Angleas, a husband-and-wife team, along with the owner of the plaza, Wibbley’s aimed to re-create the casual ambiance of a traditional British-style pub with a focus on quality burgers. The word “wibbley” is a bit of British slang, which can best be described as fanciful, childlike, or chatty. But for longtime customers, Wibbley’s simply equates to delicious hamburgers.
From the start, Wibbley’s wasn’t a typical burger-flipping joint; it sourced quality ingredients before it was the trendy thing to do. The menu was focused on burgers and a few classic side items. This commitment to keeping it simple but noteworthy built a loyal customer base that now includes local celebrities like Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who’s been known to pop by for a burger now and then. He usually gets the double cheeseburger, in case you’re wondering.
Daniel Won is the current owner of Wibbley’s. Friends with the previous owners, he took over in 2012, becoming the fourth in a line of what could be described as “burger preservationists,” or people committed to changing as little as possible and continuing the original founders’ vision.
“My main goal was: Don’t change anything; you have a great customer base. Don’t change when everything’s going so well,” Won said about keeping Wibbley’s the way people like it.
Originally from Germany, Won moved to the area in 1998 and attended the University of Washington. He took side jobs as a server in restaurants around Seattle. Won enjoyed the work, but stayed true to his academic goals. “My major was geography information systems,” he said. “But then after graduating, I went into the corporate world for a few years. I tried it, but it wasn’t for me.” Like so many who find themselves smitten with the hospitality industry, it wooed Won back.
Already a devotee of Wibbley’s juicy burgers, Won was the ideal person to take up its ownership. His on-the-job education in local restaurants had led to general manager roles, where he learned the business and day-to-day operations. He had the know-how to be a restaurant owner, but more importantly, he had a genuine love for Wibbley’s.
Under his ownership, Wibbley’s has seen a branding update with a new logo, and in 2016, the restaurant was updated. Won was hands-on with the restaurant refresh, putting in a hefty share of sweat equity. “We never closed down; we just did it in little sections,“ he said. “On Sundays, we’re closed, and Saturdays we’re open half days, so that was when a lot of the work was completed,” he said. “I did most of the work — some of the electrical work, the painting. I did everything. I have that much more love for this place!”
Won works most days taking orders and sourcing ingredients. He knows exactly what goes into every burger. “We use fresh ground chuck, a lean fat percentage. It’s a good balance. We do quarter-pounder burgers, and the thickness of our meat is, I think, ideal,” said Won, describing the perfect patty-to-topping ratio for not overloading a burger and making it tricky to eat.
There’s an art to preparing burgers, and kitchen manager Luiz Gonzalez, who has been at Wibbley’s since the beginning, is the grill master. He charbroils each patty with the satisfying sizzle of grill marks and a flash of the open flame. Wibbley’s is one of the few places where burgers are cooked this way, and you can taste it.
“He’s like the backbone of this place,” Won said of Gonzalez. “I’ve calculated how many burgers he’s grilled, and it’s over 200,000. He’s certainly perfected his skills.”
Word-of-mouth tends to be the best advertising. Even five years since taking over the business, Won is still amazed and touched by the loyalty of the customers. “I’ve worked at other restaurants, but the customer fan base here is amazing,” he said. “They always tell me, ‘You guys have the best burgers! I’m telling everybody. My friends should be coming in next week because I told them about it.’ I’ve never had customers like this.”
Over the years, Won has made a few small menu updates — he’s recently added a row of beer taps, making Wibbley’s a proper pub. There are monthly burger specials to try new things. There are a few new sides — most recently, garlic Parmesan fries, and sweet potato waffle fries with a light dusting of powdered sugar. There are even gluten-free and whole-grain bun options.
“I’ve worked at other restaurants, but the customer fan base here is amazing.”
Much like the restaurant’s renovation, these are flourishes that complement the restaurant and what it means to its fans.
So does Won ever get tired of the food he makes and serves? “Not yet,” he said. “I actually just had a burger today!” His faves include the classic Wibbley’s gourmet burger with fresh onions, and the Century burger with melted blue cheese, sprouts, and bacon.
Hamburgers are a humble comfort food, regarded with deep affection, and it’s fitting that someone who loves Wibbley’s as much as his customers is the one running the show.
“I tell customers and employees this is my baby, my child,” Won said.
As the Eastside continues to change and grow, it’s as comforting as a double bacon cheeseburger to know Wibbley’s is here to stay.
Little-Known Wibbley’s Facts
200: The average number of burgers served every day at Wibbley’s. On busy days, more than 350 are served!
Winter rush: December is the busiest month of the year. Owner Daniel Won believes it’s the celebratory time mixed with the Northwest chill that has people craving the comfort of a big burger and fries. Or maybe it is the last chance to indulge before New Year’s resolutions begin.
Feast mode: Seahawks players who frequent Wibbley’s typically order the bacon cheeseburger. They usually opt for the double beef patty.
The secret’s out! There used to be a “secret burger” on the menu — the BBQ burger. But because so many people knew about it, it became a regular menu item.