Longtime Yelm residents likely remember Top of the Box, a small burger joint that was a favorite for locals up until 1993 when it was relocated.
Many remember its burgers, but more likely, they remember the giant 4-foot tall patty and bun mounted on the structure.
Recently, the small structure — now located off Martin Way in Lacey and known as Norma’s Burger — was sold by its owner. While the future of the structure is unknown, the burger will likely be reused at Kozy’s South Bay In & Out in Olympia.
“That’s basically why we wanted to take over — the burger. It’s a big burger that’s been recognizable everywhere,” said Jason Jones, co-owner of Kozy’s South Bay In & Out. “We’re going to repaint it, put it up, take off the Norma and put Kozy’s … We’re the new kid in town.”
News came of Norma’s Burgers’ closure through a Facebook post earlier this summer. It was announced that the building and its contents would be sold, and that the last day of operation would be Aug. 31.
Owner Craig Forster said the sale took about a month to facilitate. He said seeing the burger put back to use, instead of being abandoned, was encouraging.
“He was the first person to inquire about it,” Forster said. “I had a couple other inquiries, but he was able to actually move the building, which was a big selling point.”
Forster said he plans on moving to Florida and buying a house to retire in.
Forster came into the restaurant business in 1982 after retiring from the police force in Alaska. After moving to Washington, he soon met Phil and Norma Swenson, who brought him into the business.
The Swensons bought Top of the Box in 1990 and moved it to Martin Way in 1993. By 1997, Forster was the sole owner of Norma’s Burger.
“I didn’t know I was a restaurant entrepreneur until we bought it up and got them out of the stress,” Forster said. “It put a couple kids through college. It was profitable enough.”
Forster said that over the years the business has employed many young men and women from the military, and plenty of family members.
“You just never know what’s going to come out of a 23-year business,” Forster said.
Jones said Forster offered to give them their famous burger recipes, but Jones said he turned them down out of respect to the establishment. He said they may at a later date create a “Norma’s Burger” in honor of Forster and the Swenson’s legacy.
Since opening in October, Jones said Kozy’s has been getting a lot of comparisons to Norma’s, which he says is an honor.
“That’s who everyone were comparing us together … To be immediately be put into that qualification of a good burger joint or good restaurant in that short of time, it’s an honor,” he said.
They plan on opening another franchise down the line, Jones said. But for now, they’re booked solid at their one location in Olympia.
Kozy’s South Bay In & Out is located at 3425 Shincke Road in Olympia and Norma’s is located across Interstate 5 at 7210 Martin Way.