60 years of family, friends and burgers at the IcebergDec 14, 2020 03:39PM ● By Linnea Lundgren
Above-the-rim milkshakes are a popular feature at Draper’s longtime hamburger joint, Ballard’s Iceberg Drive-in. (Linnea Lundgren/City Journals)
By Linnea Lundgren | [email protected]
For 31 of her 32 years, Chelsee Hofheins has been coming to Ballard’s Iceberg Drive-in in Draper, not just for, in her words, the “fantastic food” or the “great salsa” or “the best banana shakes,” but because it feels like home.
“My dad was a sixth-generation mason worker and he always brought me here in the morning for breakfast before he went out to bid jobs or before I went to school,” she recalled. He’d talk with the regulars, who’d sit with their newspapers and eat breakfast before heading to their construction jobs.
On this late-October visit, she’s come here directly from St. George where she now lives, for an early lunch and a pick-up order to bring to her dad, Dave, who for health reasons can no longer make it in. Everyone asks about her dad, from longtime owner Don Ballard to the regulars who drink black coffee from brown ceramic mugs in the sunlit dining area.
“It’s family here. It’s friends. It’s people who care about you,” she said. “Don has known my dad since the dawn of time.”
And it may seem like it was the dawn of time—or at least the dawn of Draper—when the Ballard family opened the Iceberg. Back in 1960, Allen and Alice Mae Ballard opened for business selling hand-pressed hamburgers for 25 cents. Back then, Draper was a farm town, where everyone had a horse and “flies were all over the place,” Ballard said.
When his parents bulldozed their front yard on 12300 South to make way for the restaurant, Ballard remembers that there wasn’t much drive-by traffic to attract. Rasmussen’s pig farm was where McDonald’s resides, and the Day Barn (now relocated to Draper Park) was two doors down and housed cows. Alice Mae bought 20-pound beef packages from Frank’s Food Towne, which is now home to Go-Ride bike shop. The Ballard’s home, tucked behind the restaurant, is where Ballard was born, raised and still lives with his wife, a retired Salt Lake District schoolteacher.
“[Our house] was in a great location when teenagers used to work in the kitchen during the evening,” he said. “They could holler back into the house if they needed help and we could sit there and watch what was going on.”
Ballard, who just turned 70, has been cooking and managing the Iceberg since he was a college student. “I am still here to the chagrin of most,” he joked. Luckily, his commute isn’t far and he rolls in every day around 6 a.m. and works until 4 p.m. He credits his loyal staff, including longtime employee Kim Wilde, for helping to keep things running smoothly.
Ballard said his greatest pride has been keeping the family business going for so long.
“I think of the courage and drive of my parents to open a place back then, particularly my mom,” he said. Alice Mae used to “candle” eggs (hold them up to a light to check for flaws) at Draper Feed and Egg (where IFA is now). “She didn’t like working for someone else, so she wanted to do her own thing.” She started the Iceberg at age 37 as part of a franchise, but the owner “disappeared” and she took things over and ran the place for decades until her health failed. (Other Iceberg establishments in Utah are not affiliated with Ballard’s.)
Longtime customers are the true barometer of success, but Ballard always delights in new customers—many who are surprised to find the Iceberg because there are no flashy signs out front. They advertise by word of mouth or by milkshake.
“Our milkshakes are a selling feature,” Ballard said. “What draws customers in, especially in summer, is seeing people outside enjoying their above-the-rim milkshakes.” There are more than 27 flavors of which customers can mix and match. Pineapple-strawberry was his mom’s favorite. To complement the shakes, there’s burgers, cheeseburgers, three types of chicken sandwiches and English-style fish ‘n’ chips. Breakfast is also served.
“Don is a chef who has intent,” Hofheins said, while eating her sandwich.
“Chef?” said Ballard, who stands nearby.
“OK, cook,” she corrected. “Don is a cook who has intent. His intent is to make good food. He gets joy out of that and from being in service to others. When people like what they do, you can taste the result.”
“Ahh,” joked Ballard. “I am going to tear up.”
The morning gathering of longtime regulars might agree with Hofheins’ assessment.
One local, Randy Fellows, has been visiting the Iceberg almost every morning since the ‘80s.
“I never leave,” he quipped.
When his kids were little, he’d put them in a bicycle trailer and ride along 12300 South “when no cars would pass you” to bring them here for ice cream. He returns for the food, the camaraderie, and, he said, “Don’s humor.”
But, he said, the “most important part about this place is they personally run it.” Don and his loyal crew, some of whom are multi-generational, are onsite daily. “The quality, the cleanliness, everything is always top.”
Ballard takes it all in stride. “Guys like to have a place to tell their stories,” he said, referring to the locals who arrive every morning to talk over coffee. “Attrition has taken care of a bunch of ‘em, but new ones come in. New people will come in and hear the fellows talk and they’ll just get a kick out of ‘em. I stay in the back, so I don’t hear anything.”
As someone who has lived and worked in Draper longer than most, Ballard says it’s been a good place to live and the city has done a nice job with the parks. But it has also turned into another franchise-filled town, which saddens him. What’s missing in that, he said, is the human connection, “and that makes the difference.”
Ballard doesn’t foresee his three kids or six grandkids taking over the burger business. “I don’t want to have them find me face down in the fryer, bobbin’ for French fries,” but he said he has no plans to quit or to sell.
“I’ll keep going,” he said, “until further notice.”
Ballard’s Iceberg Drive-in, 673 E. 12300 South in Draper, is open Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 801-571-2453.