The Aristocratic Burger

The Cheeseburger Origin Story

October 17, 2023 | Posted in Food

The cheeseburger's genesis can be traced back to 1924 in Pasadena, California. It was the first time "The Original Hamburger with Cheese" appeared on a menu. The legend takes us to Colorado Boulevard (then Route 66), where The Rite Spot once stood and the cheeseburger was born. It cost a whopping $0.15.

The Rite Spot

Who Invented the Cheeseburger?

Located just west of the Colorado Bridge, The Rite Spot stood tall as a roadside burger stand in Pasadena. The year was 1924 and the road was a part of Route 66. Rose Parade spectators dressed in business attire along Colorado Boulevard that New Year's Day.

As the tale goes, H.S. Sternberger and his twin sons Van and Lionel came to Pasadena in 1916 from San Diego. 16-year-old Lionel Clark Sternberger was working his dad's restaurant at the southwest corner of Colorado Boulevard and Avenue 64 as a short-order cook. On one fateful day in 1924, he introduced cheese to patty in one of two ways. We can't be sure which one is true, but they ended up calling it the "Aristocratic Burger: the Original Hamburger with Cheese."

1. Cheesy Cover Up story

Lionel was flipping burgers when he accidentally burnt a patty on the grill. To mask the mistake, he slapped a slice of cheese to conceal the scorch.

2. Cheesy Customer story

An ingenious customer simply asked for the cheese to be placed in their burger.

The Rite Spot Menu (Side 1)
The Rite Spot Menu (Side 2)

The Rite Spot eventually moved from their roadside set-up into a brick and mortar steakhouse that continued to serve Aristocratic Burgers. They exclusively served Davidson's fancy Kansas City corn-fed baby beef and called onion rings "French Fried Onions."

The Proof is cheesy, But so is the burger

The Pasadena Museum of History found a menu for the Rite Spot that had the Aristocratic Burger. The menu, pictured above, was produced by the Trapp Printing Company in Glendale before they closed their doors in 1939.

Lionel Clark Sternberger was also recognized as the inventor of the cheeseburger in the February 7, 1964 issue of Time Magazine's obituary section. He died at 56 years old of complications following diabetes in Glendale.

Page 99, - Feb. 7, 1964, TIME

Pasadena Cheeseburger Week

The Pasadena Chamber of Commerce led the charge on celebrating Lionel's ingenuity by launching the Pasadena Cheeseburger Week in 2012. Every year since then, restaurants across Pasadena join in to celebrate the iconic cheeseburger for an entire week in January.

In 2017, the organization dedicated a plaque to commemorate the invention at the original location of The Rite Spot.

An Official Cheeseburger Plaque

Pasadena Cheeseburger Centennial 2024

In 2024, Pasadena will be celebrating the centennial of the cheeseburger's genesis. Cheeseburger Week will be returning. If you book a stay any of 7 Pasadena hotels in January, you'll get a free cheeseburger. There's a Cheeseburger Walking Tour of Pasadena too!

Cheeseburger 100