Van’s Burger Celebrates 15 Years

vans burger
Erica Van Lierop started Van's Burger when her father bought a trailer. She started serving lunch to friends and family and the crowds grew from there.


By Eric Wilson-Edge

Dennis Gift, Sharon Madsack and Yogi arrived a little before ten in the morning to get the first Van’s Burger of the season.

It’s 10:15 in the morning.  Van’s Burger doesn’t open for another 45 minutes. There’s already a car waiting in line.  Dennis Gift and Sharon Madsack sit patiently with their dog Yogi. The couple have been coming to Van’s since the business started 15 years ago.

“I wanted to be first this year,” says Gift. As we talk another car pulls into the parking lot. Gift and Madsack come here about once a week. “Everyone here is very friendly,” says Madsack. “They know our name and we can just come up and say ‘we want the usual.’”

Erica Van Lierop has that rare ability to make everyone feel welcome. I should know, I’m taking up precious time on one of her biggest days. Van Lierop just smiles and talks like there is nothing else she’d rather be doing.

“It’s exciting,” says Van Lierop about her fifteenth year in operation. “I’m very appreciative of the community and I feel fortunate to have their support.” More support arrives. It’s at this point that I decide to get in line.  It’s 10:45.

The weather is decent and around here that means it isn’t raining. I roll down the window. People a few cars ahead get out and start talking. Some shake hands and laugh. I hear one gentleman tell his friend “I beat you here.” At any moment I expect to see folks waving lighters or passing around a beach ball.

“I always get a little worried after the winter that people don’t like us anymore or they’ll go somewhere else to eat,” says Van Lierop. This doesn’t seem likely. “We’ve tried a lot of hamburgers and this is the best place to go,” says Gift.

There is no grand secret to Van’s success. Van Lierop describes her food as simple and fresh. All of the meat is grown and processed in Washington. The menu board reflects this overall philosophy.  It’s just black letters

If you've never been to Van's just look for the arrow.
If you’ve never been to Van’s just look for the arrow.

on a white backdrop. The only flashy thing is the lit up arrow showing you where to turn.  For the uninitiated, Van’s is opposite Kelly Beach Road on Yelm Highway.

I order three “Big Pete Double Burgers” and fries. My wife knew I was coming and asked that I get her something. She told a coworker and, well, you see what happened. I pull up to the window and make small talk with the woman at the counter.

The food is as I remember. I eat it greedily with just one hand attached to the steering wheel. A burger this good can’t wait. It takes all of my willpower not to eat the other two.

I don’t tell Dennis this but the first burger of the year was auctioned off. The winning bid came in at $475. The money went to Friends of Mia which funds childhood cancer research. Van Lierop and her staff used the opportunity to hone their skills in anticipation of opening day.

A person driving by waves. Erica isn’t sure who it is but she waves back. Van’s is successful but how Van Lierop measures success is different. “I love seeing all the old faces, seeing how the kids have grown and just being part of people’s lives and memories.”

Van’s is open Thursday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. until the end of the season.  You can read more about Van’s by clicking here.


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