After nearly four decades in business, the owners of The Burger Depot in Lucerne Valley have flipped their last meat patty and cooked their last french fry.
Owners David and Laura Mount told the Daily Press that Thursday was the “end of the line” for the small yet popular train-themed eatery on Highway 18.
"It has been an honor and privilege to serve the people of the High Desert and Big Bear area, and those passing through,” said David Mount, who opened the store with his wife in Aug. 1979. “It’s been an exciting adventure and an incredibly wild ride.”
Over the years, the Mounts have served armies of customers, who included town folk, travelers, delivery drivers and celebrities.
“Quincy Jones was out here shooting a video of Smokey Robinson playing the piano on a dry lake
bed,” David Mount said. “Quincy and his chauffeur stopped by and had lunch. We chatted with them and Quincy gave us his autograph.”
The Mounts, who plan to stay in Lucerne Valley and remain active in the community, hope the relationships they’ve established with friends and customers over the years won’t be derailed.
“It’s crazy to think that back when we opened, I was 27 and Laura was 23,” David Mount said. “Now, she’s 67 and I’m 70.”
Laura Mount said part of her future includes spending time with family, gardening, woodworking and taking care of a myriad of fruit trees on the couple’s property.
Closing the store, saying farewell
The Mounts will host a farewell get-together from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the shuttered Burger Depot at 31337 Hwy. 18.
“This will allow us to say thank you to the many customers that have supported us through the years,” Laura Mount said. “We appreciate every single one of them, we also consider them part of our family.”
With the Mounts the only ones working at the restaurant, the couple chose not to announce the store’s planned closing date for a good reason.
“I think we’d be overwhelmed with customers and I don’t know if we could survive that,” David Mount chuckled. “We barely survived back when we were open on weekends.”
At closing time on Thursday, the couple’s son, David, who came to town to help for the day, flipped two outdoor signs to read “Closed,” placed cones at the drive-through lane and locked the front door.
“Serving our last customer was emotional for me because I watched so many of these kids grow up,” Laura Mount said. “After 43 years, it’s hard to say goodbye.”
Debbie (Lewis) placed the last order of the day in the drive-through —a chocolate milkshake for the youngster and a diet-cherry float for grandma. Laura Mount said.
Lewis said the Mounts were the first people she met when she moved to Lucerne Valley in 1994. During that time. Lewis went through the drive-through with her kids, dogs and and horse trailer.
"Laura asked my name and she never forgot it after that," Lewis said, "She gave the dogs a hot dog, and my first thought was wow what friendly town and people."
Lewis said the Mounts, who watched her kids grow up, are like family.
"I wish these two the best of luck on life’s next adventure," Lewis said. "I will so miss them and the Burger Depot."
After closing the store for the last time, David Mount showed the Daily Press reporter the first dollar the store earned in 1979 and the last dollar they took in on Thursday.
A front-yard burger joint
The Mounts were sweethearts at Apple Valley High School, back when the school boasted nearly 600 students who came from places like Lucerne Valley, Hesperia, and Wrightwood.
The couple married in 1972 and David Mount began a seven-year career with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“While Laura was home with our son, David, I was away for weeks at a time,” David Mount said. “After being gone for 18 days, I came home with a full beard and covered with soot. That’s when David, who was about 4-years-old, hid behind his mother and asked who the stranger was.”
Looking at his frightened son, Mount understood that his occupation was not suited for a family man and that he needed to spend more time at home.
Dealing with 'bologna'
Having restaurant experience and some culinary schooling, and living on a large piece of property near Highway 18, the Mounts decided to build a small restaurant in their “front yard.”
“After dealing with two years of construction and restriction bologna, we ended up building the store in four months,” David Mount said. “It was a big nightmare then and I believe it would be a bigger nightmare if we had to build now.”
Some of the hurdles for the restaurant included a zone change, a community-signed petition of approval, a variety of permit types, an environmental impact report and numerous discussions with the San Bernardino County Planning Commission.
The Mounts also dealt with a handful of people who opposed the project and the zone change.
When the dust settled, a green light was given to the restaurant, which also came via 700 signatures of approval and a majority of yes votes from the Lucerne Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Improvement and Progress Committee.
From Burger Express to Burger Depot
On a hot day in August 1979, the 600-square-foot Burger Depot opened with a 12-seat dining room, full kitchen, storage room, 10 parking spaces and a menu that grew to include burgers, fries, onion rings, chili, Mexican food, shakes, soda and more.
The Mounts also shared how customers from across the High Desert and beyond donated train-themed items to decorate the restaurant.
"They brought in trains, clocks, signs, figurines, stuffed animals and other train-related items," David Mount said. "The support we received was amazing."
The store is also decorated with framed vintage photos of the Victor Valley, donated by former AVHS teacher and Apple Valley Unified School District Board Member Dennis Bender.
The Mounts recall former Daily Press reporters Kris Reilly, Peter Day and the late Stuart Kellogg eating at the store frequently.
“Before we opened, we visited with Daily Press editor Bill Bell and told him about our new restaurant called The Burger Express,” David Mount said. “Bill dropped everything and started typing out the story while we talked.”
After the story was published, an owner of a Burger Express in Oregon complained about the Mounts using the same name for their restaurant.
Not knowing about the possible legal ramifications of sharing the same name, the Mounts adopted the new name The Burger Depot.
Nearly 10 years after opening their restaurant, the Mounts moved off the property and into a new home.
“The store used to open seven days a week, but slowly we scaled back,” David Mount said. “When COVID-19 hit, we decided to open from 10 to 4 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
After graduating high school, the Mount’s son was awarded a college scholarship from the Liberace Foundation for the Creative and Performing Arts.
The couple’s son teaches music at Upland High School while his wife, Jenni, is a speech pathologist. They have two children, Andrew and Alison.
“Right now, we have no plans for the old Burger Depot building so we’re just going to hang on to it,” David Mount said. “In the meantime, we’re going to enjoy retirement and our family. “
Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz
This article originally appeared on Victorville Daily Press: Burger Depot restaurant in Lucerne Valley closes after 43 years