Burger Beast Museum to Open at Magic City Casino

Items from Burger Beast's private collection of burger memorabilia.
Items from Burger Beast's private collection of burger memorabilia.
Courtesy of Burger Beast

Miami's museum scene is growing. Once the home to a scant few, South Florida now has diverse offerings such as Vizcaya, Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the Miami Children's Museum. But that's not enough. Prepare yourself for a place with a unique central theme: the hamburger. Its curator? None other than Sef "Burger Beast" Gonzalez.

The Burger Beast Museum will open at Magic City Casino in winter of 2016. The 1,200-square-foot space, located just off the main entrance to the casino, will house Gonzalez's personal collection of burger and comfort memorabilia. How many items in all? Even Gonzalez can't say for sure. The estimate is 4,000 to 5,000, ranging from souvenir cups to vintage uniforms.  

Gonzalez says he began collecting his treasures about the same time he launched the Burger Beast blog. In fact, his hobby (or what he calls an obsession), started with a single sign. "I have a friend, Jim Winters, who does neon signs. I visited his workshop, and he had a Burger Chef sign. He gave it to me, and that was the piece that started everything." In case Burger Chef sounds familiar, it was featured prominently in the AMC series Mad Men as a potential client of Don Draper and Peggy Olsen's. The restaurant was a real chain that, in its heyday, operated more than 1,000 locations. 

In just a few years, Gonzalez has amassed quite a collection. He seeks out memorabilia wherever he can find it. "I look for pieces at garage sales, antique malls, Etsy, eBay, and just driving around through different cities." People also donate items to him.

His most treasured items are the fast-food uniforms he collects. "I have a Crystal Burger waitress outfit from the 1940s and a Wendy's uniform from the '70s." The uniforms generally are sold by the piece, so Gonzalez has to go to different sources to complete the uniform. "I have to piece the outfits together. I'll get a shirt here, then the hat somewhere else, and then keep my eye out for the name tag."

Another rare item is a photo of Wendy's founder Dave Thomas posing with Colonel Sanders. Gonzalez explains that Thomas originally made money as a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee and then invested his earnings in a new concept that turned out to be Wendy's. 

The collection also features rare items the companies used as giveaways, such as glasses, toys, and menus, along with larger-than-life items like neon signs and a life-sized Officer Big Mac statue (not to be confused with Mayor McCheese, Gonzalez points out).

Many of the items to be displayed in the museum are in a storage facility. Gonzalez says he had thought about displaying all of the pieces in one space. "I wanted someplace really cool. I went to the people at Magic City Casino and asked if they would be open to leasing the space that was the original entrance to the dog track. That particular area isn't in use anymore. They thought it would be a great addition to the casino."

Gonzalez, who has a long-standing relationship with the casino and hosts many events on its property, says he invited some key players at Magic City Casino to his office to see his collection just a week before he pitched them the idea. "I won't say that was entirely a coincidence." 

When it opens, Gonzalez hopes the Burger Beast Museum will be a tourist attraction and a source of reminiscence for many people. "I've had so many people see a picture or an item and say, 'Oh my God, I remember that from when I was a kid.' People have actually started to cry remembering that their dad took them for burgers at McDonald's or their mom sat with them at the counter at Woolworth's. It's moving to see that."

The hamburger maven is also planning on having a food truck slinging (what else?) burgers outside the doors on the weekend. As Gonzalez sagely puts it, "A lot of people tell me that after seeing the collection, they've got to have a burger."

To help fund the museum, Gonzalez plans to start a crowdfunding page in the beginning of 2016. The blogger-turned-museum curator is always on the lookout for rare burger and comfort food-related items. If you have anything you'd care to loan out to the museum, send an email to museum@burgerbeast.com

In the meantime, Gonzalez is also planning his annual Burgie Awards on January 16, 2016, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Magic City Casino, as well as a new event, Bourbon, Burgers & Beast, scheduled for March 4, 2016. More details on each event to come. 

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