Since May 1976, the Orrington Avenue
Burger King served as Northwestern University’s social hub, with hot,
greasy food and a weirdly welcoming, harshly lit interior. On Dec. 16,
2020, the franchise fell to the economic consequences of the COVID-19
pandemic and closed its doors, devastating Northwestern undergraduates
who looked forward to returning to the fast-food restaurant when school
resumed on campus.
Burger King entered the Northwestern community as a surprise and as a
risk. Prior to its establishment, Evanston residents had objected to
fast-food restaurants because they had created litter and became
“hang-outs for teenagers,” according to the Daily Northwestern. During
its lifetime, the restaurant gained popularity not only for its food —
perfect for instant gratification — but also its operating times. It
began as a 24-hours establishment in the 1980s, then shifted to being
open until 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. as of January 2020, in sync with the late
night cravings of college students. The following stories illustrate
just the tip of the iceberg of the wholesome and out-of-the-ordinary
memories students made at Burger King.
Sir Burger King
“Sir Burger King” was the nickname Medill second-year Elbert Xie earned
through infamous stories of him going to BK around three times a week
before its closing. It was his place to talk to his friends about love
interests or to enjoy comfort food after a night out.
“Especially when it’s Winter Quarter and it’s super cold outside, and
you go inside Burger King and get its fresh, steamy, hot fries,” Xie
says with an expression of longing. “The quality is pretty bad, but you
go there because the quality is so bad. It’s something with the janky
atmosphere and how run-down the restaurant was and the quality of food.
It’s just perfect for a late-night college student.”
BK also has an important place in Xie’s heart because it was a meeting
spot for him and Sam, one of his closest friends at Northwestern.
“We met a lot at Main and got to talk to each other a lot there, but
when we actually had more serious conversations, most of it was at BK,”
Xie says. “For a span of one to two weeks, I was simping over this girl,
and I would literally just say, ‘Hey, I have stuff to talk to you about.
Let’s hit up BK.’ I asked him frequently because I knew he would agree
so frequently. That was definitely some quality bonding with Sam.”
The Cold Never Bothered Us Anyway
The snow did not stop McCormick and Weinberg fourth-years Grant
Spaulding and Brandon Tang from jogging in their t-shirts and shorts
under winter coats to Burger King at 4 a.m. It was midterm week in
Winter Quarter, and Spaulding and Tang — then underclassmen — were
starving and fed up with studying in their Allison dorm room.
Having stayed in their dorm the entire day studying and only going
downstairs to the dining hall to eat, Spaulding and Tang were in
t-shirts and shorts and couldn’t bother to put on more than just their
“We just threw on whatever,” Spaulding says. “We probably should’ve
bundled up more, but we were like, ‘Screw it,’ and literally jogged from
the front doors of Allison through the Quad, then went down to Burger
King and used the app to get some deal on nuggets and fries.”
After waiting for an unreasonably long time, Spaulding and Tang ran back
to their dorm room through the cold to eat their food.
“It was probably another two or three hours of studying before we
finally went to bed,” Spaulding says. “While I’m definitely not trying
to stay up that late anymore, those were good times.”
Home Sweet Home
One night after a Christmas party, David Deloso, a Medill third-year and
former editor-in- chief of NBN, arrived at his dorm, hungry and craving
BK. Slightly delirious, Deloso called a Lyft to Burger King —
just not the one on Orrington. This one was a seven-minute car ride away
from campus. He realized too late that he had set the wrong destination.
“After I got out of the car, I sat on the sidewalk, contemplated life
and regretted my decisions,” Deloso says.
He eventually Lyfted back to the “real” Burger King and treated himself
to what sounded like the biggest burger on the menu, the Rodeo Stacker
“Being there after going through a whole night of trying to get there
was a cathartic experience,” Deloso says. “It was like I finally reached
the promised land.”
The Birthday King
Burger King was McCormick third-year Elijah Trella’s favorite fast-food
restaurant growing up. When he stepped foot on campus and found there
were not a lot of Hispanic restaurants like what he had back home in
Midlothian, Illinois, the Evanston Burger King only meant more to him —
enough to spend his 20th birthday there.
“I was asked which restaurant I wanted to go to, but I couldn’t think of
anything,” Trella says. “So I ended up choosing Burger King, which also
happened to be near my dorm, Chapin.”
Not only did Trella use a family dinner coupon to order four Whoppers,
three cheeseburgers, two large fries and two drinks for himself and two
other friends; he also opened his presents there.
“One present was a gag gift where my friend made a jello with an office
stapler inside,” Trella says. “I also received a watch from another
To top it all off, one of Trella’s friends suggested that he wear the
Burger King paper crown on his special day. “I had to ask the cashier
for it,” Trella says. “But they had it right behind the counter, so I
wore the kiddie crown.”
Rest in Peace
On January 4 at 11 p.m., five Medill second-years lurked behind BK, eyes
set on the giant “Burger King” sign in the dumpster.
“It was very clearly discarded, so stealing it was just one of those
moments when we were like, ‘This is going to just be like a college
memory,’” says Alex Chun, one of the new owners of the BK sign.
Chun and his roommates safely stored the sign in the sunroom of their
apartment on Maple Avenue, now informally dubbed “the BK house.” Meher
Yeda, Chun’s roommate, posted a photo of themselves with the sign on
Twitter with the caption, “she lives in our haus,” to which the official
Burger King account responded, “pls take care of her.”
While Burger King no longer has a building to call home, the 6-by-6 foot
sign has secured a place of its own, a monument to the lasting legacy of
Northwestern’s lively, hungry nightlife destination.