Friday, December 4, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 40
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Since 1979, Tom's Burgers has served meals with an ample helping of community outreach to the Lompoc Valley

KENNY CRESS

The words on the window to the left of the Tom’s Burgers entrance, and on the window to the right of it, read, “Lompoc Strong.”

Those words signify a commitment the business has made to the Lompoc Valley since opening its doors in 1979.


Order up!
Located in the College Center at 115 E. College Ave., suite 13, in Lompoc, Tom’s Burgers, as of press time, anticipated getting approval from the county to resume opening at 8 a.m. Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tom’s Burgers is closed Sundays and Mondays. For more information, visit the business’s website, tomsburgersa2z.com/menu.

A TO Z BURGERS
Tom’s Burgers offers burgers starting with literally every letter of the alphabet (their lettering system is creative—the C Burger, for example, asks, “Curiosity, courage, or crazy” regarding its burger with peanut butter). Pictured here are the D Burger (left) with mushrooms; the F Burger with bacon, Ortega chiles, and Swiss cheese (center); and the G Burger with jalapeño and pepper jack cheese (right).
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KIM BLEA/TOM’S BURGERS FACEBOOK PAGE

On an unseasonably balmy mid-October day, Jenn Villareal, Tom’s Burgers manager, spoke of the restaurant’s deep connection to the community. Kim Blea, Villareal’s mother, owns Tom’sBurgers, and Villareal said every family member—she has four siblings—has worked at the eatery at one time or another, though she is the only sibling who works there now.

Tom’s Burgers, whose menu includes burger offerings literally from A to Z—there’s a different burger for every letter of the alphabet—has a community feel, right down to its location.

The restaurant is located on College Avenue, in the College Center. Central Coast Specialty Foods is on the left of Tom’s Burgers. Central Coast Headway is to the right.

Among the sizable menu options—from basket lunches with fried fish, chicken or shrimp, to sandwiches, salads, and breakfast classics—patrons have those 26 burgers to choose from, each boasting colorful descriptions. 

For the B Burger, “Beware of the blundering idiots who decided we should have a cheeseburger that is really cheesy, so we pulled the double whammy and now you get both American and Swiss cheese.”

For P, “Put some pizazz into your life. Try the Pizza Burger.”

The W Burger stands for the “Wishing Well Special. Cream cheese with chopped olives. This is the one that makes you wish you had gone someplace else.”

And for Z, “Zest at its best, the whole pound in one burger, live it up and eat and eat and eat … .” 


ALL-DAY DINING
Up until the week of Oct. 22, the Tom’s Burgers only offered breakfast on Saturdays because of COVID-19 mitigation. Now local morning favorites—including waffles and pancakes—are available till 11 a.m. six days a week.
PHOTO COURTESY OF KIM BLEA/TOM’S BURGERS FACEBOOK PAGE

Breakfast offerings include bacon, sausage, or ham and eggs; Eggs Toro, which boasts a patty, onions, and two eggs scrambled together and topped with chili and cheese; the Chopper, which consists of diced ham, Ortega chile, and two eggs scrambled together; plus omelettes, waffles, pancakes, and more—each served with home fries, hash browns, or a fruit cup.

“Before the pandemic hit, our regulars would be lining up for breakfast before we opened the doors at 8 a.m.,” Villareal said. “Some of our regulars had regular days when they came here. At times, Tuesdays would be especially busy.”

As is the case with many other businesses, the local shutdowns had a huge impact on Tom’s Burgers.

Pre-pandemic, the burger joint was open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Then the restaurant made a bid to begin opening on Sundays. The pandemic altered those plans, too.

“We were open one Sunday,” before having to reduce hours, Villareal said. “We eventually hope to try again to open on Sundays.”

The business—which has been voted Best Lompoc Restaurant in the Sun’s annual Best of Northern Santa Barbara County readers poll—has been gradually rebounding.

After having to resort to takeout-only orders early in the pandemic, Tom’s Burgers has resumed indoor and outdoor dining, with some changes. 


LOMPOC STRONG
Tom’s Burgers has been a Lompoc institution for more than 40 years.
PHOTO COURTESY OF KIM BLEA/TOM’S BURGERS FACEBOOK PAGE

“Our indoor dining is 25 percent capacity,” Villareal said. “We hope to eventually get up to 50 percent.”

After seeing its business hours reduced to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with breakfast Saturday mornings only, Villareal said that as of the week of Oct. 22 Tom’s Burgers would be able to resume its 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours, with breakfast available until 11 a.m.

When it comes to community involvement, the restaurant has backed several Lompoc Valley sports teams, among other things. 

“We’re a spot for Friday night football teams,” Villareal said. “We would hold team dinners for both Lompoc and Cabrillo High School football teams before their games.”

Tom’s Burgers also sponsored a Babe Ruth 13-15 division team, Tom’s Burgers, and the team consistently made a good run during the annual district Babe Ruth Tournament.

“A lot of the players and the coaches on the team would eat here regularly,” Villareal said.

The pandemic hasn’t dampened the business’s commitment to serving the community, be it through food or otherwise. 

“We’ve been sponsoring youth sports and community sponsorships in general since we opened,” Villareal said. “We hope to continue full force with that once the pandemic is over.”

Villareal said her business usually donates gift cards for Lompoc Valley high school football programs, as well as supports youth football and Little League. She said Tom’s Burgers has also helped locally with Relay for Life and with fundraisers for the Cabrillo High School Madrigals singing group.

“We’ve helped with the Lompoc Lions Club and also assisted the North County Rape Crisis Center,” Villareal said.

The last live high school sports event on the Central Coast took place March 13. And in the meantime, the Little League on the Central Coast never got off the ground in 2020.

“It was so devastating,” Villareal said. “I have two boys, 5 and 6 years old, who were about to start their Little League season. It was very disheartening.”

Codie Blea—an active area youth sports coach who owns Blea Enterprises in town and is “like a handyman” at Tom’s Burgers, Villareal said—was able to do some coaching during the pandemic.

A true-blue Lompoc local herself, Villareal played softball at Lompoc High School. She graduated in 2004 then went on to play at Charleston Southern in Charleston, South Carolina.

“That was a wonderful time, I loved it,” she said. “I got to see another part of the country. It was beautiful, and I made a lot of wonderful friends.”

Still, she had no intention of staying in South Carolina when her school days were done.

“I always knew I’d come home,” she said.

But she said she didn’t figure she’d come back to working at Tom’s Burgers.

“I honestly didn’t think that I would,” she said. “I just got drawn to it.” 

And now, she is the manager of the family business, at the helm through in this time of COVID-19.

“I’m looking forward to the time the pandemic is behind us,” Villareal said. 

Contributor Kenny Cress has a soft spot for cheeseburgers. Reach him through the editor at clanham@santamariasun.com










Weekly Poll
Would a second stay-at-home order be effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19?

No, pandemic fatigue is too high to get people to follow a stay-at-home order.
Yes, we need it, otherwise our hospitals will be in rough shape.
Local governments should get a say—not all purple tier counties are the same.
It would be bad news for the economy.

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