Building a Better Burger

Not everybody knows about Hollymatic’s role in the history of American fast food, either. The company was founded in 1937 by Harry Holly, a laid-off ironworker who opened a tiny hamburger stand in the Chicago area during the Depression and then invented a machine to make more uniform patties in a shorter period of time. In the early days of the fast food industry, Holly’s patty press could be found at McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s restaurants.

“I don’t think they ever gave credit to the guy,” says Jim Azzar, the owner of Hollymatic since 1988 and Bauer’s father-in-law. “He was the inventor of the mass-produced fast food hamburger.”

That Holly’s contributions went unappreciated is a result of both far-reaching changes in the fast food industry and turmoil at Hollymatic, which suffered financial losses and management upheaval that ousted the founder from his own company. Azzar, who runs a vertically integrated group of businesses related to meat processing, has fashioned Hollymatic into a niche player that caters to small and mid-sized restaurants, butcher shops and grocery stores. Where the company once supplied McDonald’s and Burger King with patty machines, its equipment now helps make alternatives to Big Macs and Whoppers.

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