Harmony Lunch closed in October of 2016, after 86 years of business with its original owners.

It was known for its longevity in the Waterloo restaurant scene and its signature pork burger.

A new owner purchased the restaurant, and it re-opened in July 2017.

The new owners maintained the restaurant’s sign, its charm and large parts of what made it popular—but one component wasn’t included in the agreement: the burger.

Two years later, the original recipe has been made available at Stemmler’s Meat and Cheese in Heidelberg.

“It really is a part of Waterloo County, a lot of people will remember it in uptown Waterloo,” said Kevin Stemmler with Stemmler’s Meat and Cheese.

The burger mixture hit the shelves on Nov. 9.

“I was personally a huge fan and was really sad when the announcement came out that they were closing,” said current owner Nick Benninger, who owns a restaurant group that consists of Taco Farm and Uptown 21, among others.

He said he jumped at the opportunity to be part of keeping Harmony Lunch an uptown staple.

Benninger had been offered to keep using the meat of the original recipe, but with the caveat that he wouldn’t be told the ingredients. As a chef, he felt he had to know, and so he decided to recreate it himself.

‘It’s about a feel’

“It depends who you ask, I think it’s pretty darn close,” he said with a laugh when asked how the burger stacked up to the original.

Customers received his burger well, with one customer saying at the re-opening in 2016, “It’s as good as it was fifty years ago.”

Others said the burger was different, but still very good—and that’s the important part to Benninger.

“As much as it’s about a burger, it’s about a feel, and we've tried to replicate that feel as best as we can,” he said.

For his part, he said that there is room in the community for both burgers.

The Stemmlers had been making the burger for about eight years before the family sold the business.

“The family made it first, then they had another manufacturer make it for a while, and when that manufacturer didn’t want to make it anymore, they brought it to us, and we made it for several years before they sold the business,” Stemmler explained.

Now, the meat for the sliders has gone on sale to the public for the first time, allowing purchasers to recapture a bit of food history from the region.

More than a burger, a family’s legacy

The Original Harmony Lunch Burger went back on sale in tubes for people to bring home the original recipe to prepare for themselves.

So far, the release has been a success for both businesses.

Stemmler said people were waiting outside before they opened, and while the demand has been high, he said that they would be here to stay.

The news brought people out to Harmony Lunch, too.

“Any kind of word-of-mouth advertising is pretty great for us, we had a busy lunch today and we think it was partially because of that,” Benninger said.

He said that a group of men had lunch there thinking that the meat was available at the restaurant, but stayed for the memories—one man told Benninger that he had met his wife there.

Above the release of the burger, both men said they were grateful for the Marks family’s contribution to the region.

“We’re not worried, we’re supportive of it, I mean I think it’s great and I’m happy the Marks family continues to play a role in the community,” Benninger said.

Benninger echoed that sentiment.

“We’re very honoured to have been chosen by the Marks family to continue their heritage, their tradition that they spent 86 years building,” he said.

With reporting from Marta Czurylowicz