Have you taken the Big Jud challenge? Ashton burger joint to celebrate 25 years of business
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ASHTON — Just off U.S. Highway 20 inside the travel plaza in Ashton is Big Jud’s, a popular diner and pit stop for tourists on their way to Yellowstone National Park.
It’s one of two locations in eastern Idaho and four in the Gem State.
Since 1996, it’s been the home of the 1-pound burger and hungry customers stop in throughout the year to take the Big Jud challenge, which consists of eating the entire burger, a massive plate of fries and drink in 30 minutes or less.
Those who complete the challenge get their picture included on the wall of fame and a t-shirt commemorating their success.
After nearly 25 years of business, owner Todd Bossard tells EastIdahoNews.com Big Jud’s remains a big draw for customers.
“We started with just the single, one-pound burger. Then we started doing the doubles. Now we do a triple. We’ve made a 5-pounder before,” Bossard says. “We weigh out each patty and hand press it.”
Watch Bossard make a Big Jud burger in the video player above.
The freshly-made burgers are a novelty that continues to attract new customers every year.
Big Jud, the original owner, opened the first restaurant in Archer in 1993. He had a hankering to open a burger joint after sampling the menu at In-N-Out Burger in California.
“He was in California on (a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and went to In-N-Out. Loved their burgers and the concept, but he never got full,” says Bossard.
Determined to create a burger that was not tall, but wide, he opened Big Jud’s at 411 West 7800 South in the middle of nowhere near Rexburg.
“Everybody told him, ‘You’re nuts. Don’t open it up in the middle of nowhere,” Bossard says.
But a building soon became available in the area and the amount of traffic proved to be good for business.
Students at what was then Ricks College and later Brigham Young University-Idaho helped spread word about Big Jud’s. The college crowd gave the restaurant a built-in customer base from day one and it quickly took off.
After working with Jud for several years and seeing the restaurant’s success, Bossard moved to Ashton to open a second restaurant.
When the recession hit in 2008, outdoor recreation was at an all-time low and that also meant a slow down in business. Bossard sought another line of work as a nurse while continuing to operate the restaurant. There were times when it didn’t make sense to keep the business open, Bossard says, but the support of the community and the ability to continually serve new people is what kept him going.
“Some of the fun of it is seeing people’s faces when you hand them the Big Jud. The waitresses have a great time putting that huge burger in front of someone who’s never seen it,” he says. ”
Jud sold the business to his brother Chris Neiderer more than a decade ago, who has since gone on to open a store in Meridian and Boise. He also manages a Big Jud’s food truck in that area. The Boise location was featured on the Travel Channel series “Man vs. Food” in 2010.
“That (show) was a huge success. People started coming out of the woodwork to try out (Big Jud’s again),” says Bossard.
This May, the Ashton location celebrates its 25th year of business. Economic and weather factors have determined how successful the business is over the years. The business model has pretty much stayed the same, Bossard says, but the workforce has changed dramatically.
“Getting people to do this kind of work has been such a change,” he says. “During the summer, we used to see 100 to 150 applications (from kids wanting to work here). I may see 10 now.”
But the restaurant continues to be a family affair for Bossard and his family. His son, Wyatt, manages the restaurant and he has two daughters that work there as well.
Taking care of people and maintaining the same standards of quality are still as important to Bossard now as they were in the beginning.
“We had several businessmen approach us several years ago and say ‘We’ll put up the money and fund you (to expand the business and franchise it out). Jud’s biggest concern at that time was ‘How do I control the quality?’ He wasn’t ready for that step. Chris is still playing with the idea,” Bossard says.
Whether expansions move forward is still up in the air. But regardless of what happens, Big Jud’s remains a popular destination for customers and Bossard says he has no plans to close anytime soon.
“We have customers that have supported us for the full 25 years. I have a customer that came in every day in our old building who is now completely disabled. He sends a CNA to come and get burgers for him once or twice a week,” says Bossard.
Bossard says he’s happy to continue living and working in a place that he loves.
“If I were to expand, I wouldn’t go anywhere. This is where I want to be,” Bossard says. “We’ve played with the idea of reopening in a brand new building somewhere in town. This is where my heart is.”
Big Jud’s is at 1370 U.S. 20 in Ashton. Its hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday with a 9 p.m. closing time Friday and Saturday. The Archer location is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with a 10 p.m. closing time Friday and Saturday.