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Kat Robinson: Iconic Susie Q offers old-fashioned quality

by KAT ROBINSON, SPECIAL TO NWA DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | June 10, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
Susie Q owner Sheila Edmonson speaks during an interview, Thursday, April 1, 2021 at Susie Q drive-in in Rogers. Kat Robinson filmed and interviewed the owner of Susie Q for an AETN special on Arkansas dairy bars. Check out nwaonline.com/210402Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

The iconic Susie Q Malt Shop has stood just outside Rogers' downtown for almost 61 years. Its name, however, doesn't come from the popular Creedence Clearwater Revival song.

"Back in the day, they used to have a French fry cutter, and it was called Susie Q. And when you would put your potato in there, it would do the curly-cue fries" says manager Sheila Edmondson. "And when I came back to take it over, the machine was gone. But we still have Susie Q fries."

Edmondson, who also goes by the nicknames Boss Lady and Ms. Pinky, runs the distinctive teal and pink edifice that draws in daily crowds. She once worked for J.B. and Patty Head, before taking on the cafeteria for several years at a local school. J.B.'s mother, Mildred Head, opened the malt shop in 1960 in a fruit stand. The original structure, despite the paint job and awning, is much as it appeared back then.

The chipper Ms. Pinky didn't stay away too long.

"I stopped in here 13 years ago and asked if I could buy the grill so I could open up a restaurant at Rocky Branch Marina. Instead they offered me the Susie Q, and I've been here for 13 years."

Edmondson and I conducted our lively conversation one Thursday morning, as customers called in and came to the window, and her never-slacking staff continued to flip burgers, make milkshakes, dollop chili onto footlongs and pull fountain drinks.

Many of those cups bore messages to particular customers.

"We take care of our veterans and our police department, our EMTs, our ambulance, our fire department. We write them a note on their cups that says 'thank you for your service,' or it just says 'thank you,' because some of our vets don't like to be reminded that they have bad memories, so, we just give them a little note that says 'thank you for everything,' and they always seem to tag the Susie Q in it and say 'thanks, you made my day.'"

Everyone gets a smile on their cup. That attitude is very on-brand for the Susie Q, where the ladies behind the glass are always upbeat and bright, sporting tie-dye shirts and often dancing along to the soundtrack of music that smoothly drifts from speakers both within and without the building.

"The Susie Q gives me energy. It's all due to this place. It's kind of like an energized place to work at. Can't be slow. It's fast paced," Edmondson shares as she passes a footlong from the grill station across to one of the other ladies, who ladles on chili before passing it to a third woman who shakes cheese and onions onto the dogs. That footlong wiener was first cooked in the deep fryer before being finished on the grill and slid into a mustard-toasted bun.

The mustard is part of the particular flavor a Susie Q burger, dog or sandwich brings to the table -- or dashboard.

"It just gives it that flavor, and it's really good," says Edmondson. "You take the bottom of your bun and you put mustard on it, and we toast it into the bun, and then you put your pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato on it. I always tell (customers), if you don't like mustard, at least try it. If you don't like it, bring it back, and I'll buy you another one. Because you can't taste the mustard, it's toasted in there really good."

The patties are handmade as well.

"Hamburger patties are weighed in the back and pressed with patty papers in between them. And they're stacked, and the grill girl gets to pull them out. So they're already round, so we just put them on the grill and put our special seasoning on them."

"Do you use any special seasoning?" I ask amid the growing bustle of lunchtime.

"Yes we do!" she replies.

"And are you going to share with me what's in that seasoning," I try.

"No, I cannot. That's a secret recipe!" Edmondson laughs.

Each day, some 60 to 80 pounds of hamburger is patted out for burgers. During the height of summer, that amount increases to 120 pounds -- making the Susie Q one of the busiest burger joints in the region.

The flavors of other Susie Q creations, recipes held over from the Head family days, also define the place, like the coleslaw and the potato salad. Edmondson herself flattens and hand-breads the chicken breasts served in the baskets and on some of the sandwiches.

"That's the Cocka-Doodle Piggie! It's a big chicken breast with a quarter pound of shaved ham!" she proclaims, as one is assembled on the grill. It's a massive sandwich, probably more than a pound total. She points out a big burger being assembled. "The Big Daddy is a double cheeseburger with a quarter pound shaved ham and bacon, three pieces of cheese. That's the Big Daddy."

In addition to the new sandwiches, Edmondson has added portabella mushrooms, sweet corn nuggets, cheese sticks and fried cheesecake. But all the original menu items are still there.

Those shakes, though.

"The shakes are really thick," Edmondson shares as she offers a large-bore straw to a customer to use in his dessert. "We can make you a 50 mile shake. I made a shake the other day for some customers that live in Grove, Okla., for lunch. Their shake made it all the way back to Grove. It was still thick. We can tip a shake upside down ... It's like a concrete, but it's homemade ice cream."

Customers come back for those beloved fries, burgers and shakes. They also come for the nostalgia -- and for the special way every diner is treated.

"They have a lucky number. Everybody gets a lucky number, and we hit the microphone and say 'lucky number so and so, your order is ready.' And if they have a call-in, this is a put-out window. so they come up here and get their food, too."

"And why is that so lucky?" I ask.

"Because they're eating here, and everyone has to get lucky every once in a while!" Edmondson replies.

Coming up June 12, the nostalgia will be on full display as the Susie Q celebrates its 61st birthday. The Foul Air Klub, a local group of Volkswagen enthusiasts, will host a car show on the premises. There will be live music in the side yard, and you can bet the premises will be packed.

The Susie Q Malt Shop is one of a shrinking number of dairy bars across Arkansas still holding onto the old traditions. It'll be featured in an upcoming book and television program on Arkansas PBS, "Arkansas Dairy Bars: Neat Eats and Cool Treats," premiering in August.

Edmondson notes the shop would be nothing without her excellent employees, who work together smoothly in the rather tight environs of the small building. But most of all, she thanks the folks who come back, time after time, to enjoy the repasts offered through the window.

"If it wasn't for the customers, we wouldn't be here. So we have to treat our customers with the utmost respect."

Kat Robinson, host of Arkansas Dairy Bars, (center) interviews Susue Q owner Sheila Edmonson (not pictured), Thursday, April 1, 2021 at Susie Q drive-in in Rogers. Kat Robinson filmed and interviewed the owner of Susie Q for an AETN special on Arkansas dairy bars. Check out nwaonline.com/210402Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Kat Robinson, host of Arkansas Dairy Bars, (center) interviews Susue Q owner Sheila Edmonson (not pictured), Thursday, April 1, 2021 at Susie Q drive-in in Rogers. Kat Robinson filmed and interviewed the owner of Susie Q for an AETN special on Arkansas dairy bars. Check out nwaonline.com/210402Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Volkswagens will gather Saturday at the Susie Q Malt Shop in Rogers to celebrate its 61st birthday.

(Special to NWADG/Kat Robinson)
Volkswagens will gather Saturday at the Susie Q Malt Shop in Rogers to celebrate its 61st birthday. (Special to NWADG/Kat Robinson)
The secret to the Susie Q burger is mustard grilled into the bun. You’ll like it, manager Sheila Edmondson promises, even if you don’t like mustard.

(Special to NWADG/Kat Robinson)
The secret to the Susie Q burger is mustard grilled into the bun. You’ll like it, manager Sheila Edmondson promises, even if you don’t like mustard. (Special to NWADG/Kat Robinson)
The Susie Q, celebrating its 61st birthday Saturday, is known for its signature burgers and shakes so thick they will last 50 miles.

(Special to NWADG/Kat Robinson)
The Susie Q, celebrating its 61st birthday Saturday, is known for its signature burgers and shakes so thick they will last 50 miles. (Special to NWADG/Kat Robinson)
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Susie Q Anniversary

The Susie Q Malt Shop, 612 N. Second St. in Rogers, will celebrate its 61st birthday Saturday with a Volkswagen show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and live music by Lucas Gates afterward.

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