The sizzle and pop of the grill and bustle of crowds at Al’s Hamburgers will fall silent Saturday as friends and family gather to say goodbye to long-time owner Al Mathews.
Mr. Mathews, whose burger shop has been an Arlington favorite more than a half century, died Monday of natural causes. He was 85.
Mr. Mathews, who served countless burgers and smiles as owner and grill cook over the decades, was gregarious, a little bit mischievous and a hard-working role model, said his son-in-law Gary Lawrence, who now runs Al’s Hamburgers in north Arlington with his wife, Melody.
“A lot of people said he was their mentor for life as they were growing up. He had a knack for cutting up, but when he got serious, he was really serious,” said Lawrence.
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Customers have been stopping by to express their condolences all week, he said.
“Everybody just comes in with this sad long face. I’ve had people break down in tears and just bawl,” Lawrence said. “They miss him so much. He was bigger than life.”
Al’s Hamburgers first opened in north Arlington in 1957 on North Collins Street but closed in 1986 when the site was redeveloped into a shopping center. Mr. Mathews didn’t put away his apron and spatula for long. He opened a new burger shop a short distance away at 1001 N.E. Green Oaks Blvd. and the customers followed.
“He had such a loyal clientele it was unreal,” Lawrence said. “The parking lot filled up and people were lined up and down the sidewalk on the first day.”
Mr. Mathews eventually stepped away from the grill and sold his share of the shop to his daughter and son-in-law but remained a friendly fixture there.
Al’s Hamburger’s still features many of the original burger recipes Mr. Mathews created, including the popular Double Double Cheeseburger. But the menu has since been expanded to include salads, breakfast foods and healthier entrees, Lawrence said.
Mr. Mathews was born May 22, 1928, in Dallas and graduated from Sunset High School in 1947. He lived in Euless.
He had a passion for old cars, Lawrence said. Mr. Mathews drove his 1939 Ford four-door convertible five times in The Great Race, a multi-state endurance race for antique, vintage and collector cars, and was also a member of the Christian Classic Cruisers and Lone Star Early Ford V-8 Club.
His wife of 61 years, Thelma Mathews, died in 2011.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include two sisters, Lula Goswick and Eva Lynn Reid; and a grandson.