Since 1975, a red and yellow sign proclaiming Zack’s Hamburgers sat on the corner of Scaleybark Road and South Boulevard in Charlotte. But it wasn’t just the sign, the red-and-white awning, or the old-school umbrella tables that kept customers coming back.
The burger joint, owned by George and Elaine Demopolous, had been a favorite among locals for its no-frills menu—especially the double cheeseburger known as the Zack’s Special—and its inviting, nostalgic atmosphere. But in July of 2021, amid supply-chain shortages and the pandemic, Zack’s Hamburgers served its last Zack’s Special to customers who patiently waited in a line out the door.
“We had so many employees who became like family,” George Demopolous recalls. “We had so many generations of customers who we got to know over three decades, and we miss them very much. It was a very bittersweet ending.”
Shortly after Zack’s closed, John Marrino, the founder and owner of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, was headed to his business just a couple blocks away. He stopped at the light at the intersection and thought, what if Zack’s came back?
“Zack’s was part of the fabric of our community,” Marrino says. “I used to go there at least once a week, and I always ordered the Zack’s Special. It was a throwback place that reminded me of simpler times when I was a kid. Needless to say, I was really disappointed when they closed. I was just sitting in my truck looking at that empty building and their iconic sign, and the idea hit me. I thought we should reach out to them.”
In late 2022, the brewery, with the help of George Demopolous, contacted the same ingredient suppliers for the Zack’s Special. A few months later, Demopolous demonstrated for brewery staff how the burger should be prepared and the precise ingredients to use. “He trusted us,” says Jim Birch, Olde Mecklenburg’s chief operating officer. “We all realized that we were on to something cool.”
After testing the burger for a few weeks, the brewery staff felt confident enough to add the Zack’s Special to the menu this past month. “We are all gaining weight,” Birch says with a laugh. “We all seem to be having one per week.”
Since adding it to the menu, the Zack’s Special has been the brewery’s number one seller for lunch, Birch says. It is only available during the week, a calculated decision on the brewery’s part. “Zack’s was only open Monday through Friday,” Birch says. “So we decided, if we are going to do this, we are going to follow their hours and follow their availability.”
During the first week the Zack’s Special returned, George and Elaine were eager to take a burger to George’s ninety-three-year-old mother; it had been almost two years since she had tasted one. “She said, ‘What is this?’” George remembers. He didn’t say anything. “My mother would always eat someone else’s burger very slow to see if it tasted as good as the Zack’s Special.” He finally asked, “‘How is it?’ In her cute accent, she replied, ‘George, this is like the Zack’s chee-burger.’” Mom approved.