Washington Co. lost a mainstay when Burger Den in Cambridge closed: 48 years

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

“The Burger Den was our Peppermill.”

That’s what a Salem native told me about the Burger Den on Route 22 in Cambridge that closed after 48 years.

Greg Baratto opened the Burger Den in 1975 and ran it with his wife Lisa for 35 years, until 2019, when their son Marco bought it to operate with his wife Meghan.

The Burger Den’s big menu — from fish tacos and burgers to homemade pies — all at affordable prices made it a hit with locals, summer residents, tourists and campers at nearby Lake Lauderdale.

Marco turned catering — which he called a “real local need” — into a growth avenue. “There wasn’t a week that went by that I didn’t get a call for a catering” from places like Fort Miller corporation and local health centers.

He said the Burger Den’s liquor license also made it a draw. “We did a killer brunch…Mimosas and Bloody Marys.”

Business was good right up to the end, the Barattos said, but stress and lack of work force took its toll on Marco, who ultimately decided to close down.

The building is up for sale.

The business began in summer 1975. “My dad was kind of an entrepreneur,” Greg said. “He worked for the Cambridge Post Office for his career, but he did many things on the side. One of them was popcorn wagons, which we were famous for.”

Greg’s father, Albert Baratto, built two wagons himself. One was always stationed in Cambridge in front of the A&P.

Three generations, older to younger: Albert Baratto, Greg Baratto, Marco Baratto.
“My brothers and sisters and myself — we grew up operating this popcorn stand,” Greg said. “Popcorn, peanuts, hot dogs, ice cream, anything we could peddle out of it. It was a nice looking thing.

Greg says the eventual Burger Den “was a burned out building up there at the lake (Lauderdale). My father bought it, thinking of his kids, if anybody would want it.”

Greg did want it. “I graduated [from Cambridge High] in ’75 and we opened up that summer, just seasonal,” he said.

“Prior to us buying it,” Greg said, “a fire pretty much completely gutted it, so it was an ugly building when we first opened it up — just window service only, no inside.”

“None of us went to school for culinary or anything like that,” Greg said. “We learned from our parents, from our good sales people and from our customers. We listened to the customers — what they would want.”

He said, “One thing led to another, and it’s additions and remodeling and, jeepers, we added up, down, sideways, every which way.”

Indoor seating, a patio, and still a takeout window.

“We had tremendous good years there,” Greg said. “Had a following. The local people — Cambridge, Salem, Greenwich, Shushan. And then we had our Route 22 traffic” — lots of motorcyclists, he said. Plus the nearby campgrounds and lakes supplied a steady summer crowd.

“We tried to put out a nice, fair product. And then the next thing you know, it just started growing and growing and growing,” Greg said.
He said the best years were just “building the business — for me who did not have a college education.”

“I’m a firm believer that you don’t need a college education,” Greg added.

Husband and wife, Marco and Meghan Baratto.
“You need a good work ethic, and somebody who paved the way and showed that you can make it if you’re not a book person, or a college type person, there’s plenty of avenues that you can make it.”

Greg emphasized the contribution of his wife Lisa who “was with me for like 35 years. It really takes two — a family business. At least in my case it did. She was my right-hand man.”

Greg said he had great staff, many of whom retired from the Burger Den.

He said “good salespeople” pushed the restaurant to try new foods, improving the quality.

“During the early days, we weren’t doing a ton of homemade stuff. It was more frozen stuff,” he said.

“We were the king of the microwaves at one point. At one point, we had 10 of them in here,” he laughed.

“We have more sophisticated ovens and things in there now.”

The Burger Den made it fine through Covid, Marco told The Chronicle.

“Business was always good — and especially last year…We had a really good year going with catering,” he said.

“There needs to be something right where we are, because of the camp ground and the lakes. It’s a draw.”

But ultimately, Marco said, the stress became too much. He said it became hard to find reliable staff. “The place could not be run without me.”

Marco and his wife Meghan have two young children. Meghan was a server and still loves doing it, Marco said.

Greg says that operating a family restaurant has always meant making sacrifices.

“Things were good. We earned it, but it was good. But you got no time off, not a lot of family time,” Greg said.

“In this day and age, it seems like the a workplace/family time has to be more of an even split,” he said. “Back in the day you worked. And the leftover time was your family time.”

Marco’s dad Greg, getting emotional, said, “He just got fried. Too many problems…not having enough help.”

Does Greg think restaurants can survive in Washington County? “The restaurants can survive. It’s the owner, it’s the operators. The business is there,” he said.

“Mom and pops like we were, I think that they can and they will survive because of the personal touch that the place can give a customer,” he said.

“There’s a lot of potential that can be brought back over there with the right staffing,” he said.

Marco agrees — and said he hopes to find a restaurant buyer for the property.

“It’s turnkey, it’s tons and tons of updated equipment, upgrades,” he said.

“You could run half our menu. We were just doing what people wanted, you know, whatever, whenever. That could have been a problem, too.”

Marco said the Baratto family would help any buyer get started.

The asking price is $399,900.

Marco has new employment, cooking elsewhere. He said he still works hard, but “when I get home, I don’t have to think about it.”

Copyright © 2024 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved

Check Also

Next at former Sutton’s

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor After two years of repairs and renovation, Mario DiSiena …