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December 2, 2012
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Yoncalla native cooks up award-winning breakfast burger

RICE HILL — Kelly Hudgins likes breakfast foods, so it was no surprise that she used a fried egg and ham in a hamburger-making contest.

Hudgins was surprised, however, when the breakfast hamburger she designed won the Denny’s Restaurant Build Your Own Burger contest earlier this year. Her burger was one of three selected from the 159 entries were turned in by employees from Denny’s 1,680 restaurants worldwide.

Hudgins’ creation consisted of a hamburger beef patty, thinly sliced ham, a fried egg and cheese on grilled potato bread. She dubbed it the Moons Over My Hammyburger; it’s served with french fries. The Moons Over Hammy phrase refers to eggs over ham.

Hudgins, a server at the Denny’s Restaurant at Rice Hill, was informed of her win via a phone call from the company’s corporate offices in South Carolina.

The 47-year-old Yoncalla resident and native said she can’t recall how she responded to the caller. “I could have been speechless,” she said.

As for her winning entry, “it’s yummy,” she said. “I like it, but there’s not much food I don’t like. I just took a ham and cheese omelette and carried it into a hamburger. It made total sense to me.”

Several members of the Denny’s staff worked on their respective ideas for a couple of days. They submitted four or five recipes and photos. Hudgins’ companion, Greg Samson, a cook at Denny’s, cooked Hudgins’ burger and presented it for a photo shoot.

“Greg definitely made fun of me for my burger,” Hudgins said. “He thought my imagination wasn’t really that creative.”

But the breakfast burger did prevail.

“Who would have thought something that easy would win,” Samson said, admitting he’s given Hudgins a bad time about her burger.

“With all the creations out there, all the sandwiches that could have been entered and were entered, it’s a surprise something as simple as this won, but it’s awesome,” he said. Samson has 20 years experience in restaurant kitchens, the last four at Denny’s.

Samson said the Moons Over Hammy omelette and the Moons Over Hammy ham and cheese sandwich were already popular breakfast items, so it made sense to combine them with a burger patty.

Andrea Fairbanks, the general manager of the Rice Hill Denny’s, said the restaurant’s staff was excited for Hudgins.

“It’s great for Kelly,” Fairbanks said. “She’s one of the best servers we have. No matter what’s going on, she’s always happy, and that’s contagious. Others on the staff feed off her happiness.”

Hudgins was rewarded by having her hammyburger included on Denny’s menu for the months of August, September and October before the company made its regular quarterly menu change. The sandwich and Hudgins were also highlighted on a separate 4 1/2-inch-by-5-inch laminated table card. The copy on the card included “Burgers For Breakfast. We’re Open To That. A Denny’s classic gets a burger upgrade in this twist on a breakfast favorite.” Credit was given below a picture of the cut-in-half burger: “Built by Kelly Hudgins, Oakland, OR.”

A press release from Denny’s public relations department said the hammyburger was one of the two highest-selling hamburgers on Denny’s Build Your Own Burger menu. The entry sold for $7.99. Fairbanks described the sandwich as “very filling.” Although now off the menu, the burger remains in the company’s computer system so it can still be ordered.

Hudgins was rewarded with a Denny’s jacket and is due to receive a set of kitchen knives.

A 1983 Yoncalla High School graduate, Hudgins has worked in food service since she was a teen. She worked at the truck plaza in Rice Hill for 10 years, spent a couple of years in Arkansas, where she worked in a restaurant, then returned home and worked 14 years in the Gateway Restaurant in Drain. When that eatery changed ownership, she began serving at the Rice Hill Denny’s and has now been there for almost three years.

Her work was interrupted for a couple of months after having surgery back in July 2011. She had a 23-pound, non-cancerous tumor removed from her uterus during a 7 1/2-hour operation. She said it was difficult to miss work and the daily interaction with co-workers and customers.

She eventually recovered and returned to Denny’s.

“It’s all about the people,” she answered when asked about her passion for her job. “You get to know the people and about everybody’s lives. You see some of them every day. You might see them more than you see your own family.”

“She’s absolutely deserving of this,” Fairbanks said of Hudgins’ winning burger. “She’s a fantastic waitress. I can’t think of anybody more deserving.”

The other winning hamburger entrees were the Fresco Italiano Burger-o from a cook in Murrieta, Calif., and the Macho Nacho Burger by a cook in Pittsburgh.

• News-Review Features Editor Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at creed@nrtoday.com.

I just took a ham and cheese omelette and carried it into a hamburger. It made total sense to me.

Kelly Hudgins
on her winning burger


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The News-Review Updated Dec 4, 2012 12:47PM Published Dec 6, 2012 08:24AM Copyright 2012 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.