People have been asking Chris and Dede Hegg to open a restaurant for years. There was a seemingly endless demand for Chris’ burgers

The Hegg family, Chris (top left), Dede(top right), Pepper and Dawson pose for a photo in front of Pepper’s Place in Hawthorne. The eatery opened in mid October. (C.W. Wilkinson photo)

People have been asking Chris and Dede Hegg to open a restaurant for years. There was a seemingly endless demand for Chris’ burgers and Dede’s potato salad.

About a month ago, the couple finally gave into the demands of Hawthorne. They bought a trailer, painted a 1950’s style pin up girl in a polka dot dress on the side, and dragged it to the end of F Street near the bypass in Hawthorne.

In bright red letters the couple emblazoned the words Pepper’s Place, placed the first food order and opened for business in mid October.

“We love to entertain, and our friends have always said ‘You guys should open a restaurant,’” Dee said. “And it was something we’ve talked about and we’ve always wanted to do, although we were going to wait until we retired.”

Pepper’s Place is styled after a ‘50’s diner. Metal lawn furniture is scattered out front, and an RV where Chris, Dede, and their young children, Dawson and the eponymous Pepper, spend their days is parked out back.

But most of the time the kids are out front, greeting hungry customers, recommending food.

The restaurant is defined by the couple’s commitment and connection to the community.

Many of the dishes are named for members of the Hegg family or prominent members of the community. One of the most popular items on the menu, the massive Patriot double cheeseburger, is named in honor of the Hegg’s hometown.

But their commitment goes deeper than that.

“We don’t salt the french fries because we have a lot of people that can’t have salt,” Dede said. “So we give salt so people can do it to their taste. We don’t add salt to our burgers. They are what they are.”

The food is rich and popular — wait times are frequently an hour or more, and on one occasion last week there were 40 orders waiting to be cooked — but also healthy.

Chris, the primary cook, said he uses some salt in his home-made barbeque sauce, and Dede said she only adds a little salt to her potato salad.

Chris also uses low or reduced fat ingredients whenever he can.

“We care enough about the community that we don’t want to supersede getting an unhealthy population going,” Chris said. “So everything we do, we actually look at the health value first about it. So, no salt and stuff. It’s just our ritual.

“I figure if I can’t make it good naturally then we don’t need that burger.”

But the commitment to healthy cooking doesn’t mean the quality of the food suffers. Chris said he never sends anything out the window he wouldn’t eat.

“Our whole purpose, beyond the cooking obviously, is the cleaning,” Chris said. “That takes cleaning at night and cleaning in the morning.”

Dede said morning cleaning and preparing food starts at about 5 a.m., and after hours cleaning often lasts late into the night.

Most of the recipes were carefully honed over years or decades of careful selection. The famous potato salad, for instance, has been passed down Dede’s family for generations.

“A lot of these recipes? Years worth of trial and error,” Chris said. “Not to say the first recipe wasn’t bad for chili, it’s just two years later when you look back at that initial recipe, some of the stuff is completely scratched off.”

The specificity of the choices is evident in the veggies that top the burgers.

Chris said he chose shredded lettuce and tomatoes sliced as thinly as possible because he doesn’t like thick burgers that are difficult to eat.

But there are also some new creations on the menu. The Awesome Dawson Dog, a quarter pound all beef hotdog topped with nacho cheese sauce and bacon, was invented shortly before the restaurant opened.

In the past few weeks, the Heggs have been working out when to keep the restaurant open, but seem to have settled on Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m., although the demand is sometimes so high these meals run together.

Dede also hopes to open for breakfast soon, although she’s not sure if the day’s most important meal will be a permanent feature at Pepper’s, or a special.

They also aren’t sure if the eatery will be open year-round. Dede said she’s not sure if there will be demand, or if the weather will allow them to stay open.

“We would love to be open 24-7 for the community,” Dede said. “But with just the two of us and our two children [that’s not possible].”