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Our Story

History of Ricky’s Embers

 

My father, Joe Rickenbach Sr., was living in his home town Reading, Pa. when he received a call from an old army buddy about an upstart restaurant in the Twin Cities. He left home and was hired as a janitor at Embers Restaurant. The company grew quickly and so did my dad’s career. By 1978 Embers had 26 stores in the 5 state area, mostly in the Twin Cities. By this time my dad was Vice President of operations for Embers. I was 15 when I started for Embers. I was a janitor sweeping and mopping floors for a few hours after school at the Blaine location. Like my dad I worked my way up ladder at Embers. In 1986 My dad left Embers and went to work for North Height Lutheran church. In 1998 Embers changed their name to Embers America and started franchising restaurants. They gave my wife and I the opportunity to buy Central Embers and we changed the name to Ricky’s Embers America. The Ricky’s came from our last name and also what we would call Joe Sr. We opened as Ricky’s Embers June 30th 1998.

 

Our plan has been to keep our menu as close to an original Embers as possible. Many of the Items on Embers original menus

are on our current menu. As of 2010 we are the only Embers of the original Embers chain still in existence. It really is a family business for us. All five of our children are currently working at the restaurant. Also my dad can’t stay away from the restaurant business, he is there 2-3 days a week doing odds and ends and is in charge of PR (talking to all the customers). My mom works on our gardens growing Rhubarb and Tomatoes for our desserts and salads.

 

History of the Embers Restaurant Chain

 

Henry Kristal and Carl Birnberg met as fifth graders, remained friends throughout school, and eventually signed up for the Navy together. Greasy-spoon hamburgers and military food were sorry substitutes for the home cooking they had both enjoyed while growing up in Minnesota.

 

"We used to write back and forth to each other," Kristal recalled in a 1998 Twin Cities Business Monthly article by Brooke Benson. "We'd say, 'wouldn't it be great if there was a place that common people could go and have a good meal for a low price?' That became our goal." They achieved their goal, in 1956, when they opened a 36-seat restaurant in a south Minneapolis working class neighborhood; a loan from a local restaurant supplier helped fund the venture. The restaurant's signature Emberger--a quarter pound of beef topped by a special sauce--sold for 45 cents. A bacon cheeseburger, the Emberger Royal, went for 30 cents more. By comparison, during the period, higher priced restaurants charged $4 to $5 for a steak dinner, a price out of

reach for a lot of working people.

 

The men prided themselves on a quality product. Their hamburgers were larger and leaner than most being sold and were charbroiled rather than fried. Their business was well received. Some customers were drawn back for the burgers, while others sought out the homemade pancakes or other breakfast items which were sold around the clock. About six months into the operation, Kristal and Birnberg opened a second restaurant, this time across the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The men expanded exclusively in the Twin Cities area until the early 1970s. In 1972, units opened in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Cedar Falls, Iowa.

A couple years later, the men kicked off the opening of a store in Mankato, Minnesota, with a 100-pound Emberger. Other attention-getting promotions of the era included their television advertising efforts. The 1970s "Remember the Embers" jingle

is etched somewhere in the minds of many Midwesterners.

 

Twenty-six Embers restaurants were in operation by 1978. The men contributed their success to their innovative ways, claiming a number of market firsts. Not only did they up the ante in terms of burger size, wrote Benson, "Kristal and Birnberg swear they were the first to put bacon and cheese on a hamburger." The chain also claimed leadership status in their television advertising and newspaper coupon efforts.