Jim Brown’s Relish

Nov 14, 2009

Brown offering samples at Whole Foods Santa Monica

Jim Brown grew up eating cheeseburgers at Sternberger’s Rite Spot, the famed diner where Pasadena short-order cook Lionel Sternberger claimed to have invented the cheeseburger in the 1920s. It may be a coin toss whether he was truly the first to smother cheese on a burger patty, but what Sternberger was really known for among locals was his burger relish, a tangy-sweet tomato-based sauce loaded with onions, peppers and a dozen spices. The recipe was a highly guarded secret, a formula that reportedly only Sternberger and his lead line cook knew and would make late at night when no other employees were on site. When Sternberger’s Rite Spot closed in 1967, the relish recipe was lost in the shuffle.

Fast forward ten years, when Jim Brown was trying to get his own line of fast-food diners up and running. He hired Sternberger’s old short-order cook and got the recipe for that relish. Although Brown closed his diners after two years, he couldn’t get memories of that relish out of his head. A few years ago, Brown tinkered around with the formula (mainly to eliminate any preservatives in the original) and hired E. Waldo Ward to produce and bottle the relish. The result is a fantastically tangy relish that’s great with grilled chicken, roasted veggies and, of course, burgers. And at $4 a jar, it’s truly a bargain for so much history in each bite.

A 12-ounce jar of Jim Brown’s Original Relish is available at most area Whole Foods and Polly’s Pies for about $4 (it is twice that amount if you buy it directly from Brown’s web site).

3 Responses for “Jim Brown’s Relish”

  1. john says:

    Years ago I use to go to Sternbergers in Highland Park. He made the best hamburgers I ever had. I saw this article and bought a bottle of Jim Brown’s relish at Whole Foods on Foothill. I tried it and it brought back memories from my childhood. This relish is exactly like Sternbergers if not better.
    Thank you Jim Brown for your effort. You have recreated that wonderful product I haven’t had in 50 years.

  2. Donnie Sternberger says:

    I have not tried Jims recipe but there is a resturant in Escondido CA called Champions that has the hamburgers. Oscar Champion was a head cook at the Rits Spot in Glendale. I worked as a cook in the one in Highland Park and there were a lot of great recipes that I wish I had kept but was to young and not thinking of the future. Lionel was my uncle.

  3. Mike babcock says:

    Your closing date is wrong. I lived and worked in Highland park in 1972-74. I frequently ate both lunch and dinner at the rite spot. This is after growing up eating there every Friday from early 1950’s on.

    Polly was my virtual Grandmother.



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