Moonshine, Population 2
Tiny Moonshine, Illinois, is a one-store town, but people from all over the world still manage to find it.
“It’s just an old building out in the middle of nowhere,” says Helen Tuttle, who owns the Moonshine Store with her husband, Roy Lee. “We are the town. We’re the only thing within the city limits.”
Of course, it’s not the store itself that attracts visitors. It’s the Tuttle’s famous Moonburgers. Helen and Roy Lee cook their handmade, all-beef patties on a gas-fired grill, then sandwich them between the two halves of an average, garden-variety bun. Customers then dress their own with condiments from a small side table. There’s the predictable mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, and onions, as well as items such as hot pickle relish and horseradish.
“The only thing we do around here is cook the burgers and put them on a bun,” Helen confesses. “The rest of it is your baby.”
Local farmers begin to congregate at the Moonshine Store before the sun rises to have their coffee and chat with neighbors. Many return for dinner (that’s lunch to city folks). Or, if they’re working in the fields, they’ll phone in their orders and send someone to fetch their burgers.
Still, farmers and local residents aren’t Helen’s only customers. Thanks to several feature stories, including one by reporter Bill Geist for CBS Sunday Morning, the store’s guestbook boasts visitors from all 50 states and 45 countries.
While the Moonburgers are the main draw, the old-timey atmosphere captures the imagination, too. The long, two-story building features a green tin roof, covered front porch and rows of diamond-shaped windows that run the length of the first floor. Helen and Roy Lee live upstairs, occupying the six rooms over the store.
The interior of the Moonshine Store still resembles an old general store, which is exactly what it was from 1912 until the mid-1980s ,when the Tuttles took over. There are no tables for customers, unless you count the picnic tables outside under the fig trees. Seating consists of three old church benches and a few folding chairs. “If you’re not here early, you just have to stand up,” the 68-year-old grandmother notes.
In addition to hamburgers and cheeseburgers, the menu features pork barbecue, tenderloin sandwiches and pork burgers. Helen serves up the first burgers of the day around 10 a.m., but she’s likely already sampled one by then – when she’s not dieting, that is.
“I like to have mine first,” she admits. “After I cook all those burgers, I sure don’t want to eat one.”
The store opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m. every day except Sundays and holidays. Helen closes the grill at 12:30 sharp, no exceptions.