Skip and Karen Sandberg make the drive from Las Vegas to their home in Pahrump about once a month. On the drive, they always seem to stop at the same place to eat: Big Boy Restaurant in Indian Springs.
The famed chain restaurant from California opened last year in Indian Springs, a community of nearly 900 that sits about 50 miles northwest of the Strip.
On this day, Skip had chicken fingers for lunch while Karen had a California chicken sandwich, which she takes sans the bun. Other favorites at the restaurant include the specialty Big Boy Burger and its famous milkshakes—the burger, after all, has a reputation of its own.
“When we saw this was going in, we made a point to check it out,” Karen Sandberg said. “The people are always friendly, and they make good food, so we keep coming back.”
The Big Boy is part of a larger Terrible Herbst rest stop and casino complex, which can’t be missed during a trip through town.
Owners Tim and Troy Herbst always had fond memories of eating at Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in California while growing up, a company spokeswoman said.
The national chain no longer uses the “Bob’s” moniker.
Along with the Indian Springs restaurant, they plan to open two others in Arizona and a Big Boy tavern concept—likely next year—within the Skye Canyon development in the northwest part of the Las Vegas Valley.
Gaining acceptance in a new community isn’t always easy, but the Big Boy in Indian Springs seems to have carved a niche in this tiny military town, which is home to Creech Air Force Base.
“This is a safe and quiet community,” restaurant general manager Jennifer Hickman said. “Everybody kind of knows everybody. People know your kids, so they’ll call or text you if they notice anything that isn’t right. People let you know what’s going on.”
Hickman, originally from Las Vegas, moved to Indian Springs 13 years ago, largely because of the appeal of raising her family in a small town. One of her sons, Tristan, even works as a host for her at the restaurant.
Whether it’s Tristan or somebody else welcoming guests, a customer won’t get far inside the door without being greeted by a member of the staff.
Over the years, Hickman has had many jobs in hospitality, working at different restaurants around or on the Strip. She had been the manager of a trailer park in Indian Springs when she got word of the plans for the Big Boy.
She plans to stay at the restaurant, known for its large statues of a little boy dressed in checkered overalls holding a plate with a cheeseburger, for a long time.
“One of the fun things about Big Boy is that it seems like every customer who comes in has a Big Boy story,” Hickman said. “There are people who come strictly because it brings back good memories from years ago.”
That’s true for Skip Sandberg, who grew up in a small town in North Dakota. He remembers making the trek to Bismarck, North Dakota, on weekends to eat at the Big Boy there over 50 years ago.
The Big Boy brand was started in 1936 when Bob Wian opened what would become the first Big Boy hamburger stand in Glendale, California.
The concept would go on to be popular on the West Coast and, later, in other parts of the country. It had a presence in Las Vegas until several years ago.
The oldest, and perhaps most famous Big Boy restaurant, built in 1949, still operates today in Burbank, California.
Over the years, the Big Boy caricature has been found in everything from a line of Marvel comic books to Hollywood movies such as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
In different parts of the country, the Big Boy character is found in Frisch’s Restaurants, which is part of a franchising agreement.
That’s how Maj. Michael Koroscil and Staff Sgt. Killian Richardson, both originally from Ohio, know about their favorite hamburger, the Big Boy. The airmen stopped in on a recent Friday afternoon to grab a couple of Big Boys to go.
“There aren’t a ton of options for us on base,” Richardson said. “When we come here, it’s also nice because we know the food comes from a really clean environment. For us, this feels like Frisch’s. This feels like home.”
The pair said it’s become a popular place for military members.
That much is evidenced by the Air Force badges on display behind the register at the restaurant’s entry.
Waitress Paula “PJ” Espolt, a longtime restaurant industry worker, said she’s been told that’s how members of the Air Force offer their stamp of approval to other airmen and airwomen that a particular eatery is acceptable.
Espolt grew up in Southern California, so she said she remembers the Big Boy brand there. She moved to the Las Vegas area about six years ago and makes the drive to Indian Springs five days per week for the opening shift.
“People say old waitresses go to Denny’s to die, but I want to work here until I’m done working,” Espolt said.