Johnson using top 10 burger to promote Bancroft and beef

Name: Bancroft Drive-In

Owner: Tom Johnson

Location: 411 East Ramsey, Bancroft, between the athletic fields and the aquatic center

Hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily through April. Hours will expand to 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in May

Known for the Bancroft burger — a 1/2 pound beef burger with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles, which sells for $4.50. The Bancroft burger was Kossuth County’s Best Burger for 2010 and is one of Iowa’s Top 10 Burgers for 2011.


Contact them at (515) 885-2411 or call Johnson directly at (515) 320-4430.

BANCROFT, Iowa — Tom Johnson usually waits to open the Bancroft Drive-In until May, but this year he opened early because of Iowa’s Best Burger Contest.

His eatery is one of 10 finalists in the Iowa Beef Industry Council/Iowa Cattlemen’s Association’s quest to find Iowa’s Best Burger. There were 275 restaurants that received nearly 3,500 nominations. The Bancroft Drive-In and the other Top 10 restaurants were the highest vote-getters. Nominations could be made online or by fax or mail. The top 10 restaurants were then visited by a secret panel of judges. The winner will be named the first week of May as a kick-off to May Beef Month.

Johnson, who is mayor of Bancroft, is thrilled by the attention the nomination has given his business and to the town itself. While visitors order their burgers, fries and ice cream, he can tell them anything they want to know about the Kossuth County community of 732.

"The more attention our burger receives, the more people it’s going to bring to town, and Bancroft has everything you’ll need in a little town — a doctor, a dentist, a bowling alley, a grocery store, a hardware store and restaurants," Johnson said. "I want to thank everybody who voted to get us in the Top 10. Those are the people who are here day after day."

Last week, he received a legislative certificate from Iowa Rep. John Wittneben of Estherville. He’s been featured in newspaper articles and on radio and TV.

Johnson has lived much of his life in Bancroft. He bought the drive-in in 2006 when he retired from Snap On Tools after 28 years. He does maintenance for St. John’s Catholic Church and has a small remodeling business.

Johnson’s daughter, Allyson, manages the drive-in. Each season they hire three high school students. Allyson’s fiance, Marty Miles, helps Johnson with the cooking.


"I’m here every day that we’re open," Johnson said.

Johnson buys his burgers from Rochester Meat Co. in St. Cloud, Minn. The Bancroft Burger is a 1/2-pound Cloud burger. The bun comes from Dagwood’s in Spirit Lake.

"The Bancroft burger is 100 percent beef with bacon, cheese, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes," Johnson said. "I’m not into special sauces. This burger is juicy, and it doesn’t even need ketchup or mustard. We have veggies because Bancroft’s motto is ‘Garden Spot of Iowa.’ I make it the way I like it."

The Bancroft Drive-In’s menu includes sandwiches, side orders and ice cream treats — ranging from cones for $1 to sundaes, malts, shakes and Cyclones, ice cream with candy or cookies blended in. Allyson also custom decorates ice cream cakes.

"We sell a lot of burgers and ice cream," Johnson said. "We have kids’ burgers, 1/4-pound and 1/3-pound burgers for those who want something smaller than the Bancroft burger. The basics are what people like best."

Johnson is experimenting with making grilled pork tenderloins, a specialty he hopes to offer. The drive-in currently buys frozen, breaded tenderloins.

Because no place in Bancroft serves Saturday breakfast, Johnson has been asked to start.

"I think we’ll be serving eggs, pancakes, sausage, ham and bacon," he said. "It’s the kind of breakfast Tom likes to eat."


— Jean Caspers-Simmet

If you have a favorite restaurant that you would like to share with Agri News readers, e-mail or telephone (507) 285-7659.

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