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February 7, 2006
If you visited Oriental about a decade or more ago, you will remember Red as the 25 cent hamburger man, whose “blood boiled” at the thought of a burger costing 100 times that. On Monday, Red Lee died. He was 87.For 53 years, Red Lee sold hamburgers on Broad Street in Oriental. And he drew national attention because he kept the price so low. He raised the hamburger price just once. Sometime in the 1960’s it went from 15 cents – to 25.Red Lee
George Bogan Lee was born September 11, 1918 in Rockingham, NC and came to this part of the state in 1942 to help build barracks at Cherry Point. He met his future wife, Sophie Hodges, who was from Oriental and after the war they set up the grill and gas station in the building that still stands at the corner of North and Broad.
Red and Sophie ran it together until her death in 1986. For another twelve years, Red continued to serve up the diminutive 25 cent burgers ( “one ounce, no filler” ) and then retired in 1998 at the age of 80 because of a back ailment.The menu…Stopping in at Red’s was part of many people’s visit to Oriental. You could sit at the counter which ran along the right hand side of the room, and watch while Red’s daughter Georgie would compress the patties in preparation for the grill. Or you could read the laminated National Enquirer article about Red’s righteous indignation that somebody was selling a hamburger in New York City for upwards of 20 dollars. That, he was quoted as saying, “made my blood boil.”
Red appeared in the National Enquirer twice – first in 1989:
Then again – in 1995:
While the hamburgers attracted attention and got the curious in the door, the milkshakes were the draw for others. Red Lee’s restaurant was a frequent visit by local residents and visitors. Along with the “Ol Store”, it is mentioned often when folks talk of missing things from Oriental’s past.
He is survived by his daughters Georgie Powell of Oriental and Rose Ann Broughton of Panama City, and four grandchildren, seven great grandchildren, two treat great grandchildren, and countless others who remember the 25 cent hamburger man.
Visitation is this evening from 7-8:30pm at Bryant Funeral Home in Alliance. The funeral will be held there tomorrow at 10am. If you care to send condolences, the address is PO Box 276, Oriental, 28571. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that gifts in Red’s memory be sent instead to the Southwest Pamlico First Responders, c/o Joe Wakefield, 403 Factory St., Oriental, NC 28571, or the Dottie Gray Ambulance Fund, P.O. Box 13276, New Bern, NC 28561.
If you want to read more about Red, Oriental’s History Museum has a display about what it describes as “Oriental’s Most Famous Business”. Special thanks to Grace Evans for providing access to that exhibit. Oriental’s History Museum is on Broad Street in the shopping center just up and across the street from Red Lee’s old grill.