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  • Tara Crutchfield

There’s a New Burger Sheriff in Town

Today, in the culmination of three friends’ backyard barbecue epiphany five years earlier, I sat inside Adler’s new Winter Haven burger spot, watching owner Jacki Walston frame pieces of flamingo and palm print wallpaper. It was extra from their Davenport shop now slated to hang in their new digs.



That epiphany was about a burger food truck. Husband and wife Wade and Jacki Walston and friend Jeremiah Waters started Adler’s food truck in 2016, working small gigs at first. The name was an ode to Jacki and Wade’s son, Sheriff Adler Walston, only a year old at the time. Dino nuggets were first added and remain on the menu for Sheriff, who just turned six. Jacki said, “I feel like now we can’t take it off because so many parents know that they can bring their kids here and feed them that.”


The trio hustled with the food truck for about eight months when they were presented with the opportunity to open a brick-andmortar. It all started in the alley next to their Davenport burger joint.


They became the smash patty fix for the late-night crowd of the adjacent Paddy Wagon Irish Pub, which Wade, Jacki, and Jeremiah worked at for a time. To be respectful to the other local businesses, Adler’s wouldn’t set up their truck until after 10 pm. Their success didn’t go unnoticed by other eateries in the plaza, and the food truck owners were ordered to cease and desist. The pub owners saw the advantage of having Adler’s available to their customers and threw out an offer for the space across the alley. They opened their flagship Davenport location in 2017. “If it wasn’t for us getting kicked out, we probably wouldn’t be sitting at this table currently,” said Wade at our first interview in 2019. Well, if it weren’t for getting kicked out and their legendary burgers, of course.


TOTAL BURGER BADASSES

Ask Wade Walston, a California native where to find the best burger on the west coast, and without skipping a beat, he’ll tell you In-N-Out Burger. In the same 2019 interview, Wade said, “We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, we were just looking for a missing spoke. Currently, there’s not any one place in Florida known for having the best burger. […] Florida has a lot of fantastic burger franchises and local mom and pops, but no definitive good one. We’re trying to fill that void.” Now, Florida does have a definitive best burger – Adler’s.


It all starts with the bun. The three owners spent plenty of time, in the beginning, trying different buns to procure the perfect vessel for their burgers. They found an artisan bakery out of Coconut Creek, Florida, called Cusano’s Bakery. Cusano’s has been family-owned and operated since 1966, with over 100 years of bread baking tradition passed down through the generations. Wade described their bread as “wildly old school, a fantastic product.” Sitting atop this magnificent bun is their all-beef, no B.S. smash patty. The burger consists of nothing but quality, Midwest, high-fat content ground beef. “There’s no filler in it, there’s no craziness, there’s no Ribeye steak in there,” said Wade. “We like our steaks an inch and a half thick, and we like our burgers with a lot of fat and smashed.”



“Hamburgers are an American classic,” said Wade. “We do our best to not overcomplicate it.” Their opus (and number one bestseller by far) reflects that mantra. The Adler’s Classic Burger is dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion, mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, and a slice of American cheese.


Though the partners all contributed to their minimal, flavorpacked menu, Jacki Walston – who studied culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu – is the creative genius behind their weekly specials. The pun-laden, campy names are reason enough to make you want to skip your usual and try something new. “I think the beauty of a burger is you can put just about anything on it, and it’s always great. Think ‘little black dress’ of the food world,” she said.


The fast-casual eatery offers combos with a burger, hand-cut fries, and Fountainhead Gourmet Craft Sodas. “I think part of our success is that we don’t have an overcomplicated menu,” said Jeremiah. Today, the tried and true menu remains with the addition of beer, including local brews from Grove Roots Brewing Company, as well as baked goods made by Oh For Fork Sake. Guests can polish off their meal with a changing selection of goodies like peach and pecan cobbler topped with cinnamon whipped cream frosting, a pina colada (layers of chocolate chip cookie, coconut caramel cookie, and chocolate brownie topped with pina colada frosting and candied pineapple), or a peanut butter cup (layers of peanut butter cookie, peanut butter cups and chocolate brownie topped with chocolate peanut butter frosting and another peanut butter cup).


CLASSIC BURGER, CLASSIC VIBES

You couldn’t tell now after its complete burger beautification, but this time last year, the lot where Adler’s now sits was home to a drab warehouse framed by overgrown grass. But Jacki had a vision for it. The unfinished concrete floor, subway tile backsplash, and wall-length window looking into the kitchen are just what Jacki envisioned for the space. “I don’t know how they pulled it off or out of my brain, but they did it. It’s amazing how good Six/Ten and Whitehead Construction are,” she said.


Adler’s atmosphere is like the food they serve – classic. Their allAmerican, local burger joint vibe is authentic down to the details, like the wooden picnic tables out front, crafted by the Fort Meade High School shop class and the Adler’s logo mural by local artist Cassie Travis. According to Jeremiah, “The whole awning is repurposed from Winter Haven.” Its trusses are from the arcade, with beams from a carwash down the street.


‘BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF FOOD’

Adler’s opened in Winter Haven on August 27 with a sizable community reception. “It’s been humbling and overwhelming,” said Jacki of their first few weeks in business.


Jeremiah added, “We expected it to be big, but I don’t think any of us anticipated that much.” The community was in such smash-patty suspense of Adler’s grand opening date that Winter Haven flocked with a fury for burgers and hand-cut fries when they finally announced it. The new restaurant had to temporarily close early, not for lack of product or preparation, but the sheer capacity of orders.


“We weren’t expecting Winter Haven to bring it like that, but it totally got brought,” Jacki laughed.



Jeremiah added, “We did more in sales twice here than we’ve done ever in Davenport. It’s been monstrous.” That’s thanks to their customers and their backbone employees, say the owners. “We’ve got a solid staff, and we’re very fortunate for that,” Jeremiah said. The Adler’s staff stayed with them through the pandemic and helped to open the Winter Haven shop.


The opening of Adler’s comes just weeks after that of their neighbor, Honeycomb Bread Bakers. “Thankfully, I’m working so many hours, or my pants wouldn’t fit,” Jeremiah said of working next to Honeycomb, which they frequent.


“I love that this little corner has life now,” Jacki said of Adler’s, Honeycomb, and The Smokin’ OX. “We’ve got our own little Bermuda Triangle of food. [...] Our own little Restaurant Row.” And Jacki’s right, the fare within that ‘Bermuda Triangle of food’ is so good you might wander in and never leave.


With two brick-and-mortar locations and a food truck, what’s next for the expanding burger empire? World domination? Perhaps. “We always say ‘No,’ and then an opportunity comes up and we’re like, ‘Why say no when it feels so good to say yes?’” said Jeremiah.


“We’re excited to be here,” said Jacki. “As long as Winter Haven will have us, forever and a day, we’ll stay.”


113 Ambersweet Way, Davenport | (863) 438-4324 543


Ave B SW, Winter Haven | (863) 875-6615


FB @Adlers.TCB

IG @adlerstcb


Photography by Amy Sexson

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