Smashed to perfection

JJ’s Smashburger opens in downtown Tama

NEWS CHRONICLE PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — The staff of JJ’s Smashburger at 133 W. 3rd St. in Tama poses for a photo on Tuesday afternoon. From left to right, Jolene Davenport, Co-owner Kassi Whitebreast, Jacy Akeens, JJ Roberts, Co-owner Rhonda Rivas, Jazmyne Roberts and her daughter Jeanie Roberts.

About five years ago, Kassi Whitebreast first launched a food stand, specializing in onion smashburgers like the ones popular in her father’s home state of Oklahoma and traveling to local carnivals, town festivals and powwows to sell them.

It’s been a long road from there in a literal and figurative sense, but it’s led Whitebreast and her good friend Rhonda Rivas, a 2001 South Tama County High School graduate, to officially launch JJ’s Smashburger, named after Whitebreast’s son JJ Roberts, in downtown Tama at 133 W. 3rd St., the former site of the Railway Cafe. JJ, a basketball fanatic who has a Kobe Bryant poster up on one of the walls, is also happy to be involved in the operation that bears his name.

Rivas said she and Whitebreast, both of whom live on the Meskwaki Settlement, had been discussing purchasing a food truck, but when they saw a Facebook post from property owner Marty Hardon about the spot being available and found out it was relatively cheap to rent, they jumped at the opportunity.

“He wants to see the downtown area grow, so he gave us a good deal. He’s a really good guy,” Rivas said.

Whitebreast’s method for creating a juicy Oklahoma style smashburger isn’t complicated, but as previously mentioned, the onions are key — the author recommends upgrading it to an Indian burger served on a delicious frybread bun. There are several other options for hungry patrons including Indian tacos — which are usually only available for purchase at food stands during events like the Meskwaki Powwow or Oktemberfest in Marshalltown — as well as the Frankie Special and the Hot Cheeto Special (similar to nachos), taco salads, strawberry, chocolate or honey frybread bites, chicken strips and other rotating specials like chili and the Set Dog, a hot dog wrapped in fry bread.

NEWS CHRONICLE PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — A classic JJ’s Indian burger on a frybread bun. The author/photographer gives it an A plus rating.

JJ’s Smashburger will be open Tuesday to Saturday each week from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. The restaurant can be reached at 641-481-7717 or found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jjssmashburger. All forms of payment are accepted.

So far, the feedback has been nothing but positive, and Rivas and Whitebreast hope JJ’s will continue to grow with the potential to either buy the building or move into a bigger space down the road. For now, they’ll do everything they can to win customers over one at a time, and as lifelong area residents (Whitebreast left for a few years to attend boarding school), they have a strong desire to breathe new life into downtown Tama.

“I grew up in Tama, so we used to scoop the loop a lot. But people don’t do that no more,” Rivas said. “People don’t really hang out, but now you see a lot of people around the area. So it’s kind of good to bring the community (here).”