Milo's Hamburgers, known colloquially simply as Milo's, is a Birmingham fast food chain founded by Milo Carlton as Milo's Hamburger Shop in 1946. The chain, with 20 franchised locations, is best known for its secret-recipe hamburger sauce, and for its Milo's Famous Sweet Tea.
Milo Carlton got his start in the restaurant business by working for one of his brothers at a restaurant called Dipsey Doodle in 1939. The following year, Carlton joined the National Guard and was mobilized in 1941. He was assigned to the Food Service Division and served through World War II, being discharged in 1945.
On April 16, 1946, Carlton, with his wife Bea, opened the original Milo's Hamburger Shop at 31st Street and 12th Avenue North in Norwood. The restaurant remained there until the construction of I-20/I-59 forced it to move to 2820 10th Avenue North in 1963.
Carlton began brewing his own sweet tea because supplying soft-drinks was too expensive. In the late 1940s the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms contacted Carlton to make sure that his large orders for sugar weren't being funneled into moonshine production.
The restaurant's famous hamburger sauce did not exist when the business started. Carlton experimented with it, taking his customers' advice to improve it. According to Carlton, "when they started telling me to put alot [sic] of that sauce on their burgers I knew I had it just right."1. The recipe for Milo's sauce is still a carefully-guarded secret. The company manufacturers it in a 6-hour process, producing 250 gallons per batch.
Another tradition is putting an extra "plug", or cut piece of beef patty on top of each burger. The practice dates to when the hand-shaped patties were prone to losing their edges during cooking, and has been preserved as a signature of a Milo's hamburger.
Milo Carlton's son, Ronnie Carlton, and his wife, Sheila eventually went to work for Milo. Ronnie purchased the business from his father in 1980.
In 1983, Milo's began selling franchises. The first was on Southside, which Dean Chitwood opened on February 7, 1983. Franchisees originally had little leeway in operations as the parent company dictated many facets of the business, from what vendors were used to employee uniforms. Shortly after the Southside store's opening, the original store closed. (It is now The Pit B-B-Q.)
Ronnie Carlton sold the restaurant portion of the business, including the sauce recipe, to Chitwood in January 2002. The business is registered as the Milo's Franchise Company. Long-time customer Tom Dekle led a group of local investors who acquired the business from Chitwood in 2011. Dekle serves as CEO.
Carlton continued to run Milo's Restaurant Services (now known as Milo's Tea Company), to sell hamburger sauce and tea concentrate to Milo's locations. The restaurant chain began experimenting with brewing its own iced tea at some locations in May 2012. That practice led Milo's Tea Company to end its supply agreement in the summer of 2012. Milo's Franchise preemptively sued Milo's Tea over the matter that August. During the lawsuit, Milo's restaurants switched to using tea provided by Royal Cup Coffee. The two companies resolved the issue in March 2013 and Milo's restaurants began serving Milo's Tea again.
During the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, Milo's began selling 16 ounce bottles of its hamburger sauce to the public at its restaurants. The $5 price included a $2 donation to help fund school-provided meals to families in need. The company raised $13,000 by selling 6,500 bottles before the week was out and Dekle anticipates making the fund-raiser an annual event.
- 757 Academy Drive, Bessemer
- 1 Limestone Parkway, Calera
- 1530 Montclair Road, Birmingham
- 6600 Bellview Drive, Fairfield
- 1120 Forestdale Boulevard, Fairfield
- 604 Fieldstown Road, Gardendale
- 208 State Farm Parkway, Homewood
- 1210 Inverness Corners, Inverness
- 2057 Village Drive, Moody
- 2020 Pelham Parkway, Pelham
- 209 Gadsden Highway, Roebuck
- 401 19th Street South, Suite 130, Birmingham
- 5887 Trussville Crossing Parkway, Trussville
- 1449 Montgomery Highway, Vestavia Hills
- 1830 Patriot Way Southwest, Cullman
- 1103 First Street North, Alabaster (opened September 9, 2021)
- 31st Street and 12th Avenue North, Norwood (1946-1963)
- 2820 10th Avenue North (1963-1980s)
- 509 18th Street South, Southside Station (opened February 7, 1983; closed early 2000s)
- Regions-Harbert Plaza, Birmingham (1989-2015)
- "Milo's History", miloshamburgers.com
- Milo's History (March 9, 2005) - accessed 18 August 2006.
- Milazzo, Don (October 8, 1999) "Sauce is still boss, but Milo's tea takes off" Birmingham Business Journal
- Nicholson, Gilbert (February 1, 2002) "Milo's serves up a warehouse in Bessemer" Birmingham Business Journal
- Mackay, Steven (December 13, 2002) "It's teatime (Milo's style) in Bessemer" Birmingham Business Journal
- Carlton, Bob (May 25, 2012) "Year of Alabama Food: Milo's Hamburgers, Birmingham." The Birmingham News
- Poe, Ryan (August 31, 2012) "Battle brews over Milo’s tea." Birmingham Business Journal
- Poe, Ryan (March 4, 2013) "Milo's Famous Tea back on the menu at Milo's restaurants." Birmingham Business Journal
- Thornton, William (April 13, 2020) "Milo’s Hamburgers selling sauce for a limited time." The Birmingham News
- Carlton, Bob (April 29, 2020) "The story behind Alabama’s famous Milo’s hamburger sauce." The Birmingham News
- Restaurant chains
- 1946 establishments
- 31st Street North
- Academy Drive
- Montclair Road
- Bellview Drive
- Forestdale Boulevard
- Fieldstown Road
- 1901 Sixth Avenue
- State Farm Parkway
- Inverness Corners
- Pelham Parkway
- Gadsden Highway
- 19th Street South
- Trussville Crossing Parkway
- Montgomery Highway (Vestavia Hills)
- Southside Station
- 20 Midtown