It’s a legacy business in the region. Family owned with family workers, day in and day out, except Sundays, Nesler’s Polar Whip begins their day at 5:30 a.m. Burgers by the hundreds are served each week at the little place that brings fame, and certainly a good living, to Ron and Jeannie Nesler and their family. They celebrate 85 years of serving the public this year.
HerrinFesta Italiana 2016 has named Nesler’s Polar Whip as their Corporate Honoree for the May 23-May 30 event in and around the Herrin Civic Center. Ron and his wife have three children, John, James and Jeannine Coffey, 8 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. Their son John works in the business and will take over when the Nesler’s choose to retire.
The Polar Whip was founded in 1931 by Nesler’s father John and John’s brother in law, Fowler Sullenger, as Wimpy’s in Herrin. After his parents marriage, John and Helen (Williams) Nesler worked long hours. Ron learned the business from the bottom up. He cleaned up, fixed up and added up the day’s take. He said, “My Dad taught me to use my brain instead of a pen and pencil to add an order and sales tax.” He can still do it, but they do have a new cash register.
After his father was drafted into World War ll, women in the family ran Wimpy’s. Wimpy’s was named after the famous Popeye cartoon character who loved hamburgers. Offering some of the first soft ice cream treats, called Polar Whip, in the area after the War, the name changed to what it is today. Ice cream was good, but not enough to support the business. The burger recipe is the same as it was in 1931, and a family trade secret passed down to each generation.
Polar Whip was on a corner on South Park Avenue in Herrin for decades. In 1964 Ron’s father moved the business to Energy. Ron, a former teacher, took over in 1982.
The small diner is located on Rt. 148 South in Energy. The family strives to support businesses in the area and participate in community events. Ron, a longtime boys basketball has a 45 year career under his belt. Fifteen of those years have been spent as 7th – 8th grade Herrin basketball coach. He maintains that schedule as well as his Polar Whip operation.
Burgers and fries, hot dogs, chili in season and soda in a cup round out most orders. It is a local diner but customers come from everywhere. There are mail orders shipped all over the country, former residents pack up their coolers to take burgers back home when they come to visit family and friends.
Some days you can’t find a parking place. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day, there can be lines inside, but orders are placed and served in record time. Place an order, sit down, your name will be called A warm brown paper sack with you name on it arrives and you are out the door. Dessert is limited to cones and cookies.
Polar Whip burgers taste the same, whether you bought one in the Fifties, Nineties or today. For 85 years the Nesler family has been in the restaurant business. That attention to detail, making sure every burger, every order is made like you like it brings back repeat customers and generations of families who say, “Polar Whip burgers are the best.” There is a web site to attest to that motto.
The Nesler family and Polar Whip will be honored at the Mayor’s HerrinFesta Honoree Banquet Tuesday, May 24 at The Herrin Elks and at The Grand Festa Parade, Saturday, May 28. HerrinFesta Italiana celebrates their 26th festival this year.