Val’s Rapid Serv is exactly that — the fastest damn burgers you’ll ever find. Faster than McDonald’s and faster than a speeding bullet. In 1959, Val Henning created this tiny take-out burger-and-fries staple in St. Cloud, modeled like a walk-up Dairy Queen. One of Val’s greatest charms was a goofy telephone ordering system that made the experience a kind of pedestrian drive-thru. Customers would walk up to one of the rotary-style phones outside of the service window, check out the menu, and finally pick up the receiver when they were ready to speak their order to an employee on the other end.
Since Val Henning’s son Dave (one of seven Henning children) has taken over the business, the chunky phones have been replaced with touch screen computers that accept credit cards and ratchet up the speed of service. In the fast food business, lingering customer service isn’t exactly expected or even desired, and Henning has managed to gloss over the issue with his computer system. “I’m pretty proud,” he says, “that we’ve been able to make that jump, to go directly from the customer to the kitchen.”
Even though the retro charm is somewhat diminished, you can still peek into the packed little kitchen where employees with deli-style paper hats furiously fry up burgers, fish, and shrimp sandwiches, and fries that fall into white, grease-dappled bags. And as any loyal Val’s patron will tell you, the best part is the complimentary sprinkling of fries that tops off each hot bag of grub.
Henning says the addition of a touch screen ordering system has allowed them to expand their shake offerings to 21 flavors, which include birthday cake, butterscotch, cappuccino, dreamsicle, and candy-based flavors. The butterscotch ($2.30 small / $2.70 large) is particularly satisfying: not too sweet, super thick, and hard to put down. It’s a necessity when you’re stuffing Val’s famous french fries ($1.75 small / $2.00 large) in your face.
When I asked Henning whether his crispy, ultra salty fries are dusted with anything in particular, he says, “We do something a little special with the seasoning,” but then goes on to explain that “they grade French fries just like they grade meat,” and Henning says he always opts for the highest quality potato with the lowest water content. Which means good, crispy slivers of fry that disappear before you can say “fat pants.”
The sandwiches match their low price tag. The meat isn’t noteworthy, but the buns are fluffy and substantial, and if you get The Works, the double cheeseburger ($2.60) is loaded with griddled onions and chopped pickles that make it certainly worth downing on a summer walk or as a cathartic, after-work snack. Even if there are six or seven people milling around outside the window (and there usually are) when you arrive, you can count on Val’s being “Ready when you are!”
Val’s Rapid Serv (no website)
Fast food in St. Cloud
628 E St. Germain St
St. Cloud, MN 56304
OWNER: Dave Henning
HOURS: Mon-Sun 11am-7pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No dine-in options
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: None
ENTREE RANGE: $1.60-$2.75