Morris Neals' Handy Hamburgers

Morris Neal’s Handy Hamburgers plans to renovate and expand their current building at 200 S. Mill St.

In the near future there will be more of Morris Neal’s Handy Hamburgers to love.

Cleburne council members on Tuesday approved a rezoning request thus clearing way for expansion of the historic Cleburne diner.

Specifically, council rezoned the restaurant’s .27 acres from single-family dwelling district to commercial district at the request of Jara Properties and Morris Neal’s owner John Ainsworth.

Ainsworth plans to renovate and expand the current building at 200 S. Mill St. 

The Cleburne Planning and Zoning Commission on Oct. 26 recommended approval of Ainsworth’s request by a 6-0 vote. Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved the request.

“Every time I go in there it takes me back to my childhood and I want to publicly thank you Mr. Ainsworth for carrying on the tradition of Morris Neal’s hamburgers. And, the burgers are quite tasty as always.”

The historic Cleburne mainstay, which dates back nearly 90 years, has operated out of the Mill Street location since the 1950s.

Ainsworth, a 1988 Cleburne High School graduate, bought the restaurant in June from former owner Johnnie Jordan. Ainsworth and his wife, Rhonda Ainsworth, are the fourth owners of the restaurant. Morris Neal began selling hamburgers in the 1930s in a lean to in a downtown alleyway before moving to the Mill Street location.

Ainsworth in August said that he grew up on Morris Neal’s — his father ran an upholstery shop nearby — and realizes the value of leaving well enough alone.

“Sometimes people buy a business and think they want to fix something,” Ainsworth said. “But there’s nothing broken here. As far as our food, no changes at all.

“No change to the grill or the great customer service. Fresh ground beef is important everyday here. That’s how it’s always been and always will be.”

Which, Ainsworth said, does not rule out changes in other areas.

Already, Ainsworth has increased the hours and axed the restaurant’s long standing cash only policy to accept credit and debit cards.

Ainsworth now plans to expand the dining room area and add a back deck with additional seating. Also planned are family friendly games, Cleburne Yellow Jackets memorabilia and periodic vintage car nights.

Having gained the rezoning necessary to move forward, Ainsworth said he hopes to begin renovations soon.

Downtown grant

Council members approved downtown property owner Tom Burkett’s request for a city facade grant. City officials created the grant program several years ago to encourage downtown area redevelopment. The grants offer up to $5,000 in matching funds for exterior improvements to buildings in the downtown and area districts. 

Burkett recently purchased the property at 201 E. Henderson St., which he said will soon be home to a new antique store. Burkett said he intends to spend the grant funds plus an additional $5,000 of his own money to reface the building’s brick exterior facade, repair the existing awning and replace window glass. Burkett said he also plans to repaint the building and install a lighted sign.

Council members also approved purchase of a 2020 Chevrolet Traverse SUV from Caldwell Country Chevrolet at a cost not to exceed $26,245. The truck will serve as a replacement vehicle for the city’s housing department. The current vehicle, a 16-year-old Ford Expedition, will be auctioned.

Fire Chief Scott Lail noted that federal CARES Act funding will pay for the truck.

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