It’s a hot Saturday afternoon in suburban Roanoke, Virginia. Only a few cars are winding their way down the traffic-light strangled stretch of 419, their windows rolled up against the humid air and mountain haze. Few kids seem to be playing in the cul-de-sacs, and the neighborhood pools are half-empty. Perhaps most folks are staying indoors, taking in a baseball game or drifting into a nap.
That’s where you’d be wrong. The people here aren’t at home, and definitely aren’t taking a nap. They are lining up by the hundreds to try the newest sensation to hit their bucolic, out-of-the-way city:
Nothingburger—the restaurant for Trump supporters.
It’s a jazzy looking establishment, the name written in soaring, all-caps script and edged by neon tubes that will glow like a bioluminescent plankton in the twilight. Inside, the décor is simple and non-descript: a strip of red and white tiles circling the walls; banquet-style metal chairs; tables; even a floor. There are pictures of local t-ball teams and Virginia Tech pennants pinned to a bulletin board. The line stretches from the register where you order (“Orderin’ Spot,” a sign helpfully instructs) down a low-walled corridor and into the heat outside. The customers don’t seem to mind.
“I love Nothingburger,” said Sandra K., occasionally attempting to shade her kids with a menu. “It’s so simple. Heck, I don’t even need to look at this menu. I mean, why bother? There’s nothing here.”
“Well, the Nothingburger’s the best,” drawls Billy J. “Some people are partial to the Nothingburger, Jr. —”
His wife, Milly J., interrupts, “Oh, I love the Nothingburger, Jr.! Mmm-mmm!”
“—but you know, I like the original,” continued Billy. “I mean, why mess with a Nothingburger? You can’t mess it up. It’s literally nothing.”
“You gotta point,” conceded Milly. “I suppose the Nothingburger, Jr. is nothing, too. I guess…in that way…it’s the same?” For a moment she looked confused. “But I still love it!”
Inside, the customers were even more fawning.
“I can’t get enough of it,” admitted a sheepish Joe S. “I’ve been here four days in a row! I’ve tried everything. Hell, today I ordered everything all at once—every single thing on the menu—and I still want more! For some reason….”
“It’s delicious,” said Al Q., holding some empty paper. “The secret’s in the fact that it’s all in your imagination.”
“I love the Fake fries,” said Jenny B., holding an empty, grease-stained box. She paused and looked wistfully out the heavily tinted window. “I wish they gave you a little more, though.”
The owner, Maksim Rasputskyn, stood proudly behind the registers, watching his employees work as fast as possible. “Honestly, I am bit surprised at success. I had not so much in my old country. I was fat man on couch, in basement, on computer. Today, I am rich man with low overhead.” Maksim steps out of the way of one of his workers, delivering a box of McNothin’s and a soda water to a large and hungry-looking customer waiting under the “Up-Pickin’ Place” sign.
The secret, Maksim explained in similarly poor English, was Nothingburger’s lineup of new-but-familiar-sounding items. While the taste might be different from standard American fare—the taste is a cross between paper and air—the names seem like old classics resurrected from the gauzy ’50s of the Beaver and Senator Joe McCarthy:
- A Big Nothingburger
- Nothingburger, Jr.
- Nothingburger Kushner
- No Double No Bacon No Cheese No Nothingburger
- Fake Fries
- Nonion Rings
- Dry Iced Tea
- Soda Water
- Some Empty Wrappers
- A Straw
- Side Salad
- Peanut Nuttin’ Pie
The menu is constantly changing, Maksim noted, but mostly just to distract people from the fact that it’s all the same. “I not a good cook. I cook nothing. This place have no kitchen, as you see. But people pay. If this is United States America, then—I love it!”
A group of teens cleared out, pretending to leave a mess behind. “You all come back, now!” yelled Maksim, in a friendly but stern voice. It was unclear whether it was a genial Southern wish or a command for them to come back and pretend to clean up more. After a moment’s confusion, the teens went back to their table and pretended to pick up a pretend tray that they pretended to empty in to the pretend trash can—which was already full of nothing.