Summer Nostalgia in Washington, DC - How to Make Your Own “Mighty Mo”!

If one grew up or visited the Washington area pre-1980’s, one most likely remembers the ubiquitous local chain of family restaurants: Hot Shoppes. Popular from the 1930’s up through the 1970’s Hot Shoppes was known for good food at fair prices, it’s cooks prepared everything from scratch, the service staff always friendly and perfectly polished, and it’s clientele ranged from toddlers to grandmothers.

However, during the 1950’s it was the teenager that became the largest demographic of patrons. Menu items were especially skewed towards them, including the “Teen Twist”,  ham and cheese (with tartar sauce) on a twist roll, the “Mighty Mo” (named after the USS Missouri) a double decker cheeseburger, and the “Orange Freeze” a sherbert-y tart orange milkshake.

The origin of Hot Shoppes is fascinating, and what it grew into is certainly phenomenal!

It all began when J. Willard “Bill” Marriott arrived in town and noticed that the street vendors of ice cream and other refreshments practically sold out immediately in the muggy September of 1921.

He returned six years later, from his native Utah, and opened up a franchise of the A & W Root Beer stand in the slim corner storefront at 3128 14th Street NW, with its success, he opened another at 606 9th Street, NW, where people lined down the block to get a taste.

When the weather cooled down, so did the business, and Bill needed new menu items. His young wife, Alice, who majored in Spanish in college, suggested Mexican fare, and met with the Mexican Embassy’s Chef to obtain authentic recipes and a supplier of ingredients in San Antonio. After that, all they needed was a name for the place. The story goes that a good friend asked, "Hey Bill, when are you and Allie going to open this hot shop I've been hearing about?" And so, with a few letters added to dress it up, the Hot Shoppes were born.

As the car culture grew, so did Hot Shoppes, building larger sit down restaurants with curbside ordering and in-car dining, a novelty that soon spread up and down the East Coast.

1n 1937, Hot Shoppes “invented” airline catering servicing National Airport with hot meals for on-board passengers, they built their first production facility next to the airport on the land where the Pentagon building now stands.

It is important to note, that while the United States was still predominantly segregated, Hot Shoppes welcomed all guests with dignity and respect. In 1955, waitress Beulah Heflin of the Park Road Hot Shoppe won the "Miss Good Morning" title as the most polite hostess in D.C., part of a nationwide contest sponsored by Kellogg cereals. Her counterparts in Maryland and Virginia won for their jurisdictions as well.

By 1964, a total of 73 Hot Shoppes restaurants and cafeterias were operating in 13 states and the District, including food service operations at hotels and other institutions as well as highway rest stops. One of the largest fast food chains in the country, the combined operation used more steaks than any other enterprise except the U.S. Army. Indeed, Hot Shoppes seemed to be on top of the world in those days, at least in the Washington area, but change was already in the air. The company modified its name that year to "Marriott Hot Shoppes, Inc.," and in 1967 dropped the "Hot Shoppes" part altogether. That was the same year the last Hot Shoppe was built.

The shift in direction had started back in 1957. That was the year the company's first hotel, the sprawling 110-room Twin Bridges Marriott, opened in Arlington, right at the Virginia end of the 14th Street Bridge. Marriott's son, Bill Marriott, Jr., had orchestrated the hotel's opening, and within a year he was named head of the company's embryonic hotel division. Under his leadership, the company's energies increasingly focused on its hotels and away from the iconic Hot Shoppes. In 1974, two years after he took over as CEO, Bill, Jr., announced that the company was planning to phase out its Hot Shoppes brand. The iconic eateries were too costly to run, he said, and at around 3 percent, their profit margin was too thin.

Twenty years later only a hand full of Hot Shoppes remained, but the Marriott name in hospitality had grown tremendously. Today, Marriott International, still located nearby in Bethesda, Maryland, operates a global network of Hotel Brands including Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Bulgari, W Hotels, Sheraton, Gaylord, and many more.

With the recent opening of the Marriott Marquis Hotel next to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, one can once again order signature Hot Shoppes menu items including the Mighty Mo, but the original price of $ .35 is now over $20.00.

But have no fear if that is too steep, or too far to go. Here courtesy of the New York Times is the recipe for the “Mighty Mo”!

Hot Shoppes' Mighty Mo Burger

serves: four, time: 40 minutes


For the sauce¼ cup ketchup⅛ cup Heinz chili sauce1 teaspoon A-1 sauce¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce2 drops Tabasco sauce¼ cup pickle relish½ cup mayonnaiseFor the burgers1 pound ground beefLawry's seasoned saltFreshly ground white pepper2 tablespoons soft butter or margarine8 sesame-seed hamburger buns4 slices American cheese¼ head (approximately) shredded iceberg lettuce8 bread-and-butter pickle chips


For the sauce

Combine all the sauce ingredients until well blended. Refrigerate until needed.

For the burgersPreheat a grill or broiler. Divide meat into eight portions of equal size, and shape each portion into a thin patty four to six inches in diameter. Season to taste with Lawry's seasoned salt and white pepper.

Spread margarine on top and bottom of four hamburger buns, and on the bottoms of four additional buns; reserve the four tops without margarine for another use.

Grill hamburgers on one side, turn them over, and top four of them with one slice of cheese. Grill to medium rare, then remove from heat.

To assemble

Spread 2 teaspoons of Mighty Mo sauce on bottom of each of four buns. Top sauce with some shredded lettuce and a burger without cheese. Top with the additional bun bottom, and spread with 2 more teaspoons of sauce. Top with a cheeseburger patty, and put two pickle chips on top of cheese. Add top of bun. Serve with french fries.


​© 2020 Brian Beal Moore Catering, a division of Mendoza & Moore, LLC

Created by Gustavo A. Mendoza. All rights reserved.

The trademarks and copyrighted designs contained herein are the property of the respective owners.

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