Leo’s wins 2017 Best Burger in the Valley contest

Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop in downtown Stillwater won the 2017 Best Burger in the Valley competition. (Photo courtesy of DiscoverStillwater.com)

Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop in downtown Stillwater has won the 2017 Best Burger in the Valley competition, a fundraiser supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Nine restaurants competed this year, including Leo’s, Brine’s Restaurant, Grand Pizza, the Lion’s Tavern, Nacho Mama’s, Pub 112, Reve Bistro and Bar, Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque, the Water Street Inn. Community members purchased burger judging cards for $40, which entitled them to one burger at each participating restaurant between Jan. 2 and March 30. Restaurants donated the burgers, so all proceeds went to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Participants voted on their favorite burgers, and when the votes were tallied, Leo’s came out ahead.

“Our staff is very excited, a lot of high fives going around,” said Cory Buettner, owner of Leo’s, which also won in 2010. “We’re very happy — we work hard at it. I’m really excited that our staff feels like they’re recognized for their efforts. Them executing the menu as well as they do on a daily basis is what really makes me proud as a restaurant owner.”

Although Buettner organizes the competition, votes are tallied by a neutral third party. The Gazette is a sponsor of the competition.

Although he’s pleased with winning, Buttner said it’s secondary to supporting the cause.

“The importance of this not just winning,” Buettner said. “The importance is raising money. … This is a worldwide disease that we’ve really helped make a dent in.”

Over eight years, the contest has raised more than $123,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Through the years, Buettner has learned a lot about running the competition well, and he’s pleased with the results. As his mentor Scott Zahren used to say, the event is now “dialed and styled” so well that fundraisers in other cities are copying the model and even seeking advice, Buettner said.

“We love that,” Buettner said. “If someone wants to imitate our ideas for a good cause, imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

Buettner is already looking forward to next year’s contest.

“We are hopeful that we will have even more participants and raise more money,” he said. “We’ll probably try to roll out Best Burger in the Valley by mid-November, just in time for holiday shopping.”