The Varsity, during 90, keeps the reason on Atlantans’ hearts, stomachs

August 10, 2018 - garden totes

ATLANTA — Gordon Muir, boss of a Varsity, is a walking announcement for a health advantages of chili dogs, onion rings and boiled pies.

The 53-year-old fast-food lord stairs out of a doorway labeled “Janitor” and strolls by his acre-sized house of pig-out, looking some-more like a gymnast than a fan of a low fryer.

Customers swell adult to a 150-foot opposite 4 deep, while cashiers howl “What’ll ya have?” and Muir executes a discerning low knee hook to collect a wandering napkin from a floor, straightening adult effortlessly.

“Yesterday we had dual chili steaks, and we felt it, right before CrossFit,” pronounced Muir. “I didn’t devise to have two, though a initial one left so fast.”

So it’s possibly a chili steaks, or a CrossFit. One of these things is gripping Muir young.

His grandfather would contend it’s a chili steaks.

Frank Gordy non-stop a Varsity in 1928, when North Avenue was a cobblestone travel and Cobb County was lonesome in string farms. Gordy always pronounced a fountain of girl was somewhere nearby his Frosted Orange machine, and it’s loyal that a Varsity seems held in some arrange of time warp.

The robust paper hats on a patrons, a chrome trim and art deco curves in a architecture, a primitive tradition of a carhop and — mostly — that Archie and Jughead friendship to high-calorie happiness, all pronounce of a opposite time.

Carhop Louis Frank Jones, 87, pronounced a food is only as good as it was when he started, 70 years ago. (Back then, we didn’t need a Social Security number, he says, pausing as he totes a box of onion rings and dogs to a drive-in customer. “You only worked.”) Has anything changed? “Nothing though a price.”

Inventing quick food

The Varsity celebrates a 90th birthday this year. In Atlanta, a city with a life of an Etch-a-Sketch drawing, such continuance is remarkable. The largest drive-in grill in a country, and maybe a world, a Midtown Varsity, during North Avenue and Spring Street, encloses roughly an hactare underneath one roof, and can offer 30,000 people on a truly bustling football Saturday.

There are also 4 other Varsities now, in Gwinnett (near Norcross), Kennesaw, Dawsonville and Athens, and dual kiosks during Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Gordy, who died in 1983, would contend his success was due to good food during a good price, and a bid to make any singular patron happy. Muir embraces that philosophy, though there is something additional about his bend for a place.

Driving from his home in Roswell any morning, Muir will infrequently wait for a light on a North Avenue off-ramp and demeanour during that mountainous 45-foot chrome and red “V” sign, appearing over a Downtown Connector, and marvel during his grandfather’s creation.

“The third generation: That’s a era that customarily hull things,” he said, considering his possess place in a world. “We don’t wish to do that.”

Muir’s colleague, Terry Brookshire, a former jet engine automechanic with a Air National Guard and now a ubiquitous manager during a Varsity, pronounced a thing that binds a business together is heart.

“We adore these employees,” pronounced a crew-cut Brookshire, a 20-year Varsity veteran, who reflexively picks adult rabble as he talks, a heading among managers here. “A lot of people have been here as prolonged as we have. If we unequivocally caring about them, afterwards things go smoothly, it keeps a Varsity glossy and bright, it creates a family proud, and creates business proud.”

But maybe, for a customers, it’s a chili.

What becomes a fable most

The late Atlanta Constitution columnist Lewis Grizzard claimed that during his three-year “exile” in Chicago, he talked an Atlanta partner into bringing a basket of chili dogs whenever she came to visit.

Roy Blount Jr., a former Decaturite who lives and writes in New York City and appears on a NPR diversion uncover “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!,” has eaten all over a universe and authored several books about food, including a latest, “Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations.”

Blount says he visits a Varsity any time he’s in Atlanta. “Varsity chili is distinct any other, unparalleled,” he writes in an email. “I can’t suppose how it could be improved, or because anyone would wish to change it in any way.”

He continues, “I ate a chili dog once while doing ‘Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’ during a Fox. The conduct of a CDC was a special guest on a show. we tossed him my pink pie. He walked off though it, as if it had cooties, that was OK by me as we unequivocally wanted to eat it myself — though afterwards he came behind and got it, as one would.”


Frank Gordy attended Reinhardt College (where he met his destiny wife, Evelyn Jackson) and followed that with a year during Georgia Tech, though motionless Georgia Tech was not for him.

After a revisit to Florida, where he complicated a takeout hamburger and prohibited dog joints with interest, he came behind to Atlanta and bought a tiny break emporium right outward a Tech campus called a Yellow Jacket. In 1928, he changed a few blocks down North Avenue and non-stop a Varsity, with a thought of opening one in all vital college towns. (He positively couldn’t open an Athens drive-in called “the Yellow Jacket.”)

He served 300 people on a initial day. By a finish of a 1930s, during a bleakest economy in U.S. history, Gordy had already finished his initial million dollars. More Varsities followed, initial one in Athens, then, in 1965, a Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh, non-stop by Gordy’s son Frank Jr.

The 1980s brought tragedy to a Gordy family. Frank Jr. was shot and killed in 1980 during a fight with police. Frank Gordy Sr. died of emphysema in 1983. In both cases, a Gordy women stepped in.

Frank Jr.’s widow, Susan Gordy, took over a Varsity Jr., kept it humming and stretched a catering side business to a poignant apportionment of revenue. And Gordy’s daughter, Nancy Simms, with 3 children (including Gordon Muir) and one stepchild during home, arrived during a North Avenue Varsity, prepared to learn, from a onions on up.

“Mr. Minix (general manager E.D. “Ed” Minix) handed her a hairnet and an apron, and put her in a kitchen,” pronounced Muir. “Somebody asked him: ‘Who’s that blonde lady behind there?’ Minix said: ‘Oh, that’s Frank’s daughter. She won’t final a week.'”

The contingency were opposite her. “My father never suggested we be a partial of a Varsity,” pronounced Simms, vocalization from a family’s vacation home on Sea Island. “I had no training. I’d never worked a day with my dad. we would go there for lunch, I’d go with a date, though we substantially knew reduction about a Varsity than anybody.”

Suddenly she felt obliged for 200 employees. She began operative 16-hour days, cleaning tables, rupturing potatoes and devoting herself to a grill 6 days a week. “She incited into my grandfather. She’d go to work in a daytime, come home and make us supper, afterwards go behind downtown during night,” pronounced Muir.

All along, a employees were display her how to run a business. Said Simms, “This is a situation: Here comes somebody they’ve never seen and never worked with, and they’re looking during me wondering, ‘Who a heck is she?’ we had to get in there and work with them and do a same things they did, have them learn me, uncover them we could work as tough as they did to acquire their respect.” The recipes — a famous chili, for instance — were created down, though she had to learn how to make them.

“We were too immature to step in,” pronounced Muir. “Her hermit had upheld away. If she hadn’t finished it, there’d substantially be no Varsity here. There’d substantially be a skyscraper here or something.”

One some-more tragedy followed. In 1990, Gordon Muir’s hermit Michael was in a harmful automobile accident. He was flown to a Pittsburgh sanatorium for care, and underwent several organ transplants, flourishing for a while, though disappearing after his viscera began to fail. After 3 years, he died. Nancy Simms was by his side.

In her absence, Gordon Muir rose to a occasion. He’d already had training during a Varsity Jr. as a teenager. After college (at Reinhardt), he returned to a North Avenue Varsity as an hourly employee.

The Varsity has continued to expand, with a few hiccups. The Varsity Jr. sealed in 2010 after zoning disputes with a city. A Varsity in Alpharetta lasted for 12 years, before shutting in 2016. (“We were on a wrong side of a highway.”) But a company’s Dawsonville store is going good guns, pronounced Muir, and they’re eyeing new stores on skill in Winder and in Auburn, Alabama.

The Midtown store is located on 5 acres in a area of skyscrapers. “I’m certain there’s a aloft purpose for those 5 acres in Atlanta than a drive-thru restaurant,” pronounced CEO Simms, “but I’m sentimental.”

Simms pronounced she and 18 other family members are assembly for a second time with a family business advisor to plead a destiny of a Varsity.

“I’ve corroborated divided a lot to let a guys hoop it,” she said, mentioning her son Gordon, her son-in-law John Browne and her stepson Steve Simms, all concerned in management. “They don’t wish their mom looking over their shoulder.”

And family might good be a key. During a new lunchtime rush, a dark-skinned caller from Naples, Florida, brought his mom and children to ambience a storied chili dogs. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, gazing during a photos of presidents who have dined there, from a Bushes, father and son, to Barack Obama.

“It’s a goldmine,” he added, “as prolonged as it stays in a family.”


The Varsity is honoring a 90th birthday with a party. From 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 18, a Varsity will offer 90-cent prices on all menu items, doorway prizes, song and special guests. The specials are accessible during all locations solely a airfield kiosks.

The Varsity is also highlighting a arise by lifting $90,000 to support a module during a Shepherd Center to assistance brain-injured veterans. It’s about median to a goal.


All a way: With chopped onions; can be a prohibited dog, chili dog or hamburger

Bag of rags: Potato chips

Chili steak: Hamburger with chili

F.O.: Frosted Orange

Glorified steak: Hamburger with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato

Heavyweight: Hot dog with additional chili

Joe-ree: Coffee with cream

Mary Brown steak: Naked beef with no bun

Naked dog: Plain prohibited dog in a bun

Naked dog a’ walkin’: Naked dog to go

N.I. Orange: Varsity Orange with no ice

N.I.P.C.: Chocolate divert with no ice

P.C.: Chocolate divert (usually served with ice)

Red dog: Naked dog with ketchup

Sally Rand: Naked steak

Sally Rand by a garden: Naked beef with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise

Strings: French fries

Walk a dog: Hot dog to go

Yellow dog: Naked dog with mustard


Check behind on Thursday, Aug. 16, during as a weekly accessAtlanta podcast visits a Varsity in allege of a 90th anniversary celebration. Hear interviews with staff and business and get a story of a dear fast-food spot’s past, benefaction and destiny from boss Gordon Muir.

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of a New York Times News Service

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