It is a regular stop on our trips through Atlanta to Hogansville, Georgia.
Although my husband had another hangout with his high school friends in Newnan, much closer to his home in Moreland, a trip to the big city of Atlanta was a rare treat that we now honor when we drive through the city.
What is it that keeps people coming back to the same place for generations?
A couple of dozen lines at the counter move quickly. A limited menu helps.
There’s a language.
Hot dogs, with (hot dog) or without chili (naked), with or without coleslaw on top, your choice of their famous, freshly battered and fried onion rings (Ring one) or French fries (Strings), with onions on the side (Sideways) and Co-cola, the Southern drink of choice, Atlanta, is, after all, world headquarters for Coca-Cola, or Varsity Orange, their own, original formula orange slushee.
The nicknames for orders used to simply be among staff. But, the counter is in front of an open grill. Soon, customers learned what their orders were being called and adopted the shortcut language when they ordered.
As part of the efficiency, you are encouraged to order as soon as you get to the counter.
“What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?”
“Have your order in your mind and your money in your hand.”
And, the hats. Everyone at the counter and behind is wearing what I assume are fresh daily paper hats with the restaurant’s distinctively bright red and white logo.
There’s tradition and a loyal, core demographic.
The founder briefly went to Georgia Tech, before he dropped out to start the restaurant. It sits right across a highway bridge from Tech, where students can easily walk to get their fill of the hearty chili dogs.
And, then, those students grow up, and remember.
And, the students from all the surrounding towns who came to the big city of Atlanta when they were in high school, perhaps to a game, after which, you had to get something to eat.
And, residents of the city of Atlanta. The restaurant isn’t that easy to drive to, but, if you take the Spring Street exit off Highway 75/85, that bisects the town, you go right to it, at 61 North Avenue.
It sits nestled into a busy corner of downtown, a short walk for office workers who miss their fix at The Varsity.
There is even enough parking, whether you are going to pull up outside to be served by car hops, or park and go inside.
There’s a formula for how much parking you need to serve a restaurant adequately, generally one space per three customers. People will only walk half a block or so to get to their favorite restaurant.
The Varsity gets it right. Their two-acre, two city-block location has room for 600 cars, for a restaurant that can seat 800.
When your volume is 2 million hot dogs, a ton of onions, 2,500 pounds of potatoes, 5,000 fried pies and 300 gallons of chili made from scratch daily, it must make other restaurants envious that they maintain their reputation for freshness.
But, the commitment to fresh ingredients came first, then the reputation, then the volume.
Perhaps pushed by the fast, efficient service and the quick turnover of tables, you don’t feel rushed at The Varsity, but you do feel energized by the spirit, the memories and the crowds.
What business do you know that has survived for generations? And, why?
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru