�WHADDAYAHAVE, WHADDAYAHAVE� is what the counterworkers shout to over 15,000 customers a day at the �world�s largest drive-in�- THE VARSITY- a double-decker restaurant that sits across Interstate 75 from Georgia Tech and is nestled in the shadows of the skyscrapers of Downtown Atlanta.
A customers answer might be, �A plain hot dog, potato chips and a Frosted Orange to go.�
�Naked dog walking, a bag of rags and an F.O.� the server shouts back to the cooks translated into Varsity lingo.
Business people, laborers, students, and tourists crowd together in an orderly mob at the Varsity counter seeking the hot dogs, hamburgers, and onion rings that made the restaurant famous.
One travel publication once said, �If you miss the Varsity, you miss Atlanta.�
Lunchtime is no time for the faint of heart.
�It�s a combination between a Chinese Fire Drill and a well-oiled machine,� laughs Nancy Simms, co-owner and daughter of the founder Frank Gordy.
�It�s definitely a phenomenom,� says a Columbus, Georgia businessman. �It�s really showtime with all these people running around. I like to sit in that little chair over there and just watch.�
One often told story is about the freshman who stopped at the counter and in seconds found himself holding three hot dogs and a milk shake. He looked down at the food in amazement and said, �But all I wanted was directions to downtown.�
The Varsity claims that it sells more hot dogs, more hamburgers, more fried pies, more onion rings, more bread and more Coca-Cola than ay other single place in the world.
They use a ton of onions a day. Plus, 2,500 pounds of potatoes, 15,000 hamburgers, two miles of hot dogs, 5,000 fried pies, 2 to 4 batches of chicken salad, barbecue, plus gallons and gallons of chocolate milk and Cokes.
It all started, the story goes, when a professor told Frank Gordy while he was a student at Georgia Tech and not doing to well in the grade department that he was never going to make it. He should �quit and go start a hot dog stand�. So, he did.
In 1928, Gordy opened the doors to the Varsity at 55 North Avenue in Atlanta on a lot 70 feet by 190 feet with a white picket fence and a parking lot covered in cinders and a big pot of chili on the stove.
The Varsity has been closed only one day in its history- the day Frank Gordy was buried in June 1983.
Frank Gordy was described as a �true southern gentleman.� He was �genial� and �hospitable� and he dealt all of his cards on top of the table.
For the 55 years that he presided over the Varsity, he personally greeted all customers whether affluent or average citizen and supervised the �batches of food� made throughout the day, making sure that �everything was good and the food was fresh�. As he put it, �food wouldn�t have a chance to get stale here, anyway.� He saw to it that his recipes and secret formulas stayed just the way he wanted it. If a sample didn�t taste right, he would immediately work on it and make it right before he did anything else.
Gordy said, �I was in business 3 days before I learned that customers didn�t come to the Varsity because I was good looking....they wanted something good to eat.�
�I have a million dollar tongue....I know when something tastes like I want it.� The famous chili that goes on the hot dogs and hamburgers is a secret formula developed by Gordy. �We use the best meat, the best chile powder, the best of all ingredients.�
When he was 8 years old, Frank Gordy knew he would be successful. �I remember walking by different businesses and stores in Thomaston, Georgia. As I looked them over, I knew I would be in business someday, but everything I saw there was too slow for me. I had an inner conviction of success and I was willing to make the sacrifice....work!�
His office was just a cubicle right next to the main floor because he wanted to be with his customers.
�Daddy loved the Varsity. It was his life,�said Nancy Simms.
Frank Gordy ate at the Varsity everyday, and maintained that �two hot dogs a day will keep you young.� Though, he alternated the �dogs� with hamburgers so he would know they both passed his taste test.
Someone once told Gordy that McDonalds bragged it had sold over 30 million hamburgers. He shrugged and said �Our help eats that many.�
In 1928, the Varsity was one of the first places in the United States to offer curb-side service which you can still take advantage of today.
Now the restaurant covers two acres and has room for 600 cars with a double-decker parking lot. Inside there is seating for over 700 people with 5 rooms with televisions. You can pick from sitting at tables of school-like desks. Plus, there is plenty of room for more with considerable stand-up counter space.
The food is served from a 145-foot long counter in the main area. Instead of one long line, the servers are spaced along the counter. Customers group in many smaller informal lines along the counter.
When the server looks at you and shouts �whaddayahave, whaddayahave� you know that it is your turn to step up and place your order. Customers learn the system quite fast.
It takes over 200 employees to keep the Varsity humming. Some have worked there well over 20 years. Erby Walker has been a fixture at the one end of the counter known as �the belt�. For many years, he worked seven days and over 100 hours a week while raising his rather large family.
Flossie was a famous carhop known for his colorful hat adornments. He worked at the Varsity up into his 80s. They have Flossie Mae hat decorating contests, today, at Varsity catered events. �Snake Eye� endeared himself to customers during the 30s and 40s.
The Varsity�s most famous carhop was comedian Nipsey Russell who often talked about the Varsity and his fellow employees on national TV. He remained friends with Frank Gordy through the years and his number (each carhop had a number) �46� was retired as a token of esteem.
Delivery trucks are a continuous sight at the Varsity. The Varsity motto is �No food over 12 hours old.� Three to six deliveries of buns and meat are routine. They have received fresh orders of bread as late as 1 a.m. on particularly busy nights. When asked what they do with the left over food, Frank Gordy once smiled and said, �We don�t have any.�
The hot dog weiners are especially made for the Varsity to their specifications. They make the hamburgers from ground steak. In Varsity lingo hamburgers are known at a �steak� or �double steak� and if you add chili-�chili steak�.
Mountains of onions and freshly cut potatoes for french fries are heaped on tables in the glassed-in production center. The employees in the production center are used to an audience and go about their business as if no one is watching.
Fried Pies (apple or peach) are made on a special assembly line. The pie crusts are formed on a conveyor belt with molds and the filling is inserted by the skilled employees with ice cream scoops. The pies are folded, pressed and put on trays at a rate of 2,400 an hour. As needed they are dropped into 370 degree deep fryers and cook for 10 minutes.
The chicken salad is made 2 to 4 times a day. �It must be fresh, said Frank Gordy. �Most people don�t know any better than to make chicken salad with hot chicken. It�s got to be chilled first, and then you make it into a salad.�
Varsity chili is made 50 gallons at a time. The barbecue is cooked overnight for serving the next day.
Take-out orders are put into the Varsity pop-open box at a rate of 2,000 a day.
The largest carryout orders have numbered 500-600 hot dogs.
The nearby Georgia State legislature sends highway patrolmen to pick up orders when there is a late night session.
People from all over the world have come to visit the Varsity. Atlantans bring their guests. New arrivals are soon introduced. Television, movie, radio, music stars, politicians and people from all walks of life- 15,000 eat there every day. As many as 30,000 come on Georgia Tech game days.
Tennessee Ernie Ford, singer, entertainer and television star, was a regular when he worked in Atlanta and was a big fan of the chilidogs and the �Big Orange�.
The �Big Orange� is another secret formula developed by Frank Gordy. He was in New York in 1935 and the idea struck him that he needed a new kind of drink. He was turned off by the orange drinks that were touted as the big thing of the era. His formula is piped from a stainless steel tank in the kitchen to the faucet at the counter. The Varsity also serves a frosted orange, a frozen version of the �Big Orange� and kind of like a Dreamsickle.
The first place that the Coca-Cola executives took investor Warren Buffett (the second richest man in the United States) during his first visit to Atlanta after becoming Coca-Cola�s largest shareholder was the Varsity. Buffett said that if he lived in Atlanta he would probably eat at the Varsity all of the time.
Frank Gordy opened another Varsity next to the University of Georgia in Athens and a Varsity Jr. in northeast Atlanta but turned down offers to develop a chain fearing it would destroy the personality of his creation.
In recent years the company has opened several new Varsitys in distinctive looking buildings to serve the outskirts in the ever expanding Atlanta area. Plus, they have catering trucks with full kitchens that roll up at private parties.
The success of the Varsity goes straight back to Frank Gordy. He had an idea, nurtured it and most importantly understood that people were the key: The people that work there, the people that eat there, and the people who go there to watch the people work and eat.