Atlanta’s favorite fast food icon, The Varsity, is celebrating its 90th birthday this summer. That’s 90 years and millions of hot dogs, hamburgers, onion rings and the famous Frosted Orange made from the original recipes.
This comfort food staple is served up with its own lingo: walk a dog – a hot dog to go; strings – an order of fries; heavy weight – hot dog with chili; and steak – a hamburger with ketchup, mustard and pickles). And, of course, customers are always greeted with a smile and the famous question, “What’ll ya have?!”
When Frank Gordy opened the doors on his hot dog joint in a tiny house at Peachtree Street and North Avenue in 1928, he knew it was going to be a success. With just a six-stool counter and a walk up window, he served 300 people on his first day. Even through the Great Depression, Gordy managed to turn a profit thanks to low prices and fresh food.
In the 1930s, The Varsity moved to its current location at North and Spring in Midtown. Always a forward thinker, Gordy created a drive-in that by the 1950s was known as the World’s Largest Drive In, a record they still hold today. Gordy continued to expand his original Varsity with space for 630 cars. The restaurant now occupies two full city blocks and can seat 800 people in various dining rooms.
When Gordy died in 1983, his daughter, Nancy, took over and The Varsity remains a family affair. It’s also become a favorite local chain with locations in Athens (a favorite for UGA fans since 1932), Kennesaw, Norcross, Dawsonville, the Atlanta airport and at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The original location just steps from the Georgia Tech campus, and still packed on game days, has been visited by a host of dignitaries including Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley, Burt Reynolds have all dropped by, and so did Clark Gable during the premier of “Gone With the Wind” in 1939 when he was served by iconic carhop John “Flossie Mae” Raiford, who worked at The Varsity for 50 years.
To mark the 90th anniversary, The Varsity is donating $90,000 to the Shepherd Center and SHARE Military Initiative, which provides help to veterans who struggle with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. In July and August, The Varsity is selling a special anniversary cup for $5.99 and offering free refills until Dec. 31 and 90 cent refills on Frosted Orange, vanilla and chocolate milkshakes. One hundred percent of those purchases will go toward the special fund.
The Varsity will cap off its festivities with a 90th anniversary party on Saturday, Aug. 18, where all menu items will be priced at just 90 cents all day at its various locations.
For more information, visit thevarsity.com.