By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Whatever you want, you get
Placeholder Image

 Several weeks ago, our family stopped to eat at a fast-food restaurant in North Atlanta.

 Expectantly we ordered the usual - hamburger, fries, and a soft drink; we waited and waited and waited. In about 45 minutes, the food came.

 It was the worst we'd seen or tasted. We left and drove quickly to another location, a place where, by contrast, in just minutes we had everything we wanted, and more.

The place? The Varsity, the world's largest drive-in, the famous landmark

overlooking Georgia Tech, and casting its familiar shadow outward onto Atlanta's bustling streets.

Frank Gordy, founder of The Varsity, was always a stickler for quick service; that's the whole idea of so-called fast-food. No long periods of waiting and no complaints; these were some of the things he lived and worked for, even when thousands poured into this popular place beginning in the 1930s.

Located at North Avenue and I-75 in Atlanta and occupying an entire block, The Varsity is one of the world's most unusual restaurants; it is the gathering place for nearly 20,000 people each day who come to enjoy a wide choice of food which includes, hot-dogs, hamburgers, barbecue, chicken salad, ham, onion rings, pimento cheese, fried pies, ice cream, cold drinks and coffee.

 They fill the spacious building, which has a large dining area, five television rooms, desk seats and stand-up counters, plus a huge outdoor parking lot with a unique drive-in system.

The Varsity, meaning "first-string," was named by Frank Gordy in 1928, when he opened as one of America's first places to have curbside service. Starting with a small hamburger shack with room for only a few automobiles, the drive-in now accommodates hundreds of cars.

 In fact, it now has "the launching pad," the nation's first and only double-decker parking lot.

Walter Frank Gordy was born in Thomaston in 1904.

 After attending high school at Reinhardt Academy in Waleska, he enrolled in Georgia Tech; there his vision for fast-food appeared. He opened a hamburger grill to serve students at Tech and dropped out of college to pursue his career. He envisioned a nationwide chain of restaurants.

Time passed. Then in 1928, he expanded by opening the now famous drive-in, a prototype of things to come on the American scene.

Gordy advertised "The best food, served fast and with a smile."

 And smile he did as his genius developed a system for mass-production of everything from fried pies to onion rings.

Today, The Varsity sells more hot-dogs, more hamburgers, more fried pies, more onion rings, more bread and more Coca-Cola than any other single place in the world.

In 1932, he opened The Varsity in Athens, directly across the street from the famous University of Georgia Arch.

 He later closed the Athens enterprise because he felt his presence was needed to make it a success, and he couldn't be in two places at one time.

His first franchise went to his son Frank Gordy, Jr. who opened The Varsity, Jr. in Atlanta at Lindberg Drive at Cheshire Bridge Road. His son died in 1980, and the restaurant is now run by his wife Susan.

Gordy and his enthusiastic employees actually invented a food language to go with his treats. When you order potato chips, someone calls for a "bag-o-rags," for fries it's "strings" and when you want a hamburger with mustard, ketchup and pickles, with onions on the side to go, someone shouts, "gimmie a steak sideways walkin."

Frank Gordy was a perfect example of the American Dream. He believed that if you make other people happy, you will be happy, that you should do what you like to do, or at least learn to like what you do.

Selling hot-dogs and making people happy was what Frank Gordy loved to do, and he did it well.

 Running his brain-child was fun; he loved people and wanted to make them happy. Sitting at a desk was not his cup of tea; he was always out there with the people, with a smile, a handshake, a word of cheer to everyone. He was the center of the vibrant, throbbing, fun-loving crowd of sports fans and others and said: "Atlanta grew up around me."

In short, Gordy was a man who made things happen.

When he died on June 18, 1983, for the first time in 20,000 days of operation, the Atlanta fast-food landmark was closed.

 For the first time, the glass doors were locked, and a chilly silence enveloped every corner. Since his death, the restaurant has been run by his wife Evelyn and his daughter Nancy Sims.

In October 1984, a two-story, red-brick building was dedicated at Reinhardt College, the school where Frank met his wife, the former Miss Evelyn Jackson, in the 1920s.

 It was the gift of Gordy, a 400 capacity dining room at the school. It's called the Varsity.

This building will always remind people of the champion of fast-food who had a heart to give people what they wanted; the man with a million friends and more.