This article contains text that is written in a promotional tone. (January 2022)
|Food type||Fast food|
|Street address||61 North Avenue NW (original)|
|Seating capacity||800+ inside and 600 cars (Downtown location)|
|Other locations||Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (Atlanta), Kennesaw, Norcross, Dawsonville (Varsity Jr)--all in Georgia|
The Varsity is a restaurant chain in Atlanta, Georgia. The main branch of the chain was the largest drive-in fast food restaurant in the world, taking up two city blocks and accommodating up to 800 diners. The main location ended car-side service in 2020. There are now six other branches across metropolitan Atlanta.
Originally named "The Yellow Jacket", The Varsity was established in 1928 at the corner of Luckie Street and Hemphill Avenue in Midtown Atlanta. Its founder, Frank Gordy of Thomaston, Georgia, a Reinhardt University graduate, briefly attended The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) but dropped out in 1925. As the business grew, Gordy was forced to move the restaurant to 61 North Avenue (on the northwest corner of Spring Street). To accommodate the crowds, the present structure now covers two city blocks. It was here that the name was changed to "The Varsity," reflecting his desire to expand to other college campuses. During the drive-in era, The Varsity began its curbside service, which ended in 2020.
The current location in Atlanta is now adjacent to the Downtown Connector's interchange with North Avenue. When that freeway (now I-75/85) was built by GDOT, it took out several blocks of Williams Street and much of The Varsity's western parking lot, forcing a parking garage to be erected as a replacement. The restaurant and the Georgia Tech campus sit on opposite sides of the Connector, linked by the North Avenue bridge.
The enterprise has since expanded to Athens, Kennesaw, Norcross, Alpharetta, and Dawsonville. The first Athens location opened in 1932 at the corner of East Broad Street and College Avenue, but was closed around the late 1970s. Another Athens location opened further west on West Broad Street near Milledge Avenue in the 1960s. The latter location is scheduled[update] for demolition in 2021. The Varsity location in Athens closed in June 2021, though the company hinted that it might return to Athens. The Alpharetta location closed on February 1, 2016, and the building has since been demolished. The Varsity, Jr., located in northeast Atlanta, was the only other location of the chain to offer curbside service. The Varsity, Jr. closed in August 2010, having been at that location for more than 40 years, after the city of Atlanta did not approve the chain's plans to replace that building. The plans for the new Varsity, Jr. were instead used for the new location in Dawsonville. The restaurant offers catering services to the metro Atlanta region for both corporate and non-corporate functions, going as far east as Conyers and Stone Mountain, Georgia.
There is also a mini-Varsity on the campus of Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia. Frank Gordy met his wife, Evelyn, at Reinhardt in 1924 and went on to Georgia Tech to finish his education. Their custom-designed home was later moved from Atlanta to the Reinhardt University campus. The Gordy family gave part of their land to Cobb County for what is now the Mountain View campus of Chattahoochee Technical College and the Mountain View Aquatics Center, the rest was sold in the 1990s for upscale tract housing and strip malls. Gordy Parkway, a loop named for Frank Gordy, serves all of these.
One of the best-known employees at the Varsity was Erby Walker, who worked there for 45 years until he died in 2008. He started at the Varsity at the age of 15 sweeping floors, and was nearly fired on the first day, but soon graduated to the kitchen. Mr. Walker was noted for his ability to move the service line quickly, especially during the rush period right before a Georgia Tech football game. His signature catchphrase was, "Have your money out and your food on your mind, and I'll getcha to the game on time!" He retired in 2003, but came back three weeks later. That year Walker was inducted into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Hall of Fame.
Comedian Nipsey Russell began his entertainment career at The Varsity in the 1940s as a carhop. The creative and resourceful Russell would dress in a flamboyant style and pepper his order-taking duties with jokes and amusing songs, thereby earning him extra tips. U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all visited The Varsity during their terms in office. Mad artist Jack Davis has done advertising for The Varsity.
The Varsity claims to be "The World’s Largest Drive-in Restaurant." According to the Atlanta History Center, The Varsity receives over 30,000 people on days when a football game is playing. The restaurant receives several more visitors during Supercross Saturday and on Saturdays in July in general.
In 1996, The Varsity claimed that it served over 5,000 fried fruit pies, two miles of hotdogs, 300 gallons of chili, 2,500 pounds of potatoes and 2,000 pounds of onions every day. In 1998, The Baltimore Sun reported that the restaurant sold over 12,000 hotdogs a day and could deliver over 1,000 hotdogs a minute via conveyor belt.
It purportedly consumes more Coca-Cola than any other restaurant in the world.
- Junior's Grill - another Georgia Tech dining tradition; closed in 2011.
- What'll Ya Have: A History of the Varsity. Dick Parker. Looking Glass Books, 2003. ISBN 978-1-929619-18-4
- Images of America: The Varsity. Janice McDonald. Arcadia Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7385-8797-4
- "The Varsity Downtown". thevarsity.com. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- Conroy, Pat (November 14, 2004). "Cheese Dogs, My Father And Me". Parade. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- "World's Largest Drive-In". Free Enterprise Land. Archived from the original on August 23, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
- Palmer, Tamara (September 10, 2019). "The Best Atlanta Airport Restaurants to Try on Your Next Layover". Reader's Digest. Retrieved June 11, 2020.
- "Atlanta Icons: The Varsity". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- "Tech Timeline: 1920s". Georgia Tech Alumni Association. Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- McKibben, Beth (April 30, 2020). "The Varsity Reopens for Drive-In Service Only in Midtown". Eater Atlanta. Retrieved June 11, 2020.
- "Georgia Tech Living History Program: The Varsity". Retrieved April 13, 2015.
- Woods, Walter (June 7, 2002). "What'll ya have, Alpharetta?". Atlanta Business Chronicle. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- Chandler, Alvieann (June 22, 2021). "The Varsity closes doors on its Athens location after more than 50 years". Fox Carolina. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
- Allen, Stephanie (June 21, 2021). "The Varsity's Athens restaurant closes its doors - but teases potential new location". Athens Banner Hearald. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
- "Varsity says it will return to Athens after closing location". Associated Press. June 21, 2021. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
- "Erby Walker, Varsity counterman". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
Erby Walker was inducted into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Hall of Fame in 2003. This photo was taken at The Varsity in the 1970s.
- Holley, Joe (October 3, 2005). "Rhyming Funnyman Nipsey Russell Dies". Washington Post. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- "A Hot Dog Program". WQED Multimedia: Television. WQED. Archived from the original on June 7, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
- "About The Varsity". The Varsity.
- "The Varsity". Atlanta History Center.
- Brock, Wendell (October 21, 2015). "The Varsity: Where memories (and chili dogs) are made". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- "The Varsity". The Varsity. Archived from the original on December 23, 1996.
- Hedgpeth, Dana (August 24, 1998). "Serving up hot dogs, nostalgia Frankfurters: At The Varsity, a 70-year-old diner in Atlanta, customers can purchase red-hots made to order -- whether loaded with extra chili or plain 'nekkid'". The Baltimore Sun.
- Kazek, Kelly (November 4, 2018). "It's a southern thing".
- Official website
- Then (1953) / Now (2004) photo of The Varsity
- Then (1963) / Now (2003) photo of The Varsity