In the novel, “Red Clay and Roses”, Sybil and Nathan, an interracial couple, must find a suitable restaurant in which to dine in Atlanta. They needed food, but no sit-down service would accommodate them in 1954. They ended up at The Varsity, a drive-in restaurant that I will be showcasing today.
Many younger people today cannot begin to understand or relate to the oppressions of the black/African American race in the 20th century. Although the Civil War was over in 1865, and African American slaves were set free, the oppression of people of color lingered with prejudice, particularly in the Deep South, south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965 . They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states.
Some examples of Jim Crow laws are the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. The U.S. military was also segregated. The new laws in 1965 did not change much for a very long time in the South. I was born in Georgia in 1960 and my schools were first integrated in 1971, when I was eleven years old and in the fifth grade. We are; perhaps, the last generation in the U.S.A. to be forced, by law, into segregation.
line map between Penn. and Maryland
As for public places, restaurants were some places that had a very serious policy of segregation. Whites and blacks did not dine together. Blacks could cook and serve the food, but weren’t allowed to dine at the whites only establishments. Even after the Jim Crow Law was abolished in 1965, many made their establishments; schools, restaurants, and nightclubs, “Private” or “Members Only” to skirt the law. The Drive Through service restaurant really didn’t catch on until the 1970s.
In-n-Out Burger claims to have built the first Drive-Through restaurant in 1948.
Sierra Vista, Arizona, was the first city to have a McDonald’s drive-through. The first McDonald’s drive-through was created in 1975 near Fort Huachuca, a military base located adjacent to the city—to serve military members who weren’t permitted to get out of their cars while wearing fatigues.
Before the infamous Drive Through service, Drive In service burger joints had the market on quick service feeding frenzies. These offered a drive up curb service where patrons were often met by girls in shorts or short skirts on roller skates in the 1950s.
One of the earliest and most famous was originally named “The Yellow Jacket,’ Now, The Varsity, it was established in 1928 at the corner of Luckie Street and Hemphill Avenue in Midtown Atlanta. Its founder, Frank Gordy, a Reinhardt University graduate, briefly attended The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) but dropped out in 1925. Then, as now, the restaurant catered heavily to Georgia Tech students. The present structure, on North Ave. now covers two city blocks, and boasts to be the world’s largest Drive In restaurant. 600 cars can be accommodated at The Varsity at one time in a multi-level garage. In one night, they served 30,000.
One of the best-known employees at the Varsity was Erby Walker, who worked there for fifty-five years until he died in 2008. He started at the Varsity at the age of fifteen 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 car hop. 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. Madartist Jack Davis has done advertising for The Varsity.
Nipsey Russell in “The Wiz”
Along with ‘What’ll ya have?” the Varsity staff, as was common practice, developed their own jargon when calling out orders. Being a restaurant with an open grill, the customers could overhear the staff’s slang and eventually began adopting it as their own when placing orders. Recognizing that the customers enjoyed being ‘in on the joke’ the Varsity eventually began listing its items with both their conventional and jargon references on both their overhead and printed menus.
|a hot dog with chili and mustard
||same as a hot dog
||a plain hot dog in a bun
||a naked dog with mustard and ketchup
|Regular C Dog
||a chili dog with ketchup only
||a naked dog with ketchup only
||a naked dog with mustard only
||same as a yellow dog
||a hot dog with extra chili
|Walk a Dog (or Steak)
||a hot dog (or hamburger) to go
||a hamburger with mustard, ketchup, and pickle
||a hamburger with chili
||a hamburger with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato
|Mary Brown Steak (or Dog)
||a plain hamburger (or hot dog) without a bun
||a plain hamburger
||a naked hamburger
|Sally Rand Through the Garden
||a naked hamburger with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise
||a Varsity Orange without ice
||a frosted orange shake
||coffee with cream
||pure chocolate milk (always served with ice)
||a P.C. without ice
|All The Way
||with onions (on a hot dog, hamburger, etc.)
|Bag of Rags
||a bag of chips
||order of onion rings
||onions on the side
||Varsity Orange, the original carbonated orange soda drink
||Lazy Gordy, a Naked Dog and a Sprite