Food & Drink
A Day at the Varsity
As the Atlanta drive-in institution prepares to celebrate its ninetieth birthday, G&G goes behind the scenes to spend a day in the kitchen and at the counter… “What’ll ya have?”
Whether your meal at Atlanta’s the Varsity happened at lunch last week, in 1996 during the Olympics, or between classes at Georgia Tech in the 1950s, the experience probably looked—and tasted—uncannily similar. “Atlanta’s like an Etch-A-Sketch; the skyline’s always changing,” says Ashley Weiser, whose great-grandfather, Frank Gordy, started the Varsity in 1928. “We’ve stayed the same.” Weiser’s first job, at age fifteen, was sweeping floors; today, she’s the Varsity’s marketing director, and in between has held just about every position you can imagine at the family-owned institution. She’s not alone: many employees have been with the Varsity for decades.
As an Atlanta native, I have fond childhood memories of scarfing down Varsity chili dogs before Braves games and topping meals off with frosted oranges, or F.O.s, in the restaurant’s lingo. So as the Varsity crept up on its 90th birthday celebration this Saturday, August 18, I went behind the scenes to see what makes this landmark drive-in tick. I assembled hand pies, slung battered onion rings into the fryer, prepped food in the “hotdog hole”—that’s the corner of the restaurant devoted entirely to dishing out the entree that started it all. “It’s old Atlanta, and it’s new Atlanta at the same time,” Weiser says. “The Varsity is for everybody.”
Click through the gallery for a closer look at a real Southern institution.