During the next five years, Havis paid the former owner $60,000 in monthly installments of $1,000.
"That was a hard thousand dollars, too," he recalls.
The previous owner also passed along an old-fashioned piece of advice that Havis now recommends to others going into business on their own:
"This guy told me, 'When you get everything in order, try to keep at least $10,000 in the bank,'" he says. "Everybody's going to have rainy days, (and) things are going to happen that you don't have control over."
It's a lesson Havis has lived by ever since, and it saved his business when a fire destroyed the roof of the restaurant in the 1970s.
Biff Burger became Beef Burger in 1981. Havis decided to change the name because the Biff Burger chain had gone out of business, and he was uncertain about the legality of using the name.
But Beef Burger still draws on the loyalty many customers had developed toward the parent company, Bledsoe says, and many regulars still think of it as the same old Biff.
"Everybody in the know still calls it Biff Burger," Bledsoe says.
Changing With The Times
Although Beef Burger may look the way it did in the 1960s, and many of the menu items have not changed, Havis says the restaurant is quite a bit different than when he started working there.
"You sort of have to go with the people, whatever they come in and start asking for," he says. "You say, 'Well, I don't have it today, but we'll probably have it tomorrow.' You always got to have an open mind."
Havis' willingness to try new things has resulted in a menu that might seem bewildering to a customer at a burger joint in the 1960s. The Biff Burger menu in 1961 offered 10 or 15 items, he says, whereas the restaurant's current menu offers more than 100.
A few of the many items he has added to accommodate the public's changing tastes are fried vegetables of all sorts, apple sticks, macaroni-and-cheese nuggets, corn nuggets and nearly 30 milkshake flavors, including orange-pineapple, apricot and maple.
Focus On Service
Despite these and other changes, Havis says a dedication to providing good service has remained the cornerstone of the business.
"If I go to a place, I want everybody's full attention," he says. "If somebody's good enough to come into your place, you've got to treat them with respect and try to get them their food as fast as possible."
Some of Beef Burger's nine employees have been with Havis for several years and are as dedicated to customer service as he is. One of those employees is Pat Ellison, who has worked at the restaurant off and on since 1971.
"(They) get good service, and we care about them," she says of Beef Burger customers. "We make sure every order is right before it goes out."
Havis says that same attention to detail has gone into every one of the thousands of orders he has filled over the years.
When asked to speculate how many that might be, he declines to guess, instead saying with a knowing smile: "McDonald's does the counting. We deal in making people happy and having a good product."
Copyright American City Business Journals, Inc. August 15, 2005