Greensboro Daily News, July 31, 1981
By Jerry Bledsoe, Staff Reporter
I haven't had such a shock since I drove into Myrtle Beach a few years ago and discovered Sloppy Joe's, one of my favorite eateries, gone, torn down to make room for a Ripley's Museum, believe it or not.
There was only one Sloppy Joe's, and in the end there was only one Biff Burger. That was right here in Greensboro on West Lee Street. It was Biff-Burger's last stand.
Once there had been a nationwide chain of Biff Burgers. Scores of them. That was back about th beginning of the '60s when chains of 15¢ hamburger joints were sprouting everywhere. Greensboro had three Biff Burgers - on Bessemer, Battleground and Lee. High Point had one, Burlington one. Others were spread about the state.
But in the late '60s, for whatever reasons, the Biff Burger chain began to wane. Sometime in the early '70s, the parent company, which was in Florida, disappeared without a trace. Lacking support, Biff Burger stands began to fold. The one on Battleground became a hot dog stand for a while and now stands empty. The Bessemer Biff became a chinese restaurant. High Point's eventually became a sub shop.
It was in High Point that I was introduced to Biff Burgers. I loved them from first bite. They were different from all other 15¢ burgers. They were Roto-Broiled, for one thing. No other chain had the Biff Roto-Broiler that cooked the meat and toasted the bun at the same time, allowing the meat juices to drip onto the bread. Those buns were sesame-seeded, too, adding a touch of class.
But the thing that set Biffs off from all other burgers was the secret sauce they were dipped into. It was the sauce, no doubt about it, that made Biffs special.
I became so enamored of Biffs that I took a part-time job at the High Point Biff Burger in 1963. Within a matter of months, I rose to the exalted position of manager. But after a while, the pressure of 16-hour days, 7-day weeks, and Biff Burgers three meals a day began to take its toll, and I decided the newspaper business, while less lucrative, was more appealing.
My sentimental attachment to Biff Burgers remained strong, however, since, if you are what you eat, I'd been one for nearly a year. But I'd also met Linda at the Biff Burger. I hired her at 80¢ an hour and was quick to recognize her potential. Gave her a dime raise.
This special place that Biff Burger had in my heart was why I felt so strongly about the Biff Burger on Lee Street. Ralph Havis was manager of that Biff Burger whle I was manager in High Point. He managed it for 10 years before he bought it in 1971. It was only a couple of years later that the Biff Burger parent company disappeared.
As other Biff Burgers folded or became something else, Ralph held on. He had his own cups, wrappers and bags printed. He kept the funny Biff boy trademark alive in his ads. More importantly, he kept the Roto-Broiler rotating and the secret sauce steaming. He'd obtained the sauce recipe when he bought his store from one of the original Biff franchise owners.
Each year, Ralph tried to pay his annual franchise fee, but he never could find anybody to take it. Each year, too, the number of Biff Burger stands grew fewer, and eventually Ralph wasn't ablt to find another one still operating anywhere. He was the last. [It is noted that a few Biff-Burger Drive-Ins were still in operation at this time, such as the ones in Hummels Wharf, PA, which closed in 2001, and St. Petersburg, FL which still operates today!]
Ralph's customers were devoted to Biffs, though, and as Biff lovers in other areas discovered he was still in business, they began to make frequent pilgrimages to West Lee Street. I used to stop in every now and then myself when I happened to be in the area. Last Fall, Ralph let me make my own Biff, for old times' sake.
So you can imagine my shock when I drove down Lee Street the other day and saw that the Biff Burger was now the Beef Burger. I couldn't believe it. Had Ralph given up the fight? Sold out?
When I stopped to find out, Ralph assured me that nothing had changed but the name. On May 1 , his 10-year contract with Biff Burger had expired. He didn't own the name. He was afriad some wheeler-dealer would but it and come demanding past sums, causing troubles. So he reluctantly decided to change the name to Beef Burger, the closest he could come to Biff.
Ralph still cooks he burgers on the Roto-Broiler. He still dips them in the secret sauce, which remains unchanged. The question, however, is this: Is a Biff by any other name still a Biff? The taste may be the same, but somehow the romance seems gone.
[It is noted, that as of 2005, Ralph Havis still owns and manages, after 40 years of service, the Biff-Burger, renamed to Beef Burger, located on West Lee Street of Greensboro, North Carolina. I truly hope that Ralph keeps it open for many more years to come.]
Copyright Greensboro Daily News, July 31, 1981