"But our mainstay is still the Biff-Burger," Musser said.
Biff-Burger, which has been at its present location since 1962, was sort of a forerunner of Checkers before hitting bottom in 1977. The Clearwater-based company had sold restaurants to dozens of franchisees. The restaurants were portable metal facilities that featured walk-up or drive-in service; seating was outdoors.
While the franchisees struggled and eventually disappeared, one entrepreneur kept alive the last location and got the rights to the name, building sales up to $500,000 a year in the process.
Then Musser took over in 1982, spending $500,000 on parking lots, a covered patio and Buffy's (Get it? Biff's sister), an adjoining barbecue stand boasting a 1957 Chevrolet on the roof.
Not everybody loves the scene. Protesting neighbors persuaded the City Council to turn down Biff-Burger's request to serve mixed drinks. Biff-Burger already gets 8 percent of sales from beer and wine, which ironically has meant nobody under 18 can get into this replica of a teenage hangout without their parents in tow. Off-duty police hired for security get help from a rooftop sentry scanning the lot with binoculars.
Musser, the only child of a broken home, came by his inventiveness and work ethic early.
He got his first job at 8 and was shining shoes at 10. In junior high, he sold his own homemade version of Muzak to supermarkets. At 25, he was a city council member in Fort Collins, Colo., and owned a refrigeration business with 35 trucks combing the Denver area. Then he moved to Florida in search of a new challenge.
One of his first additions to Biff-Burger was roller-skating car hops. They were sidelined to keep the insurance company at bay after custom-car owners discovered the place and the crowds got too big.
Now 15 custom-car clubs stage meetings and competitions at Biff-Burger, and buffs from all over Florida cruise the lot on Wednesdays and Fridays. Saturday is country music night.
"I never thought it would evolve into this," said Musser, 50, who once won a car in a jitterbug contest.
Musser has even found an audience among foreign tourists in search of authentic Americana.
"We had a fellow marketing Biff-Burger T-shirts back in Germany," Musser said. "He sold hundreds."
Copyright Times Publishing Co. June 12, 1995