Greensboro Is Biff Burger's Last Stand . . .
The Charlotte Observer, October 02, 1980
Charlotte, NC
By Jerry Bledsoe, Staff Reporter

Once, I was addicted to them. That was back in the days when McDonald's had sold only a million or so burgers and lots of other chains were springing up to give them competition.

One of them was Biff Burger. It was a franchise operation, Biff Burger buildings were great winged things done up in gaudy red, green and yellow. It was claimed that Biff Burger stands could be found all over the nation and in Canada as well. The ones I knew about in North Carolina were in Concord, Asheville, High Point, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Burlington. I'm sure there were others.

The reason I become so taken with Biff Burgers was that they simple were different from the burgers at all other 15-cent burger joints. McDonalds, Hardees, Burger Chef -they all made their basic burgers much the same: a thin piece of meat on a plain bun with a dab of mustard, a squirt of catsup, a slice of pickle. All rather blah.

But at Biff Burger . . . first of all, Biff Burgers were "Roto-Broiled." It said so right on the winged Biff Burger signs. The meat and bun were put on seperate rotating racks that carried them between heating coils that broiled teh meat and toasted the bun simultaneously, allowing the juices from the meat to drip onto the bun.

The bun was a high class bun, too, sesame seeded, giving it a nice nutty taste that enhanced teh flavor of the secret sauce Biff Burgers were dipped into. That's right. Secret Sauce. The secret sauce sat in a warmer right beside the Roto-Broiler, and every Biff Burger was dipped in it.

You could get extra sauce if you wanted. I always did. It made a Biff Burger messy and good. It was claimed many special spices were in that secret sauce, and it was the sauce, no question about it, that made the Biff Burger, or Biff as we afficionados called it.

Another great thing about a Biff, You could order it with onions if you liked. True, they were those awful reconstituted dehydrated onions, hardly edible except under the most drastic circumstances, but they seemed to blend well with Biff's secret sauce. Fresh onions, which I came to try, were just a bit harsh and overwhelming.

I become addicted to Biffs shortly after I got out of the Army early in 1963. I became such a regular at the Biff Burger in High Point that I soon was offered a part-time job there. I took it and in a matter of months managed to rise to the exalted position of manager.

I don't mean to be immodest, but I became a virtuouso at the Roto-Broiler. Starting from scratch, with a shelf full of wrapped buns and a big stack of fresh, 2-ounce all-beef patties uniformly pressed onto slips of waxed paper, I could turn out 17 Biffs a minute, wrapped and ready to serve, with onions if so ordered.

Bag of Biffs

On Tuesday special nights, when we sold Biffs for a dime and people lined up to tote them away by the sackful, I would spend hours at the Roto-Broiler without break, drenching myself with sweat and secret sauce.

It was a rare week when I didn't work at least 75 hours, some weeks as much as 90 hours and more. That cured my Biff addiction. Weeks would pass when I ate hardly anything but Biffs (I took them plain with cheese at breakfast). When I finally left Biff Burger in pursuit of journalistic glory, I didn't care if I ever saw another Biff.

I went years without eating one. But one time and nostalgia eventually cracked my resolve. Occasionally, I'd pass a Biff Burger and stop and have one for old time's sake.

Endangered Species

In recent years, however I began to notice that something was happening to Biff Burger places. I saw them converted to hot dog stands and Chinese take outs. The one I used to manage [North Point, NC] became a sub palace. Some simply vanished.

On recent trips to Florida, where Biff Burgers originated, I passed several that had been abandoned, their gaudy colors faded, the windows broken by vandals.

I began to wonder if Biff Burgers were about to become an endangered species. Then I realized that I knew of only one Biff Burger place that was still in operation when I last had been by it. That was on West Lee Street in Greensboro, and I dropped by the other day just to see if it was still there.

It was, thanks goodness, and I stopped and had a long talk with Ralph Havis, who's run it for 19 years. Ralph said that as far as he's been able to determine, his is Biff Burger's last stand. The parent company in Florida disappeared without a trace in the early '70s, he said, leaving the stores on their own.

Over the years since, the other stores converted to something else or closed. Ralph, who bought his store in 1971 after managing it nearly 10 years, held on. He has to have his own Biff Burger cups, wrappers and bags printed, but his customers want Biffs, indeed, demand Biffs. They come from other towns where Biffs once were available just to get them.

What about the sauce? Was Ralph still using genuine secret Biff sauce? When I was a Biff Burger manager, that suce came in gallon jars bearing no hint of what it was made from.

He assured me it was the real thing. The previous owners of his store, who were among the originial Biff Burger franchisees, had got ahold of the receipe and passed it on, but he guards it closely.

While we talked, Raplh saw me glancing longingly at the Roto-Broiler.

"Go ahead," he said. "Fix yourself one. See if you've lost your touch."

I tore the meat up trying to get it off the paper. I let my bun get away from me and get over toasted. I got more secret sauce on my hand than I did on mu burger (that stuff was a lot hotter than I remember it being), and when I reached for the wrapper to give it that old thumb-snap open, I flipped it into the air.

Ralph was polite enough not to laugh. Chagrined, I sat down and ate my effort. It was like many other things, neither as good nor as bad as I once had remembered.

[It is noted, that as of 2005, Ralph Havis still owns and manages, after 44 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 The Charlotte Observer, October 02, 1980

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