Believe it or not, Biff stands for "Best in Fast Food" and rapidly became a well known name across the southeast of the United States. What made Biff the best in fast food? Could it possibly be that their burgers had that unique char-broiled taste derived from the "roto-broiled" process? ...or could it be because of their wonderful special sauce?
This roto-broiled, as stated on many of the original Biff-Burger signs, was Biff-Burger's signature to fame as a 100% beef burger was placed on a upper rotisserie rack and was broiled between two heating elements, similar to glowing quartz tubes in a space heater. A lower rack within the roto-broiler was also used to place the buns that caught the drippings from the burger as it broiled on the upper rack, flavoring the buns. After a few minutes, the cooked burgers came out the other side of the covered broiler and was ready for dipping into the special sauce before being placed between the pre-heated buns.
The Clearwater-Largo, Florida based company sold restaurants to hundreds of franchisees across the country (see former locations). The original restaurants were portable metal facilities that featured 'walk-up' or 'drive-in' service while table seating was provided outdoors. The photo below of a Biff-Burger in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina shows classic Biff-Burger architecture with the use of 3 colored diamonds (red, yellow, and teal blue), walk-up counter, and the "W" shaped steel structure with upswept canopy roofs. This photo also shows the classic Biff-Burger road sign with lighted star which was quite common as many of the locations.
So what happened to Biff-Burger?
According to my on-going research, it is not exactly clear as to what the demise was that caused the National Biff-Burger System (NBBS), and its Biff-Burger chain of burger restaurants to mysteriously disappear from history. It has been reasonably concluded that the Biff-Burger chain and its corporate umbrella of the National Biff-Burger System went completely out of business in 1976, based on credible sources.
Various documented sources indicate that Mary Carter Paint Company, the umbrella company that owned the National Biff-Burger System, Inc. in 1962, and supported the individual Biff-Burger Drive-in locations, had some financial difficulties during the 1960s as they sought out other business ventures; some of them being "risky in nature", such as casino resorts. In 1968 Mary Carter Paint, whom owned the National Biff-Burger System as a subsidiary, was sold for 9.9 million dollars and became Resorts International (Resorts). Prior to the sale of Mary Carter Paint, Mary Carter Paint branched out by buying 3500 acres of Grand Bahama Island and built a residential development called Queens Grove. Shortly thereafter, Mary Carter became a business partner in Paradise Island and ran a small casino in Nassau until the Paradise Island Hotel finally open in December of 1967. Resorts had visions of owning and operating casinos around the world and became active in pursuing support for a gambling bill limiting gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After the fourth attempt to legalize gambling in New Jersey, the bill finally passed in 1976. Shortly in May of 1978, the first legal gambling casino was opened in Atlantic City by Resorts International.
Why all the history on Mary Carter Paint, Resorts International, and gambling?
Well, until documented evidence is found indicating why the National Biff-Burger System and Biff-Burger drive-ins seemed to "disappear" over night, one can reasonably speculate and relatively conclude from credible documentation, that there appears to be a correlation with the disappearance of Biff-Burger (NBBS) in 1976 and the legalization of gambling in Atlantic City in 1976. Could it be that after the sell of Mary Carter Paint and its subsidiaries to becoming Resorts International, that Resorts "held" onto the subsidiary of the National Biff-Burger Systems and its franchised drive-ins only long enough that their "vision" of owning and operating casinos finally became a reality in 1976? Until we know the "true" story, something happened within Resorts International (formerly Mary Carter Paint Company), which in turn caused the National Biff-Burger System to cease.
Upon the National Biff-Burger System being non-operable, the "supportive" relationship between the corporate entity of the National Biff-Burger System and its drive-in locations, most of them believed to be franchised, started the "spiraling" collapse of this former legendary burger drive-in which once stretched from Florida to Toronto, Canada. Without the corporate support from the National Biff-Burger System, restaurants scrambled to find suppliers for the various food items and printed paper products once formerly arranged and supplied by corporate. As this wasn't enough damage, Burger King at the time was also growing and becoming a more dominant player in the fast food hamburger industry.
Burger King, originally known as "Burger King of Miami, Inc.", was co-founded in 1954 in Miami, Florida by James W. McLamore and David Edgerton, later becoming the Burger King Corporation in 1972 as we know it today. McLamore and Edgerton were eager to expand their restaurant business by deciding to offer restaurant franchises. By 1961, Burger King of Miami, Inc. had acquired national franchise rights to the company and was operating 45 restaurants throughout Florida and the southeastern United States. Due to the difficulties that the National Biff-Burger System (NBBS) was experiencing during the early 70's, many of its Biff-Burger restaurant locations were closed, sold, and actually converted into Burger King locations. That's right.... I'm not saying that a modern day burger from Burger King tastes like a former burger from Biff-Burger, but there are some similarites with roto-broiling, char-broiled, and later char-grilled processes. Things change over time, but the Biff-Burger burgers didn't taste anything like McDonald's fried patties!
Despite the fierce competition with other fast food big players like: Burger King, McDonald's, and Wendy's, just to name a few, several Biff-Burger locations managed to carry on for a few years, some even a decade or two after the coporate entity (the National Biff-Burger System) went "belly-up" in 1976, however in the end, all of the former Biff-Burger locations disappeared into history except for two!
Two Locations Remain!
Today, only two (2) known locations of the former Biff-Burger chain still exist. The location at 1040 West Lee Street in Greensboro, North Carolina continues on, as Beef Burger, re-named during the 1980's but is still referred to as Biff-Burger by the local community. The other is located at 3939 49th Street N. in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The St. Petersburg location is the ONLY Biff-Burger location still left in existence which uses the Biff-Burger name and is of the original "Port-A-Unit" building construction with upswept canopy roofs. This location also has many elements of the "classic" Biff-Burger architecture and features with an existing original road sign (just slightly modified) with a lighted "star" ball!
Despite the fact that many Biff-burger locations were built in the 1960's, many former Biff-Burger buildings are still in existence and are used by other business today. A few excellent examples of former Biff-Burger Drive-Ins that exist today include: Montgomery, AL, Auburndale, FL, and Byron, GA (see Former Locations). It is incredible that after nearly 50 years, many of these locations still exhibit the "Port-A-Unit" building, upswept canopy roof, concrete seating area, and the distinctive road sign, in very good condition.
If you had the chance to grow up with experiencing or visiting a Biff-Burger Drive-In, consider yourself fortunate. For many, the smells and tastes of various Biff-Burger menu items are now just a distant fond memory tucked away somewhere in the back of your mind. The taste of a delicious broiled burger smothered with special sauce, a curled biff dog, and an orange fountain drink brings back "good times" for many. Heck, tater tots too....
If you have the chance, please consider visiting the remaining two (2) locations while they are still around to enjoy. The Biff-Burger chain may be a part of the distant past from the 50's, 60's, and early 70's, but its history will live on and be not forgotten!