GREENSBORO — A rumor circulating on social media that Beef Burger was closing sent hundreds flocking to the iconic burger joint on Monday around lunchtime.
Employees who scrambled to fill orders as a line of patrons wrapped around the building said to disregard the Facebook posts. For good measure, they taped a sign to a window letting customers know they’re “still open,” Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
But many still wondered if there was some truth to the rumor. If not today, then in the near future.
Jerry Mills, a long-time Beef Burger customer, said he was there to “support Ralph” — regardless of whether or not the venerable restaurant was closing.
That’s “Ralph” as in Ralph Havis, who bought Beef Burger in 1971 and is rumored to be hospitalized.
As customers waited in line for what they feared might be their last Beef Burger burger, people were heard asking one another the same question: “Do you know how Ralph is doing?”
Havis is thought to be in poor health, but several customers and employees said they weren’t exactly sure why he is in the hospital.
For people like Mills, Havis and Beef Burger are an integral part of the Greensboro community. Beef Burger, once called Biff-Burger, began as a chain of drive-up hamburger stands that sprouted from Florida to Toronto in the mid-1950s. Some locations in the Biff chain, which stood for “best in fast food,” were gobbled up by Burger King in the 1960s.
To avoid confusion, then-owner Homer E. Griggs changed the name of his remaining restaurants to Beef Burger. Havis, who bought the franchise 10 years after he started working there, owns the last remaining Beef Burger.
Beef Burger’s vintage style has changed little over the years, making a visit to the restaurant a sentimental experience for some. The building, with its sloping roof and wall of windows, boasts familiar faded yellow, blue and red paint.
Inside, the sizzling of grease and the smell of burgers and fries — that’s never changed.
Neither has the decor, which checks all the boxes for a classic 50s diner, right down to the checkered floors. Glass windows separate the kitchen and staff from the customers that walk up to the yellow counter and place their order.
For some, it’s the same order they’ve been placing for decades.
“My parents brought me here,” said Mills, who has been a customer for over 50 years. Mills grew up down the road from Beef Burger, but even living in Pleasant Garden now, he still visits a few times a week.
“My brother owns West Lee Street Tire next door,” Mills said. When the broiler would be on the fritz at Beef Burger, Mills said someone at his brother’s business would come over to weld it and keep it going.
He said he can’t imagine what would happen if Beef Burger closed.
“It’s where local people eat,” Mills said. “The people there are lined up, sure. But most of them ain’t here for lunch. Not really.
“They’re here to support Ralph.”
And customers weren’t the only ones there Monday to support Havis.
When former employees Tabatha Robinson and Tameshia Scott-Frazier saw the rumors on Facebook, they knew Beef Burger was going to flooded with support from loyal customers. So they came to help out.
“I don’t know how it got on social media that the owner is dead or that we’re closing,” said Robinson, who has worked on and off at Beef Burger for 20 years. “But he is alive. He’s doing better.”
“And we’re not closing,” she added. “We are thriving. We appreciate all of the support.”
Robinson said customers looking to help the restaurant don’t need to worry about Beef Burger running out of food, either. Everything is stocked, she said, so “keep it coming.”
The parking lot packed with cars, and the line out the door reminded Robinson of Beef Burger’s glory days. She recalled a shift in which she once served over 2,000 burgers.
“This is what it used to be like for us,” she said. “This was everyday.”
Contact Jamie Biggs at 336-373-4476 and follow @JamieBiggsNR on Twitter.