Burger Chef, my alma mater.
Last week on the podcast I introduced listeners to story of my beginnings in the working world, my short and memorable first employer – the now defunct Burger Chef fast food chain. It was 1986, and the world was fresh and new to 16 year old swing. Maverick & Goose were flying high, President Reagan was kicking ass, and I had a battered 1977 Chevy Malibu that got 8 miles to the gallon, and that tank needed fillin. Where else can you earn $2.92 an hour and wear a humiliating rayon baby-shit brown safety-suit, all while rocking out with the hippest and most upwardly mobile folks in Central Ohio? There was only one place where it all went down.
It was an innocent time, I needed money and the flailing, struggling Burger Chef needed someone dumb enough to stand over a burning hot grill for 8 hours in a flammable polyester suit and soak up airborne grease. We were quite a couple, Burger Chef and I. My employment entailed the incredibly complex task of being the grillmaster’s helper, the #2 meat man…the “decorator”. I took the freshly pressed & cooked patties and splashed them with condiments and piled them high on freshly (or not so freshly) toasted buns….wrapped them up neatly (as if a blind paraplegic had wrestled them), and then sent them down a stainless steel playground slide to the front counter help. Easy peasy.
Sure, there was an intensive training period. I worked out to Kenny Loggins tunes, jogged, lifted weights, skipped rope to sharpen my mind and body to be a master of my meat-craft. It wasn’t enough to just wear the regulation one-size-fits-none pants and striped smock. You had to LIVE the meat decorating. You had to dream it, sweat it, do it without thought or contemplation. I bled grease and mayo, bitches.
Now, I mentioned it on the podcast but the brown regulation uni’s were a holdout from an earlier, more successful time in the Burger Chef arc. They were from 1979, but 7 years of hard laborious use hadn’t worn these sexy duds out at all…in fact the grease and teenager sweat had formed the fabric into a dense, indestructible matrix….like a poor man’s kevlar. In addition to being a walking firehazard, the suits acted as a super-insulator. All heat was retained and the balmy 114 degree temps around the grill station made wearing the whole get up quite cozy. Other interesting properties of the brown leisure suit was that it could repel women and small arms fire. How this was handy to my kitchen assignments, I really don’t know but it kept me focused on the important work of slathering cheap meat with ketchup.
Unfortunately for you, and fortunately for me, no pictures exist of my time in the brown sex I called the Burger Chef uniform…but some googling has revealed two photos of employees of that era dressed in these duds. This one shows Burger Chef Daryl, working behind the promotional characters Burger Chef & Jeff, manning my former station…the #2 grillmaster spot. Notice the sexy paper canoe hat, and how comfortable Daryl looks as his hair and pores soak up all that grease and heat.
This is another picture from around the same time featuring the same smock I had to endure, with the fantastically slick striped sleeves…embroidered so as to never fall off. I love this picture, because I imagine that just prior to this the manager informed Ronnie here to take the mop to the back of the store, and run off those pesky clowns and parade animals.
It was a hell of a uniform, notice the huge collars, the bewildered face on the poor guy….not unlike the vacant stare of a Holocaust victim right before liberation. How I wasn’t waist-deep in pussy after a hard shift, I’ll never understand.
So, we’ve seen the pride I obviously had in the digs and overall aesthetic of working Burger Chef. It’s not to say it was all bad. I dug the food. Really.
Burger Chef had some good burgers, and their apple pies with cinnamon sugar were the source of my gastrointestinal fortitude. Even as a youngin’ I begged mom to take me to the Chef for a Funburger box. Remember those? They fucking rocked. I still have a couple of the shitty little plastic frisbees that they came with.
There was a lot to love about the Chef. That was, until you spent some time cleaning the ladies bathroom with a mop and a little spray bottle of red cleaning fluid. Then, it was just a matter of survival. I can’t hold that against my former employer…such is the penence for a young man trying to better himself. It was a character builder, and if the brown suit didn’t kill me then some tampons and baby diapers weren’t going to.
In truth, I miss it sometimes.
Life was simple. Grab meat, squirt some stuff on it, throw it to a 17 year old girl that thinks you’re a douche while a manager that’s fresh out of community college screams at you, repeat/rinse.
Life turned out ok for me, I eventually graduated from the Burger Chef school of hard knocks and got that dream job at Putt Putt. But I’ll never forget the Chef and the good times…the pay, the women, the summer of love spent dodging flying beer bottles, putting every cent of my paycheck into gas to get home, the Silkwood-shower to remove the film of toxic grease from my clogged skin, it really was magical. Let me leave you with some more pics that capture the magic of Burger Chef. Mmmm.
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