The Varsity — a 92-year-old fast food institution in midtown Atlanta — temporarily closed July 9 after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, the AJC reports. When the restaurant reopens on Friday, it will be without its famous drive-in featuring its equally famous carhops.
“Because our area has seen an uptick in cases in recent weeks, as well as ever-changing protocols from local and state authorities, we did not feel it was prudent to continue curbside service at our Midtown location,” the Varsity vice president John Browne says in a prepared statement.
The logistics involved in thoroughly sanitizing the drive-in, coupled with the need for carhops to properly socially distance themselves from patrons while also wearing a mask in the Georgia heat has proven too challenging. As a result of the drive-in’s closure, the Varsity is laying off 18 employees.
While the drive-in remains closed for now, people can still order takeout and dine inside. Plexiglass dividers are installed along the counters, hand sanitizer is available, and diners are strongly encouraged to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order Wednesday evening requiring masks to be worn inside commercial businesses (like restaurants and grocery stores,) other buildings and spaces open to the public within the city limits, and outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. However, the order does not detail how the mandate will be enforced or if violators face fines.
Frank Gordy opened the Varsity on North Avenue in August 1928, just east of Georgia Tech in Midtown. It’s now the world’s largest fast food drive-in, and has become one of Atlanta’s biggest tourist attractions. The restaurant is known for its carhops uttering the famous catchphrase, “What’ll ya have” when taking orders. The most oft-ordered combo is the chili dog paired with a frosted orange — a vanilla milkshake mixed with the Varsity’s original orange drink. Over the years, the restaurant has served several presidents like Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, and Barack Obama, and movie stars such as Clark Gable.
The Varsity now has locations in Norcross, Kennesaw, Dawsonville, and Athens, along with two locations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The airport restaurants continue to remain closed due to the health crisis.
Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.