Customers swarm Varsity Jr. on its last day

The faithful, the nostalgic and the just plain hungry swarmed the Varsity Jr. on its last day of business.

Customers snaked out the door to the parking lost for most of Sunday at the 45-year-old dog and burger shack on Lindbergh Drive.

They stuck farewell notes on the glass walls, and gobbled artery-clogging chili dogs, chili "steaks" and "Frosted Oranges."

Four other locations in metro Atlanta will remain in operation, plus one in Athens.

Charles and Merle Griffin have been dining at one Varsity or another since they began seeing each other in 1954.

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The married couple traveled from Clarkston for a final date at the junior.

"We hate to see the Varsity Jr. close," Charles Griffin said. "It is a part of our history as a couple. We have some good memories here."

Merle Griffin then wiped some chili off her lover's lips, then he gave her a smooch.

Manager Lance Afolabi has been with the company for 14 years and said there were far more customers than normal Sunday.

"I'd say about three times normal," he said, "and that's a very conservative estimate."

The Varsity Jr. is closing due to an inability to meet zoning requirements with the City of Atlanta. Restaurant owners had hoped to build a new facility, complete with indoor restrooms.

"This has been one of the hardest decisions the Varsity family has had to make in our 82 years of operation," the restaurant's website states.

Employee Kelly Bibbs said she's worked at the Varsity Jr. for six years and now will move to the Varsity Gwinnett location. But it won't be the same, she added.

"I'm very sad about it closing," Bibbs said while taking orders Saturday night. "It's such a part of the community."

A new restaurant is already in the works for Dawsonville, near the outlet shopping center. It is expected to open by Christmas.

"When one door closes, another one opens," said Afolabi, who normally works in the Alpharetta location and will add Dawsonville to his commute when that one opens.

The AJC snagged a brief interview with him around lunchtime, when about all he could say was "make it quick" and that the crowd was "incredible." Later, the AJC got Afolabi before the dinner rush. But only for a couple minutes.

The crowd surged, and Afolabi, who'd been serving food since 9 a.m., was going to be at it until the restaurant closed at 10 p.m., for the last time.

"Ah, hey buddy," he told a reporter, "I gotta go."

AJC photographer Curtis Compton contributed to this article.

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