One of those big steps was in 1972, when she married W. Frank Gordy Jr., son of the Varsity founder Frank Gordy. Another defining moment was in 1980, when her husband died. The younger Gordy had opened the Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh Drive in northeast Atlanta in 1965. Upon his death, his widow stepped in and ran the business.
But she did it her way, her style.
“When she came to the Varsity Jr., she had on a dress, all these nice things. Eventually somebody said, ‘You know, you probably can’t wear that to work,’” recounted Rudolph Anderson. In his 37 years working at the restaurant, he amassed rich memories of Susan Gordy’s hands-on approach (“She began to get behind the counter: ‘What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?’”), tireless work ethic and gusto for catering.
“Miss Gordy was the first person who had ever done catering at the Varsity Jr. Her catering went to the top,” said Anderson, recalling catering gigs for Delta Air Lines, the Fox Theatre, and ones that took them all the way to Washington, D.C., to feed Newt Gingrich and other Georgia politicos.
Anderson met Gordy when he was 22 years old and credits her for keeping him from running astray throughout his life. “She was like a mom more than an employer,” he said.
Many young Varsity Jr. employees felt the same way. Upon leaving the restaurant for another career, they would return to tell Gordy, “I’m so glad I worked for you. Everything I learned I was able to take somewhere else,” Anderson said.
Susan Gordy, owner of the Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh Drive, celebrated her retirement from the then-41-year-old eatery May 30, 2006, with 300 hot dog-eating friends, customers and family members. She and Patricia Guillen celebrated with a cake. Handout
Gordy generously shared what she learned about operating a family business with her sister-in-law, Nancy Simms, when the latter took over the Varsity in Midtown and its Athens location upon the death of her father in 1983. “She was a great example of managing employees, working behind the counter, greeting guests,” Simms said. “It was very unusual for two women to take over a business like that at the time. I didn’t think I would stay in the business, but when I got into it, I loved it. So did Susan.”
When Gordy retired in 2006, former Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell called it the “end of an era.” “I don’t know of anyone who has worked harder to serve the public,” Massell said at her send-off party held at the restaurant.
Gordy is remembered for her spirited personality. “We don’t want to be normal. Normal is boring,” Gordy once told Simms. “Susan was an over-the-top person with everything she did. If anyone loved to give a party, it was Susan Gordy,” Simms said.
A Susan Gordy party was meticulously planned with a theme, table settings and presents for guests. “She made sure everything was exactly right,” Katz said.
Varsity Jr. owner Susan Gordy was also known for her love of dogs. In a photo promoting the 2009 Atlanta Humane Society calendar are (from left) then-Atlanta Humane Society President Carl Leveridge, December "calendar dog" Jake and owner Kathy Akopov, Cotten Alston and Susan Gordy. Courtesy of Kim Link
Credit: Kim Link
Credit: Kim Link
Gordy did not have children, but the former board member of the Atlanta Humane Society adored dogs. At one time, she housed nine dogs — the majority acquired because their elderly owner had passed away. She referred to her house as a “puppy palace,” having dedicated a bedroom and bathroom for her canine rescues.
Gordy’s niece, Lisa Gregory, worked at the Varsity Jr. for 20 years and cared for her aunt when her health declined. “She brought a lot of class to a hot dog restaurant,” Gregory said. "She made an impact on everyone, everywhere she went.”
Due to the coronavirus, the family has planned a private graveside service.