The final Blimpy Burger: 'All good things come to an end'
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The last Blimpy Burger.
Served to 16-month-old Jackson Turer at 10:17 p.m. on Wednesday, August 14, 2013.
To be precise, the last Blimpy Burger served at the corner of Division Street and Madison Street to a regular paying customer.
Likely very similar to the first Blimpy Burger, served in the same location in 1953.
The carefully rehearsed series of steps that begins with waiting in line and ends with not wanting to rise for a number of hours has certainly not changed much over the past 60 years.The journey to the last burger begins at 7:13 p.m. as Jackson and his parents are followed into a line that stretches down the street and around the block by a Blimpy employee tasked with turning away any further customers.
“Last night we were out here until 2 a.m. so we closed the line a little earlier today,” says Ray, who has been working at the burger joint for 6 and a half years and is not sure where his next job will be.
“People have tried to bribe me to get into the line but I’m not susceptible to any of that. They do take it a bit more kindly when I sing it to them that they won’t be able to stay.”
Jackson’s father Dave Turer, a resident at the University of Michigan Hospital, carries his son past the planter in front of the store at 8:57 p.m. The flower bed that doubles as the home for current owner Rich Magner’s winter creations is in full bloom. Despite an unseasonable cool spell, the only bear onlooker to the last burger will be the large stuffed animal manning his post in the corner.
Clink clink; tap tap; sizzzzz.
Into the door at 9:35 p.m. and the sounds and smells of Blimpy collide with the senses.
Clink clink; tap tap; sizzzzz.
As Paul Hoppin rhythmically pounds the final patties into the grill, the air is heavy with the “Vitamin G” that he has been serving to the people of Ann Arbor for the past 25 years. He will continue cooking after Blimpy closes, albeit in the less pressure-packed confines of Afternoon Delight Cafe.
While the burger is undoubtedly the piece de resistance of a Blimpy meal, Jackson and his party have a number of choices before they reach the main event. After a short debate, the wall cooler, always fully stocked with Orange Crush and a variety of root beers and cream sodas was opened for the final time at 9:53 p.m. for three Sprecher root beers.
Small stacks of napkins soon to face losing battles are unceremoniously deposited on trays as a tired-sounding Greg Dryer poses the first question of the night.
“Anything from the fryer?”
Dryer is a relative newcomer at Blimpy, having only joined the staff last August. After tonight he’ll continue with his day job as a landscaper in Ann Arbor.
A “Papa” mixed vegetables and a “Mama”-sized portion of onion rings are dipped into the hot oil. They emerged — crispy and brown — at 10:07 p.m., just as the neon “OPEN” burger sign is unplugged.
“What’s your burger today?”
There are more than 2.1 million answers to Hoppin’s question, but the final one was simple, a single on a regular bun.
The last patty joins the controlled chaos that Hoppin orchestrates at 10:11 p.m. With onions and banana peppers simmering in the corner, bacon sizzling under hot presses and eggs frying on the far right, the patties are directed across the grill.
Hoppin started at Blimpy Burger in 1988 and seems almost shell-shocked that he is working his final shift.
“The one thing about working here is you never knew who was going to walk through the door next. Whether it was a senator, astronaut, a rock and roll star, anything could happen,” he says. “And the locals I’ve watched a lot of families grow up over the years. That’s one thing I’m really, really, going to miss.”
Once he has properly flattened and pressed Jackson's patty, Hoppin places a single slice of American cheese on it.
Then he adds the finishing touch to Jackson’s burger, a solitary dab of ketchup, and Joel Cronenwett tallies up the final order on the register that has dispensed so many two-dollar-bills and fifty-cent pieces over the years. He’s been working at Blimpy part-time for more than a decade and plans to continue his primary job as Greg’s foreman in the landscaping business.
As the last burger is served, music fills the air. Herm Steinman has been playing the bagpipes at the annual Blimpy Christmas party for more than 10 years and Magner invited him to perform a swan song as the final customers enjoyed their meals.
Though Magner hopes to open in a few months at a new location, Wednesday was the last regular business day for the restaurant at its original location. The University of Michigan has purchased the property to make way for a 600-bed graduate residence.
“The truth is all good things come to an end,” Steinman says. “You want it to go on and on and on, but that’s just the way it is.”
Jackson Turer is a toddler of few words and simple sounds, but he has a wide smile on his face as he polishes off his first and final Blimpy Burger at 551 S. Division St.
On this evening, his smile speaks for us all.
Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2