Monday, August 31, 2009

Profile: Louis Jones, server at the Varsity

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 5:30 PM

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“What y’all have?” Louis Jones has heard this greeting nearly every day for 57 years. Born and raised in Atlanta, Jones has served up chili dogs and frosted oranges at the downtown Varsity since before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

What is the first you do when you come into work at the Varsity?

I have to get the curb set up and get ready to wait on tables. We have to be ready to roll at 10 am.

What made you choose to work at the Varsity? And what made you stay here for so long?

The Varsity was a place that everyone worked at. During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, this was the place to come if you wanted to make some fast money. And a lot of the time, we had a lot of young ladies that worked here, too, so that was another reason.

How has Atlanta changed since you started working at the Varsity?

Everything we have now in Atlanta is just about brand new. Atlanta used to be nothing but a country town. There was nothing here but red mud. During the days that I was coming up, we raised our own chickens and plowed the fields

How has the Varsity’s uniform changed over the years?

We used to be able to work in anything we wanted to. Now we have to put on white pants and a red jacket because of the management changes. When Mr. [Frank] Gordy died in 1983, his daughter took over the place and she changed the dress code.

What was it like to work at the Varsity before the Civil Rights Act passed?

There was a time when blacks couldn’t come in here. Blacks [could work here] but not eat here. Civil rights arrived gradually. It was not all at once. It took its time.

Who was your worst customer?

One time I had a pistol drawn on me. A deputy sheriff did that to me, just for no reason. I came to work the next day and told Mr. Gordy that [the deputy] could have shot me. And Mr. Gordy told him to get off his property and never come back. [The deputy] thought Mr. Gordy was going to get on me, but Mr. Gordy got on him and told him not to come back anymore.

Have you ever served any celebrities at The Varsity?

We’ve had a lot of celebrities come in here. Bing Crosby, he’s been in here. [I served] Paul Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward once.

What is your favorite thing on the menu? Why?

That hot dog is a good dog! They are so good that people come from all around the world to get it. It’s just a good dog. You can’t beat that dog.

How has the menu changed over the years?

We added hot wings. In the 1960s, we didn’t sell hot wings.

Why is The Varsity so culturally important to Atlanta?

It’s all about the way you treat people. If you treat people well, they keep coming back.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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