A neon sign hangs in the window of a new Dallas burger shop. "Taste worth dying for," it reads. The neon in the window confirms your suspicion that some less-than-subtle gimmickry is at play: "Over 350 pounds eat free."
It's the Heart Attack Grill. The first one, in Phoenix, opened its doors in 2005, and they've somehow stuck around long enough to expand to Dallas' West End. It opened today. I stopped by around 1 p.m. today and a "nurse" met me at the door.
"I'm sorry," she said. "We're closed. We're having grill problems. But we'll be open tomorrow."
I told her I was a reporter and she asked me to hold on. She came back out with owner Jon Basso -- "Dr. Jon," as he likes to call himself.
"Tomorrow's our real opening. We're just having a few media today. But come in and I'll get you a Coke, full sugar, and we can talk."
"Oh, wait," he said. "She can't come in without a gown." Guests are referred to as patients and a "uniform" is required. A smiling nurse in an outfit two sizes too small and three sizes too short held one out for me and turned me around to tie the strings around my neck.
Basso told me he couldn't let me order any food. "We have to close down the grill and have a meeting about operations," he said. I did get to see a few burgers going out to customers though.
One I saw was the Double Bypass Burger. It's a pound of meat, two slices of cheese, bacon, and gobs of sauce. It's $9.24, but you can add eight bacon slices for $1.85.
I wandered around taking pictures. Folks, big folks, sat at the counter eating. Classic paintings redone with diner and hamburger and overeating motifs hung on the walls. The scantily clad "nurses" fawned over the guests. The fatter the better, praising their choice to come in and delighting at bringing them whatever they ask. It's like Hooters in Hell.
"How is it?" I asked one of the guys halfway through a Double Bypass Burger. He was a really big man.
"Good. Really good," he answered. Honestly? I wanted to slap that burger out of his hands and take him with me to my next Weight Watchers meeting. And I wanted to punch the good doctor in the face.
"Take this shot," he told me as he got in place between two women, pretending to listen to one of their hearts with a stethoscope.
I didn't get to see the Flatliner Fries. But on the menu, they boast that they are deep fried in pure lard. And their Butterfat Milkshakes? They advertise them as being pure cream. But the worst of the worst is their Quadruple Bypass Burger. It has 8,000 calories. Eight fucking thousand. There are "only" 704 in a Big Mac with cheese. Makes Mickey D's sounds like NutriSystem.
"By tomorrow we still won't be a well-oiled machine. But we'll be a machine," I overheard him say to a girl with a notepad and pen.
A well-greased machine, maybe.
The chain's own spokesperson died at the age of 29. He died from pneumonia, but Basso says that the guy would have likely survived if he hadn't been morbidly obese. From his burgers.
A massive blood pressure machine sits outside of the bathroom. A wheelchair sits by the door. A scale looms behind the counter. Rumor has it that patients who survive the Triple or Quadruple Bypass Burgers get wheeled to their cars by their own "private nurse."
Protestors were expected, apparently, giving out fresh fruit. I didn't see any. But I did see a number of signs posted on the fence across the street. "Healthy Kids Live Longer." "Don't be Tempted by Fat." (That one's adorned with a pitchfork.) "Slimming World gives you Health and Hope today.")
On the heels of last night's report of two obese women being told they couldn't fly on a Southwest flight, it seems all the more hideous. We're so fat we can't fit in an airline seat. We use scooters at the mall. We're getting fused to our chairs, and we're literally dying of fat-assedness.
And the Heart Attack Grill is happily along for the ride.
An earlier version of this story referred to the restaurant as the Heartache Grill. That is not the restaurant's name, and would probably be a different restaurant altogether.