The creator of America's best burger died recently. Her full name was Annie Bell Price; but to those who knew her and loved her famous burgers, she was simply known as "Ms. Ann." For forty-plus years, Ann was the owner and head cook-in-charge of an Atlanta snack bar that made her a local icon and respected restaurateur.
Ms. Ann, known mostly for the oversized big body sandwich, better known as the "Ghetto burger," was one of Atlanta's best kept culinary secrets until The Wall Street Journal in 2007 named her Ghetto Burger the world's greatest burger. Now, the modest burger joint that Ms. Ann began in 1971 is an internationally known destination for a goodly number of foodies and hamburger lovers who visit Atlanta each year.
In fact, over the last decade Ms. Ann's growing national reputation made her snack bar one of the most culturally and socially diverse dining scenes in Atlanta. On any given day at Ann's bar you could find a local politician, corporate executive, minister, college student, neighborhood derelict and family member all waiting in line to dine at Ann's altar of greasy goodness.
Even high-profile celebrity figures like Sean "Diddy" Combs, Robert Duval and food critic Raymond Sokolov, just to name a few, have taken the journey throughout the years to Atlanta's eastside to experience Ms. Ann's gastronomical joy ride.
I've personally eaten at Ms. Ann's snack bar more times than I can remember. I was first told about it by some college buddies of mine who told me I wasn't a real resident of Atlanta until I had eaten a Ghetto Burger; and then they proceeded to make a bet with me that I couldn't finish eating one in a single sitting. They were wrong.
I took one look at the mouth-watering, artery clogging Ghetto Burger that made Ms. Ann famous and I was transported to a burger paradise like none other. Needless to say, I victoriously finished it all and became a loyal customer.
In all honesty, I can't say definitively what made Ms. Ann's burgers so special. Lots of places sell gigantic double cheeseburgers, fried with massive pieces of onion and topped with bacon, a little chili sauce and lettuce and tomato. The only thing that I've been able to conclude is that other places just don't have Ms. Ann's "burger cooking hands" or her secret seasoning that she kept as guarded as a winning lottery jackpot ticket.
What's also not completely clear is why Ann's famous burger is called "ghetto." In reality, there's really not much "ghetto" about it per se, except maybe its surroundings. Ms. Ann's snack bar is located in what was once an economically depressed area of Atlanta which is probably what led some of Ms. Ann's early patrons to start referring to her signature burger as "ghetto." And though calling the burger "ghetto" would have probably offended the politically correct sensibilities of most restaurateurs, Ms. Ann saw it as an opportunity to brand her burger and expand her business.
As it turns out, she was right. Once word got out about Ann's "ghetto burger" and the "hood burger" that she later added to the menu, her snack bar has been piping hot ever since.
But like so many other business icons and great cooks, it's not apparent that Ms. Ann fully understood how much the success of her business was inextricably tied to the power of her own personality. Perhaps this is why Ms. Ann had such a hard time selling her burger joint, which The New York Times reported in 2010, had an eye-popping price tag of $1.5 million.
Eventually, Ann dropped the price down to the more reasonable amount of $450,000 but was never able to sell it and retire to her rocking chair as she desired. Unfortunately, it appears Ms. Ann had an understandably high estimation of her product but a low understanding of how much its value centered upon her legendary persona.
What made Ms. Ann's snack bar famous wasn't just humongous well-seasoned burgers and dangerously sweet-southern sweet tea. It was the eccentric dining experience itself. It was Ms. Ann telling customers that they must go outside to use their cell phones. It was the posted rules on the wall that required all customers to be wearing a shirt and know what they wanted when they stepped up to the counter to order. It was Ms. Ann telling customers that didn't like the rules that they could go down the street and get a burger from Checkers if they didn't like it. It was Ms. Ann smiling with pride as she told the story to customers about how she built an internationally known business selling "ghetto burgers".
In other words, Ann's success was never just about her food, it was about the hands and heart of the person that made the food.
Now that Ms. Ann has passed it is not clear what the fate of her beloved snack bar will be. But what is unquestionably clear is that the city of Atlanta and the entire culinary world have truly lost a jewel.