1 of 2
2 of 2
Dude and Blake Griffith
Think your workdays are busy? Try serving up orders for some 525 cars, the average on any given Friday at Dude’s Drive-In for Dude and Blake Griffith, right.
Dude’s Drive-In thrives despite big chain competition thanks to red hot dogs, a high school chili recipe and friendly curb-side service that keeps customers coming back for more.
The day I met Dude Griffith he was stirring 35 pounds of hamburger meat, some tomato juice and chili powder – a two-hour cooking job that happens at least three times a week at Dude’s Drive-In in Christiansburg, Va. It’s the same chili recipe that once covered hot dogs at Christiansburg High School.
“There’s very little tomato taste,” says Griffith. “We hold that down. A lot of people use ketchup in chili, but we don’t. We use tomato juice.”
Griffith is a Christiansburg institution. Creator of the Dude Burger, he tells me he isn’t “formally educated,” but he knows politics (he once served as vice mayor), he knows business and above all, he knows, understands and appreciates people. He spends hours with his elbows on the doors of pickup trucks, talking to customers. Having once worked for a funeral home, he figures he has been in every home in Christiansburg.
On a typical Friday, Dude’s serves about 525 cars. Car hops record license numbers on pads and radio the orders back to the kitchen.
“People come here for good food. They don’t come here for health food,” says Griffith’s son Blake, co-owner of the salad-less drive-in. Much of Dude’s reputation rests with that high-school recipe chili atop red hot dogs, a popular item all along the Lee Highway corridor.
“I tried one time switching to a hot dog that didn’t have all the dye in it, more of an all-beef hot dog, but our customers kept complaining that the wienies were not done,” recalls Blake. “I tried to explain that the wienies are pre-cooked at the factory and all you do is heat them. But the texture is a little different. The red ones are softer, and we had to switch back.”
Every time a chain fast food restaurant opens in Christiansburg, Dude’s sees a slight dip in business, but it always rebounds.
“I don’t know of any place around that has the curb service like we do,” Griffith says. “We have a whole lot more personal contact with our customers. Customers will hold up one, two fingers, and the car hops will know exactly what they want. At least 95 percent of our business is repeat trade. For the dollar invested, this is the best thing I’ve ever been in.”
To contact: 540-382-7901.