Blimpy Burger closes to make way for graduate housing

Marlene Lacasse/Daily
The line for Blimpy Burger on its final day, Wednesday, stretched over three hours. Buy this photo

By Aaron Guggenheim, Managing News Editor
Published August 14, 2013

Over the past several days, lines at Blimpy Burger have been as long as three hours as customers waited to have one final burger before the iconic establishment on South Division Street closed Wednesday.

The University bought the property Blimpy Burger is located on in December for $1.075 million, along with several other neighboring properties to make room for the construction of a $180 million graduate residence hall that will hold 600 graduate students.

Richard Magner, who has owned the restaurant for the past 20 years, was unable to match the price the University had offered to the property owner. Blimpy Burger, which has been in the same building since 1953, will be out of business for several months as Magner continues to negotiate for a lease at a new location.

The whereabouts of the new location were undisclosed, and Magner said he was unable to give any details as he is still in the process of negotiations.

Magner said he wanted Blimpy to retain a similar aesthetic — with customers moving down a countertop backed by a grill as cooks fry up vegetables, burgers and toppings — when it relocates.

For Magner, leaving the original location means leaving the place where he started work at 19, met his wife and raised his four children, who worked behind the counter and cleaned treys throughout their childhood.

“It is kind of a family thing,” he said.

His daughter Emily Magner, whose childhood vegetarianism gave rise to the menu’s addition of the veggie burger, travelled from Wisconsin to help with the closing and stood at the door directing customer traffic into the restaurant. She said she started work at age 11, helping out with the dishes.

“I spent my football Saturdays here working, washing trays, because it was always busy,” she said, noting that lines often stretched out the door and onto the sidewalks on those fall afternoons.

Emily Manger added that her three younger brothers also started work at Blimpy while young, gesturing to her bother who sported a tie-dye t-shirt and bandana as he manned the grill.

“Especially since my family has moved a few times, it was nice to come home and (for this) to be a constant in my life,” Emily Magner said. “Same smells, a lot of the same faces.”

She added that she would be back in a couple of months to help her parents open up at a new location.

As for the staff, Richard Magner said many of them had part-time jobs and he hopes that most of them will return when it re-opens.

To raise money to transition to the new restaurant, Blimpy will hold a “Last Supper” this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $100 and will give dedicated Blimpy fans a final meal and commemorative t-shirt.

“It is an opportunity to show our appreciation to our regular customers that have supported us for a while,” Manger said. “We will need money … to transition and it may not seem like we need it because of those lines, but that ends today.”

Engineering senior Brett Romanko, who stood in line for over an hour Wednesday to get one final burger, said Blimpy was his favorite place to go when he had a craving for unhealthy food.

As his final treat, he said he was hoping to go “all-out” and planned to get five patties topped with bacon, egg, provolone, bun and onion rings.

“There is not going to be another burger in Ann Arbor like it until it re-opens,” Romanko said.

Inside the restaurant, frantic conversations were exchanged with cooks, yet another burger was wrapped and customers received their change in the Blimpy tradition — two-dollar bills and 50-cent coins.