The Story Of The Rogue Burger King In Pittsburgh
Every city has its own fast food urban legend. All of Toronto still mourns the now-closed Parkdale McDonald's, a location so famously weird that the guy who brought in a full desktop computer to watch porn was actually considered one of the better customers. In Long Beach, they swear by Sweet Dixie Kitchen, which was notoriously exposed for buying Popeye's fried chicken, smuggling it in the back door, and reselling it at a slightly higher price. And nobody in Chamblee, Georgia can order Domino's without remembering the time a deranged gunman named Kenneth Noid took two employees hostage, believing that the chain's nationwide "Avoid the Noid" advertising campaign was aimed at him specifically.
But there's a new champion on the scene. A story so hilariously insane that you simply would not believe it, unless we added that it took place in Pittsburgh. Everything is true in Pittsburgh, the only town where children's stories about a guy with no face wandering around at night turned out to literally be a guy with no face who enjoyed late-night walks (his name was Raymond and he was reportedly a lovely man). This particular tale was sinking into the mists of local folklore until it was highlighted by Twitter user ohip13, who has something of a specialty in bizarre Pittsburgh legends. We're talking, of course, about the South Side Fake Burger King.
The first thing to note is that this particular Burger King was never exactly going to win awards. It's drive-thru facility can only be described as a terrifying murder tunnel, while online reviews include phrases like "some shady guy charged me a dollar to use the bathroom," "a homeless guy stole another homeless guy's shoes" and "If you've ever said to yourself 'Hey I want to eat lunch in a dirty bus station...this place is for you!'" There was a McDonald's a couple miles away that was selling Happy Meal toys stuffed full of heroin and it still got better reviews. But around the start of 2014, things went even further downhill, to the point that people started asking "Is this even a real Burger King at all?"
The epic saga began when customers noticed that their food didn't seem to taste like Burger King. That's usually a compliment, but if you specifically choose to go to Burger King, it's because you want that special experience of having your tastebuds beaten with a used sock full of nickels. The situation deteriorated as food began to be served in plain brown paper bags, without the famous BK logo. Fries came in dixie cups, drinks were in plain styrofoam cups, the burgers were wrapped in tin foil or sandwich paper. Some expert soda connoisseurs claimed that the Coke machine appeared to be dispensing Pepsi. Rumors spread that employees had been sighted loading up on burger buns in a nearby Giant Eagle supermarket.
How could a Burger King run out of Burger King products? As it turned out, corporate had revoked the location's franchise months ago, apparently due to repeated food quality complaints. The company had hoped to reopen the location with a new owner, but the South Siders simply struck out on their own, continuing to operate as a rogue Burger King outside the law. Yes, the South Side BK crew carried on with their mission even as supplies and instructions from headquarters stopped coming.
At some point, the name printed on receipts was quietly changed to "South Side Burgers," but the Burger King signs, uniforms and posters remained, meaning customers had no idea they were eating at a pirate restaurant. But rumors grew, as employees started claiming they were "out" of most menu items, while sauce packets were replaced with generic ketchup squirted into plastic ice cream cups. There were unconfirmed reports of marauding staff members stealing promotional materials from other Burger King locations. As a general rule, if your boss ever announces he's now the Burger Warlord and upgrades you from fry cook to "raider," it's probably a good time to look for new job opportunities.
As supplies ran low, things began to get dark. One customer described arriving to find the front door barricaded. Following the hastily scrawled "Please Use Side Entanc" sign, he made his way inside, discovering blacked-out LCD screens and a grease-stained menu taped to the counter. An order of chicken nuggets and fries produced steak-cut Costco fries and "elementary school" nuggets. When he asked for a packet of sauce, the manager emerged from the back bearing a highball glass filled with Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce. At this point, "Hello darkness my old friend" suddenly emerged from the store radio, because sometimes life's just perfect like that.
But the changes weren't all for the bad. Freed from the shackles of the Burger Tyrant, the heroic rebels were free to get creative with the menu. Most notably, you could apparently now order a Whopper with as many patties as you wanted. The measly little Triple Whopper was left behind, fit only for cruel orphanages during a gruel shortage, as great cathedrals of patties beckoned on the horizon. Admittedly, staff members were reportedly completely unwilling to pick up the slices of cheese littering the floor, but sometimes true freedom means a bunch of floor cheese. We're pretty sure they were just days away from serving hard liquor and hosting an underground fight club before those nerds on Reddit had to spoil everything.
In February 2014, a thread about the Burger Imposter was posted on a Pittsburgh subreddit, prompting the city's WPXI news team to send a reporter to the scene. On arrival, she was treated to the traditional Burger King greeting: an agitated, un-uniformed security guard yelling "please get off our property." Some redditors later claimed the "security guard" was also moonlighting as a well-known local panhandler, although it's Reddit, so feel free to take that with a bigger pinch of salt than Burger King puts on their salads. But either way it was the worst restaurant publicity since the entire Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill chain turned out to be a front for a New York mobster to rip off mall developers.
With the news team poking around outside, the employees rapidly clawed down the giant "Burger King" sign on the building, although the BK uniforms remained, probably because nobody's so worried about trademark infringement they're prepared to spontaneously launch the world's first all-nude fast food joint. An assistant manager eventually gave a statement insisting that they were in the process of "transitioning" to a new name. This process had apparently been ongoing since at least November, but you can't rush these things. (Full disclosure: Cracked itself has undergone several lawsuit-induced renames, formerly being known as "Mab Magazine," "Macl Morgazone" and "pronhulb.com").
The WPXI story went semi-viral, since fake restaurant locations are surprisingly rare in America. In this area, the US sadly lags behind Iran, where you can cheerfully grab a Dahbel Dahn or Wooper at Mash Donalds, Boof Burger, Kabooky Fried Chicken, Subways, Sheak Shack or Pizza Hat. Not Blaskyn-Robbuns though, since Baskin-Robbins is apparently the one American chain to command the full backing of the Islamic Republic's legal authorities. But back in the US, the publicity forced the real Burger King to finally swing into action, releasing a statement declaring that the location was once Burger King, and would surely be Burger King again, but was not currently in a state of Burger King. You know a situation is confusing when your press release has to be proofread by a team of quantum physicists.
Okay, this is an insanely better logo.
After what we can only assume were some frantic backroom legal shenanigans, Burger King successfully retook the South Side from its erstwhile pretender. The restaurant subsequently underwent renovation and reopened under a new franchise owner. Sadly, news reports on the reopening mention that a new team of employees was also brought in, meaning the ragtag band of castaways who kept the burger flame alight through months in the wilderness were simply kicked to the curb. Rumor is that they retreated to the Allegheny Mountains, where they continue to serve flame-broiled patties in fortified woodland glades, emerging only to raid Burger King convoys for supplies of honey mustard sauce and cheap napkins.
The location itself is now indistinguishable from any other Burger King. They didn't even add a little nod to its outlaw period, like letting you order a ziploc bag full of stolen KFC mayo packets. But there's just something special about the South Side that seems to ooze in through every attempt at corporate blandness. So you may be pleased to learn that the same South Side Burger King was most recently in the news when it was accused of serving an unsuspecting father and his four-year-old son a cheeseburger entirely covered in ants. Shine on, you crazy zirconium.
Top image: Papin Lab/Shutterstock