Tom Wadsworth is kind of an expert in owning a restaurant with a reputation for something beyond just food.
Wadsworth and his wife Janet, both Auburn University graduates, used to own the old Krystal in Opelika as well the old Krystal in Auburn, before they both burned in 2011. At the same time. In the same flames. Located on Opelika Road on the city line, half the Wadsworth’s restaurant was in Auburn, the other half in Opelika.
“Back in the 70s, football players would fight out in the parking lot,” Tom laughs. “If it was on one side of the building the Opelika police would come, if it was the other side the Auburn police would come. That’s one of those old stories.”
There are other old stories. Krystal, for whatever reason–maybe expressly to encourage jurisdictional eenie meenie to buy extra time for a getaway–was in the 1970s and 1980s a midnight magnet for undergrad mischief (streaking, Jeff Burger–or was that the Magnolia location?).
Wadsworth’s newer store on S. College is decidedly more subdued, but it too is beginning to be noticed for what happens in its parking lot, or at least above it.
Blame it on Gene Chizik.
“It was kind of just an instant thought,” Wadsworth says of his decision back in late October 2012 to use the restaurant’s marquee not only to advertise special menu items but his desperation as an Auburn football fan. “We kept wanting to put up ‘Beat…’ whoever we were playing, but we kept losing and losing. So I just put that up.”
And that was all it took — a local joke (for those driving slow enough to catch it) but with what was quickly becoming an increasingly national, pageview perfect punchline: “Go Auburn. Beat Somebody.”
After appearing on The War Eagle Reader, a photo of the marquee’s message eventually made al.com, as well as several blogs and even ESPN.com. Wadsworth took the attention and ran with it… with a little encouragement.
“You kind of put the pressure on us to keep going,” he says, speaking of The War Eagle Reader’s commitment to documenting the marquee’s running, punning commentary (“WOE EAGLE“) on the state of Auburn football.
Wadsworth says the response is still hard to believe. But he’ll take it.
“It’s been positive, business has been up,” he says. “It’s hard to put on a finger on what increases business but we do get a lot of comments on it, like in the drive-thru, especially that first one. When we first put that up, some people thought we might have some negative comments on it, but it was just the opposite effect.”
After all, despite cracking wise on the home team, it’s not as if “Go Auburn. Beat Somebody” was hurting morale.
“At that point, we had lost so many games, I think everybody kind of took it to heart,” Wadsworth says. “Really, all you could do was laugh.”
The gallows humor lasted for weeks. But after the Iron BowL (“LIVING ON A PRAYER“), the Krystal Marquee devoted itself entirely to Auburn’s coaching search, even seemingly advocating for certain candidates despite its full confidence in Bo Jackson’s ability to pick a winner. When news broke that the winner was Gus Malzahn, the Krystal Marquee had his name up in lights before his plane touched the ground; ditto Malzahn’s coordinators. And they noticed.
“Coach Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee did come in the other day and sat down and had a meal there and talked with the manager and employees,” Wadsworth says. “I feel sure they came in because of the marquee.”
So does the Krystal Marquee have the staying power to turn into a full-fledged Auburn institution?
“Our plans are to keep it going as long as we can, but we’re going to start promoting basketball and other sports, too.” And they have.
The morning after our interview the Krystal Marquee read: “IT’S TIME FOR SEC ROUND BALL… GO TIGERS BEAT LSU… CORN DOG SPECIAL $3.99.”
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