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Heart Attack Grill: Gaining Publicity Their Own Way

We were looking at other innovative restaurants to feature, and this time we didn’t have to go far. Aside from those that we have already featured (a restaurant ran by children and restaurants high up in the sky), we saw a prison restaurant in Italy, a restaurant with monkeys as waiters in Japan, a robot restaurant in China and about a hundred more all over the world, but why look too far? We have the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas.

We did say that daring to be different is the thing that would make a restaurant stand out, and offering the customers a novel experience is one of the best ways to move away from today’s price competition. And that’s what Heart Attack Grill’s (HAG) founder John Basso banked on.

The notorious Heart Attack Grill used to be located in Chandler, Arizona, but later moved to Las Vegas for better exposure. It has attracted a lot of controversy by having their chefs in superior chef trousers and coats cook-up high-calorie food items that have very provocative names—Single, Double, Triple and Quadruple Bypass Burgers, Flatliner Fries and Butter-fat Shake. But they did say that publicity, whether good or bad, is still publicity. And that’s another thing that the restaurant banks on.

Basso started HAG in 2005 with the intention of offering “nutritional pornography that can really be bad for you, you’ll be shocked.” He realized that most people cheat on their diets and love to try things that are forbidden, so he goes right out and offer it to them blatantly and unashamedly.

The Quadruple Bypass Burger alone is known to contain a whopping 8,000 calories, with the name implying coronary artery bypass surgery–their chefs in cool chef trousers and coats preparing it with 4 pieces of half-pounder beef patties, 8 American cheese slices, tomatoes and onions. The bun is deliberately publicized to be “coated with pork fat,” the same as how the Flatliner Fries are also promoted to be “deep-fried in pure lard”—implying the risk of having atherosclerosis caused by the consumption of food that has too much saturated fat and high caloric content.

The restaurant is in a hospital theme, with “nurses” serving as waitresses and taking “prescriptions” instead of orders from “patients” who are actually customers. Once the patient has been prescribed, a tag showing the food he ordered is then wrapped around his wrist, of which a “doctor” then comes to examine him—complete with a stethoscope examination. And diners, believe it or not, really take time out to visit the place.

One of the restaurant’s most widely publicized gimmicks is the free wheelchair service it provides to patients who triumphantly eat all of its Quadruple Bypass Burger. With tourist bystanders excitedly taking pictures outside the restaurant, patients are pushed in a wheelchair on the way to their cars.

Since the Heart Attack Grill deliberately courted controversy as its marketing strategy, the consequence turned out to be tough, too: it has been continually warring and defending itself from the aggressions of various branches of state government and activist groups. There has been a very public threat of closure in Arizona in 2006, and in that same year, Basso, known as Dr. John, has been arrested for threatening to open a live fire hose on some picketing nurses.

Is the anxiety worth the effort? John Basso used his imagination to create a novel experience for his clients, and with already six years of being able to stay in business, we can only guess that yes, it might be worth it, after all.