Eating Adventures

The Story Behind Colorado's Lone Fatburger

The Double King burger is a serious handful.
The Double King burger is a serious handful. Ken Holloway
We've all heard that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but if you're a burger lover, you'll be glad to hear about the rule's tasty exception. Los Angeles-based burger chain Fatburger is famous in the western U.S., but many folks don't know that metro Denver has its own outpost, at 14221 East Cedar Avenue in Aurora.

So how did one lone Fatburger get to Aurora, and why is it the only one in Colorado? A trip to Vegas was the catalyst.

You can thank Colorado native Bart Greff for bringing in the hot, juicy burgers that fans consider the real champion of burger chains, rising above other regional competitors and creating burger memories to last a lifetime. In 2000, Greff had his first Fatburger experience while visiting Las Vegas, when his traveling companion insisted that they eat at the 24-hour Fatburger on the Strip. Already a successful restaurateur, he instantly fell in love with the burgers and the business.

click to enlarge Bart Greff and his Fatburger crew. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Bart Greff and his Fatburger crew.
Ken Holloway

Eventually, Greff signed on with an investment group headed by celebrity talk-show host Montel Williams, who brought Fatburger to Denver in 2003, opening five stores. But after several years, the group decided to break away from the parent company and changed the name of four of its stores to Epic Grill. And by 2012, every Epic Grill location had closed.

But the Aurora Fatburger never changed names, and Greff stepped up to the plate and did what he had to do to keep the remaining outpost open. Greff's Fatburger has been thriving since then, which the owner attributes in part to loyal team members who have worked there since it originally opened. Although Fatburger franchises have spread to many surrounding states, this one is still the only location in Colorado.

click to enlarge Greff's Fatburger still looks as new as the day it opened. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Greff's Fatburger still looks as new as the day it opened.
Ken Holloway
Fatburger was originally the brainchild of Lovie Yancey, who partnered up with a construction worker friend in 1947 to cobble together a three-stool hamburger stand called Mr. Fatburger. Yancey outlasted her business partner and dropped the "Mr." from the name. It's been called Fatburger ever since, and the company started franchising in 1990. The founder lived to be 96 years old, so her burgers might just qualify as health food.

Greff has followed in Yancey's footsteps, keeping the practices that have created so many loyal Fatburger followers. The beef is fresh, never frozen, and your burger is cooked to order the way you want it — even offering a choice of cooking style: flat-top or char-grilled.The Double King burger with cheese, for example, is a monster with a bun five or six inches in diameter, and the beef patties extend beyond the bun all the way around. It's definitely a two-hander requiring your full attention, and Greff's version is every bit as satisfying as the Fatburgers I ate while living in Las Vegas.

click to enlarge This sign sets off a Pavlovian response for Fatburger fans. - KEN HOLLOWAY
This sign sets off a Pavlovian response for Fatburger fans.
Ken Holloway
Other sandwich options include turkey burgers, grilled chicken, fried chicken, veggie burgers and the new plant-based Impossible Burger. Fatburger also does hot dogs, onions rings made from scratch, all manner of fries, hand-dipped milkshakes and even housemade lemonade.

Greff's burger joint maintains the retro vibe of the Fatburger chain, with comfy booths, padded bar stools, an inviting patio, and a proprietary music mix that blends classic R&B licks with more modern hits. There's even a jukebox if you want to create your own soundtrack.

The owner says his food philosophy is "Do it right or don't do it at all." And after sixteen years, this Fatburger is still as ship-shape and gleaming as on opening day. Greff is keeping it that way, he explains, because he hopes to some day pass the reins to his son to keep the restaurant as a family legacy.

Fatburger is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (and an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays). For more details, call 303-363-6996 or visit the restaurant's website.
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Ken Holloway discovered his passion for food writing in 2010 when he began touring the country for restaurants showcased on the top food television shows. His travels have taken him to all 50 states and more than 300 eateries. He is an avid home cook who enjoys reading and collecting cookbooks and is a hopeful cookbook author working on a compendium of the best American comfort food recipes.