Cafe Society

Has Good Times gone bad in a good way?

Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard was born in Boulder in 1987 as Good Times Drive-Thru Burgers. Those were good times, indeed: '87 was a good year for banana hair clips, jelly shoes and skinny ties. But how on the burger-bombarded earth did Good Times manage to survive with the staggering amount of competition that's come up over the past 25 years? By adding frozen custard, for one. And now Good Times is pushing growth by pushing more burgers, but with a twist: It's partnering with Bad Daddy's Burger Bar, a small, little-known but feisty gourmet burger chain out of North Carolina.

See also: Good Times now pouring on Hatch green chile, not Santiago's

Today, Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custards' parent company, Good Times Restaurants Inc., owns and operates 38 restaurants in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota. It's considered a quick-service (a slightly new, slightly cooler way of saying "fast food") restaurant chain that's a step up from McDonald's and Burger King because it features patties made with Meyer all-natural, all-Angus beef; specialty chicken sandwiches; signature Wild Fries and fresh-cut fries; beer-battered onion rings; freshly prepared frozen custard in different flavors, sundaes and those thick, mixy spoonbenders.

The first time I ate at a Good Times I was scouting affordable housing in Denver, and I can definitively say that I had a much easier time finding this new-to-me, above-average burger joint than I did finding a cheap place to live downtown. I had a few sliders and a plain frozen-custard cup from the drive-thru, and the meal was so good I pulled into the parking lot in case I wanted more food. I did. I was pretty stoked about the slider, with its super-soft bun and beef that tasted like beef, and you know frozen custard is good when you like it without any toppings or candy bits.

My search for non-budget-annihilating housing hasn't ever stopped since I moved here, and my latest attempt to roof myself turned out to be just up the street from a handful of fast-food, er, quick-service favorites, including the Good Times location at 1105 South Havana Street in Denver (a wrapper's throw away from Aurora). So while unpacking, my first meal in my new place was a Good Times cheeseburger with green chile, onion rings, Wild Fries, a banana shake and a three-piece order of these hand-breaded chicken tenders I'd heard so much about.

After giving my order, I sat at an outdoor patio table to wait for the food and avoid my box-filled home, and thought about what the Good Times partnership with Bad Daddy's would add to the perpetually overcrowded burger scene here.

Until the recent announcement of the Good Times deal, I'd known nothing about Bad Daddy's Burger Bar. Turns out there are currently five locations, all in the South; if this deal goes well, there will be seven -- a sixth spot in Cherry Creek and then another north of downtown. Bad Daddy's Burger Bar is a full-service, upscale, "small box" burger chain with a chef-driven (yes, there are burger chefs now) menu of gourmet burgers, chopped salads, appetizers and sandwiches, plus a full bar and craft microbrew beers. That alone should put the company in good standing with Colorado consumers.

My Good Times meal did not disappoint, either. The much-trumpeted, all-natural, hand-breaded chicken tenders lived up to the hype, with plump, moist white meat tenderloins and a spicy breading that clung to the juicy meat. They seriously kicked frozen, greasy chicken fingers right out the door.

The ultra-soft, chewy burger bun was the same as I remembered -- perfect -- and I loved that Good Times is not at all stingy with the warm, chopped green chiles. Of course, I would like a hotter version on the menu, for those of us who can make chile sweats and love it, but I'll eat the mild-to-medium chiles all the same. The onion rings are more like those you'd get in a sit-down restaurant, and far better than the average drive-thru versions. And I spent some time trying to put my tongue on what makes the Wild Fries so tasty: possibly garlic salt or dark sorcery.

This was the first time I'd ever ordered a shake from Good Times, because I usually get the custard, but that same smooth, chilly, creamy custard goes with bananas like a hot date, and somebody put a delicate cookie on top, just to say they cared.

I've eaten at Good Times probably a hundred times between first moving to Denver and now, and I have yet to have a bad item, a bad order or a bad time. Let's hope for more of the same when it goes big with Big Daddy's.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz