When The Chronicle sees a Tweet wondering if a local business has closed, that sometimes sends us off on a quest – and Sunday evening, the business in question was Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger. Since we’d covered the mystery closing of another landmark eatery in January, we braced for bad news.
And seeing large CLOSED signs in the windows as we approached, plus a yellow cord strung across the front steps, it wasn’t looking good. But as we got closer, we saw – written much more faintly and in much smaller lettering – ”til Monday.” Then, ignoring the cord, we climbed the stairs and encountered a much more detailed sign on the front door: Blimpy’s was only temporarily closed for renovations. Whew.
As we stood there reading the sign, movement behind the door alerted us to the fact that someone was inside – several someones, in fact, including owners Rich and Chris Magner.
They’d been working all week at renovations they’d wanted to do for a long time, Rich Magner said as he boxed up some unused floor tiles. The east lane of a stretch on South Division in front of Blimpy’s is closed, and only three parking spots are available, due to the roadwork. This is also typically a slow time of year, Magner added, “So I said, ‘This is the time.’”
The main project was putting in a new floor, which meant that everything had to be moved out of the front room – from the grill to the tables and chairs, which are bolted to the floor. Chris Magner described the new floor as looking like Candy Land, the board game with bright colored paths. But you’ll have to go there to see for yourself – Rich Magner wants it to be a surprise for customers, so no photos.
The Magners met when they both worked at Blimpy’s under previous ownership in the 1970s – back when the place was covered with “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” wallpaper. (That’s gone now.) Chris Magner, who was washing down a counter as we talked, remembers the date they bought the burger joint by calculating how old her son was at the time – when they signed the papers, he was 2. They started running Blimpy’s, with partial ownership, in 1993, and bought it outright 10 years later.
This isn’t the first major renovation they’ve done. In January of 2002, a fire caused damage to the grill area and required repairs to that part of the front room – and a new grill. And when the fire truck pumped water to put out the fire, pressure caused the water main into the restaurant to break – they had to repair that, too. “It was a bad year,” Chris Magner said.
The restaurant, which opened in 1953, is known for its distinctive burgers, of course, but equally for its quirky ordering conventions, outlined on its website: “Check out our menu and then come on in – you actually order your food in a classic cafeteria-style setting directly from the person doing the cooking; but be careful! There’s a ‘right way’ to order and a ‘wrong way’ to order, so be sure to visit the ordering page for proper instructions!!”
Their reputation isn’t limited to Ann Arbor. The food and the floor show were featured last year on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, hosted by chef Guy Fieri – there’s a big signed poster of him behind the counter.
It was decidedly less glamourous on Sunday evening, as the Magners and a few others there still faced several hours of work ahead of them. Chris Magner said it wasn’t the Father’s Day she’d envisioned for her husband. As for Rich? “I’m worn out.”