Billy Goat Tavern: 50 years of cheezborgers

March 5, 2014 (CHICAGO)

The Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue opened 50 years ago this week, and no other restaurant anywhere is more famous for so few words: "cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger. Cheeps, no fries, Coke, no Pepsi."

Sam Sianis opened the place in 1964, 30 years after his uncle William Sianis opened the original Goat in 1934 on West Madison. For Sam, it's half a century.

"It seems to me like, ah, it was yesterday," said Sianis.

Sam says he invented his famous cheeseburger the day the place opened and it's been a big seller ever since. No secret recipe really, just freshly ground beef and get cooking.

"I don't put nothing on. The grill is hot and just put it on top there and cook it. (No butter?) No butter, no nothing. (Salt? Pepper?) Nothing, nothing," said Sianis.

But the Billy Goat isn't just famous for its burgers. It's also famous for its famous customers like the Second City's Bill Murray, and in the late 1960s, John Belushi, who would take memories from here to Saturday Night Live.

"He used to come in here for lunch and sit by the corner there and watch me give the orders. You know people come in in line. What would you like? Cheezborger, cheezborger, no fries, cheeps. No Pepsi, Coke," said Sianis.

The skits became so popular that people started calling him by a new nickname.

"Hey Cheezborger, Hey cheezborger," said Sianis.

Fifty years ago, the cheeseburgers sold for $0.35. Now they're $3.15. Still a good price and boy do they sell.

"We sell about, for the whole week, close to five, four thousand cheeseburgers a week," said Sianis.

That's a lot of cheeseburgers, and a lot of cheeps, no fries and Coke, no Pepsi.

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