You Ain't Nothing But A Hamburger

Submitted for your approval, one storefront greasy spoon, the kind of place most folks ordinarily wouldn't pay no never mind to. No, sirree, ma'am. Nothin' fancy about it, unless your idea of high-falutin' decor runs to things like souvenir Elvis mirrors and wastebaskets, or maybe a plastic bag from the Graceland gift shop lovingly thumbtacked to the wall.

But make no mistake about it--this is not your run-of-the-mill hamburger joint. 'Cause sure as Elvis pigged out on fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, it isn't every day you see a spittin' image of The King fryin' up a mess o' Jiffy burgers.

Spittin' image? Well, at least real close to the spittoon. "If you don't mind, sir, I'd kind of like to explain something," says burgermeister Larry Foote, owner of Jiffy Hamburgers, near Baseline and Price in Mesa. "In no way do I manipulate Elvis for money. I wouldn't do anything to hurt anyone--especially Elvis. And I don't impersonate him. Let's face it--nobody's gonna be Elvis."

Still, you can't blame a guy for trying. Armed with a lushly lacquered thatch of blue-black hair, Presley mid-period mutton chops, blue contact lenses and a dead-ringer drawl, the 37-year-old Foote is better than a National Enquirer sighting.

Between chopping onions and bagging up sacks of the White Castle-like house specialty ("hamburgers fit for The King"), Foote tells how he'll further elevate the Elvis eating experience when he opens a burger banquet room two doors down. (Liquor will not be served--"Elvis was not a drinking man," Foote claims.) Also on the back burner: an official "Elvis" chiliburger and an aqua-colored "Blue Hawaii" milkshake.

"I've always loved Elvis, long as I can remember," says Foote, whose background roughly parallels that of his spiritual mentor. The youngest of six children born to a poor, Pentecostal family in Eloy, Foote became hooked on Elvis when one of his siblings brought home a copy of Little Sister. "Being Pentecostal, we weren't allowed to watch television or see movies. Instead, we played that Elvis record so many times that I thought he was my brother." Hard to believe, but the former football coach from Eloy claims he hadn't paid any attention to his resemblance to Presley until opening shop ten months ago. "Folks that come in here have told me that I have a lot of the same characteristics as Elvis," says Foote, who has been known to grab a mike and serenade diners when the mood strikes. "They just love Elvis so much that they're looking for someone to replace him. And I think that's what's happening here. If I can make folks happy, then that's great." First-time customers aren't the only ones who may feel as if they've wandered into a Candid Camera setup.

"He sure didn't act this way when the place first opened," confides one Jiffy burger regular who still hasn't decided whether Foote's behavioral homage is genuine or just an elaborate marketing ploy. "It's almost like he thinks he is Elvis. In a way, it's kind of sick. But I guess it's kind of nice, too. Anyway, we really like the burgers." Foote's older brother agrees that, Elvis-wise, his sibling was a late bloomer. "Did he look this way in Eloy?" asks Harold Foote, who jokes that he himself resembles Ringo Starr. "You kiddin'? They would have run him out of town."

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Dewey Webb