Right around lunchtime on a recent Friday, Christy Amador wrapped up a final morning meeting, laced on sneakers and hustled downstairs to the entrance of Coke's Atlanta headquarters. There she joined two dozen other employees, and walked out the door.

“Everyone was hungry, so I think we walked at a pretty good clip,” she laughed.

A Walk to the Varsity
Associates set out on the first-ever Walk to a Customer event at Atlanta’s Varsity restaurant. The 0.8 mile walk took about 20 minutes.

The group was headed on foot to one of Coke's most famous local customers, the world-renowned Varsity restaurant. The hotspot is located less than a mile down North Avenue from Coke's offices, a flat and very walkable stretch that can be covered in about 20 minutes. The restaurant’s close proximity, and its storied 86-year partnership with Coca-Cola, made it a perfect choice for a new employee engagement/customer appreciation program called Walk to a Customer.

The initiative promotes physical activity and gives associates a fun, friendly way to thank Coke customers for their business. It was developed, in part, to drive one of the major principals of the Coca-Cola Ambassador program: showing appreciation and patronage of customers across Coke's global system. 

In choosing to highlight the Varsity, the walk was introducing, or re-introducing in some cases, a retail partner whose history is arguably as mythic and ingrained in the fabric of Atlanta as Coca-Cola itself.

Coke's Biggest Single-Serve Customer? 

A Walk to the Varsity
Varsity car hop 'Flossie Mae'

Sitting on two acres in the heart of downtown, the Varsity is a retro delight. Opened in 1928, it’s the world’s largest drive-in restaurant, complete with throwback lingo like "Walk a Dog" (a hot dog to go), "Strings" (French fries), and "Glorified Steak" (hamburger with mayo, lettuce and tomato). 

Besides its old-school charm, The Varsity is also famous for its staggering volume. The restaurant can accommodate 600 cars and more than 800 people. On days when the nearby Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets are playing a home football game, more than 30,000 hungry customers stop by The Varsity. Every day, Varsity waiters and "car hops" serve up two miles of hot dogs, 2,500 pounds of potatoes, 5,000 fried pies and 300 gallons of chili, and more – all from scratch.

With such a high guest volume, The Varsity may also be a Coca-Cola record holder. Rumor has it that the Varsity sells more single servings of Coca-Cola than any other standalone restaurant in the world. 

A Walk to the Varsity
Ted Ryan discusses the Coca-Cola-Varsity relationship. The Varsity is rumored to sells more single-servings of Coca-Cola than any restaurant in the world.

“There’s no place like it, period”, says Ted Ryan. “I grew up in Atlanta, and a trip to the Varsity has been a tradition in our family for years. I always order the same thing, a chili dog, chili steak, rings and a Coke.”

Ryan, director of Coke's Heritage Communications tead, led the employee group on their walk. Before setting out, he told them about how the Coca-Cola-Varsity relationship reflects the company's long-term commitment to our customers. 

Once inside the restaurant, the associates met with Varsity owner Gordon Muir, who talked about his grandfather, Frank Gordy, who founded the business and also how his family has always thought of Coca-Cola as a partner. He highlighted how the restaurant had grown over the years, from one small room to the two-acre location today. 

Connecting Employees with Customers and Consumers

A Walk to the Varsity
Associates pose with the Varsity’s
famous ‘hat man’, Fred Stewart.

Following the lunch, employees gave out Coca-Cola Ambassador pins and magnets to Varsity customers who noticed and approached the group. On learning the employees were all from Coca-Cola, several of the Varsity diners shared their own favorite Coke stories, unsolicited. 

Several of the associates who went on the walk called it a very “hands-on” and “memorable” way to learn about our business and our customers. 

“I hadn’t been to the Varsity in years,” said Pam Fann. “I really liked that this was a chance to get out of the office and be active, but also a way to get re-acquainted. I thought, ‘Well, I can walk down to the Varsity next Friday for lunch too.’ There are a lot of menu options.”