When James Francis III bought the Goff’s Hamburgers franchise in the fall of 2004, he might have been motivated more by Goff’s barbecue sauce and sentiment than by a good business investment.
“One of the reason I wanted to buy it I think is because I loved the hickory sauce and I wanted the recipe,” Francis said.
He grew up going to Goff’s and remembers fondly the burgers and atmosphere of the restaurant. Francis loved the food and the relationship the staff had with the customers.
SMU historian Marshall Terry doesn’t share the same nostalgia Francis does. Instead, his strongest memories of the joint when he was an SMU student are of a gruff owner who harassed the customers.
“We usually avoided Goff’s. The owner would appear from time to time and act ugly to students,” Terry said.
But despite that, Terry would still make the occasional visit to Goff’s just for the burgers.
Goff’s Hamburgers has been an institution in Dallas since they opened their doors in 1950. Abe Gough and his wife started the company 62 years ago on Lovers Lane and the Toll Road. They opened nine other locations before handing the company off to their son Harvey. Harvey expanded the restaurant to 13 different locations in the Dallas area until he decided to sell the franchise and land the company had acquired. The Goff’s properties were sold off relatively quickly, but the franchise itself remained unsold. The future of Goff’s was unclear.
That is when Francis stepped in. He had always loved Goff’s and feared that if he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity presented to him, one of his favorite burger joints would cease to exist. So Francis bought the company and moved the location over to Hillcrest Avenue, near the SMU campus. That location opened in February of 2005.
Francis wanted the new location to feel the same as the original. He tried to replicate the look he remembered from the restaurant as a kid. He brought over the old tables and chairs from the original place. He also wanted the recipes to stay as true to the original as possible. But Francis did make a few alterations after buying the restaurant.
Francis used to watch the former owner hassle and ridicule the customers whenever he went to the restaurant as a child. He wanted a different atmosphere and a friendly staff.
“I remember it would be a Wednesday and someone would come up to Harvey and ask him for ketchup and he would yell back at them ‘It’s Wednesday! You don’t get ketchup on Wednesdays!'” Francis said.
As amused as he was by these antics as a child, Francis wanted a friendlier restaurant. Instead of giving people a hard time when they came in, he aimed at having a warmer atmosphere with a more user-friendly approach.
“It’s a joke with some of the regulars that I have ketchup on the table now so they don’t have to ask for it.” Francis said. ” The joke is that it’s the same food but it’s more friendly.”
While Francis has tried to recreate the original look of Goff’s, he did add a new design element to the new place. He decorates the restaurant with old Dallas and SMU memorabilia. The walls are filled with old newspaper clippings about SMU football. Black and white photos of Dallas Hall when it was first built can be seen, and there is a rare photo of how small SMU was in 1911 when it first opened its doors. Old SMU banners and past newspaper articles about local triumphs show customers some of Dallas’s rich history. A self-confessed history buff, Francis has received many donations to hang on the wall. Customers often give him Dallas artifacts to be shown off at the restaurant.
SMU student Alexa Dow, 20, is a regular customer of Goff’s, partly because of the decorations. She grew up in Baton Rouge, which has a lot of town spirit and even more love for the local university, LSU. She says that Dallas is such a big city and it’s sad to her that its citizens don’t celebrate SMU. She loves how Goff’s shows off SMU paraphernalia and shows some Mustang pride. She wishes other local restaurants would support her school, but since Goff’s does so willingly, it has won her loyalty.
Goff’s has caught the eye of more well-known figures in the Dallas as well. SMU student John Angle, 21, first went to the joint after hearing that it was Laura Bush’s favorite burger place in Dallas. After his first trip, he was hooked on the burgers.
Francis confirmed that the former President and First Lady order from the restaurant. But he says that they aren’t the only public figures that want Goff’s. He has seen Dallas sports players swing by his restaurants on multiple occasions.
“You never know who you’re going to see,” Francis said.
These famous figures come to taste the food that has kept the chain alive for more than 60 years. The burger menu has stayed true to its origins. Customers can still get a chili, cheese and onion burger, or a hickory sauce burger. But Francis has added on a few of his own creations to other parts, of the menu such as “The Diet Special,” which is two patties or chicken with lettuce, tomato, and cheese, as well as the chicken breast sandwich.
Perhaps it is this blend that keeps customers coming back. While Francis loves that his customers enjoy his food, what he likes the most is the relationship he has built with his regulars. It’s one of his favorite parts of owning Goff’s.
“I love it when I see a regular’s car and know what they are going to order as they are pulling in,” Francis said.
While Francis may have his regulars’ orders memorized, he doesn’t have a staple he personally sticks to.
“You know, I’m always rotating what I order,” Francis said.