Burger Man Flips for a Cause

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Harvey Gough in front of a Saddam Hussein mural in Iraq. (photo courtesy of Harvey Gough)

After 9/11 and the first part of the Afghanistan war went down, Harvey Gough remembers calling his friend, four-star General Tommy Franks. Gough had been to all of America’s war zones since Korea, and Franks, who’s known Gough since they met at Fort Hood in 1983, knew he enjoyed “going to war,” as Gough calls it. “Tommy, I wanna go,” said Gough. “Not a chance,” said Franks, except those were not his exact words. Gough had been “fiddling with Franks” all summer about going to Afghanistan, and then Gough finally had an idea that came to him on a Saturday morning while in the shower. “I’ve got him!” he thought to himself. He called Franks and said, “Hey Do Do, how ’bout taking a thousand steaks to soldiers in Afghanistan?” After a long pause on the phone, Franks told him to call back in 30 minutes. When he did, Franks’ wife answered. “Let me talk to Do Do,” Gough said. “You don’t need to talk to Do Do, he told me what to tell you. He said make it two thousand and you’ve got a deal.”

 

A man who means business

Gough has a tough exterior, literally and figuratively. He wears neatly pressed button down shirts and an “I mean business” attitude. You can definitely tell he’s involved with the military. Gough is a straight shooter and he doesn’t mind speaking his opinion; what you see is what you get. Once he starts talking about his many life experiences, he becomes an entertaining and animated speaker, using hand gestures, different tones of voice, and facial expressions. His blue eyes light up when he tells stories from his past. He has a silky southern voice, although his mother was born in Boston and his father was born in England, and his own unique vocabulary. He explained to me that “do do” is “a catchall word that fits everything.” Tommy Franks is Do Do. Logos on shirts are do do’s. Money can be called do do. Everyone’s a do do. “That guy right there’s a do do… Those ladies are do do’s,” Gough chuckles.

 

So in 2002 Gough rounded up a handpicked team of “do do’s” to travel to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to cook 2,000 steak dinners for the soldiers who had just been deployed to the area. Since then Steak6, as Gough is nicknamed, has been the commander of 18 missions and has served up 42,000 steaks in total. The group’s most recent mission was to Kuwait for the 2012 Super Bowl.

 

The steak team mission

In his early days Gough was a drag racer, and he would shoot guns as a teenager. When you put big guns together with vehicles you get a tank, so Gough joined the Texas Guard for the Tank Battalion in 1957 and served for 32 years. When he retired, he still wanted to “go to war” so he could pick up souvenirs, that’s part of the reason he started the Steak Team Mission. “You don’t have to have a gun to go to war, I just wanted to go over there to play,” Gough says.

 

This mission made sense to Gough not only because he enjoys the military, but also because he’s been charcoal grilling meat for over 50 years. When he was eleven years old his family started the hamburger restaurant Goff’s, changed from the owners’ actual last name for pronunciation reasons, on Lover’s Lane in 1950. And although Harvey has dedicated his time and money to go on many overseas missions to serve steak meals to troops, his reputation around Dallas is pretty rough.

“He wouldn’t let any, you know, young boys come in with long hair… or without their shirts tucked in, and he would just give them grief,” Gough’s friend Kathleen Hodges says. “And that was his reputation, just this grumpy old Harvey.” He admits people find him cantankerous. 

 

A Texas teaser

“I’m a hard-nosed, nasty-natured guy. People call me grumpy, call me a grouchy old man, I don’t care. Some people call me an asshole, and I am.”

 

Gough received the notorious name he has because he’s so outwardly opinionated and because, growing up in what he calls the dull and monotonous hamburger business, he was always up to various antics to keep himself entertained.

 

People who would come in to eat hamburgers would ask for a fork. “You want a regular fork, or a sterilized fork? What kind of fork would you want?” Gough would ask. When the customer would say he wanted a sterilized fork, he would quickly slide the fork in his mouth as if he wanted to lick something delicious off of it, and pull it back out, handing it to the customer with a mischievous grin. “Here you are,” he would say. And that’s what they would get. Gough loved the weekly treat of shocked and confused looks that patrons would give him.

 

Born in Hollywood in 1939, Gough lived right under the famous sign on a street called Canyon Drive. His family moved to Dallas when he was eight years old, just a few years before his parents opened Goff’s, and has lived in the area ever since. Gough went to Highland Park High School and said that the kids there were taught about his pranks at the restaurant so they wouldn’t be caught off guard. They learned, but the adults had no idea. Gough would glue a quarter with super glue to the floor and customers would always try to pick it up.

 

There was only one incident when Gough was dished back what he served someone up for a prank. When people would come in to order their meal “to go,” Gough would ask if they wanted their Dr Pepper or chocolate shake in a sack as well. When they said yes, he would pour their drink in the sack, no cup. One time, though, when he did this the woman poured it right back down his shirt when he was turned around to get her fries. “It was pretty good,” he admits.

 

He lives life to the fullest

Gough has several mottos he lives by. One is, “if it’s not fun I don’t do it.” “He’s an adventure junkie,” Gough’s friend Jack Merritt said. He has travelled all around the world and has brought back many stories. From hunting in Africa to driving from Dallas all the way to the bottom of South America, he has experienced many memorable adventures through the military and on his own. When he was in Paris in 2002, he happened to go to a bar where he just so happened to meet his future wife, Hayat. They are now married and have a daughter, Hayden, who is six years old.

 

Another phrase Gough often says is “freedom isn’t free.” This is the true reason he feels it is so important to give back to the troops. “These guys are paying the price. And this is how we show our gratitude,” Gough says. The Steak Team Mission goes through a lot of red tape and travels to dirty, nasty, scary, dusty, dangerous places just to show the soldiers they care. Go
ugh says the feeling he gets when a soldier looks at him after he sets a steak on his plate makes the whole trip worth it. Jeff Hellberg travels on the missions with Gough. “He wants to put up a façade of a grouchy old curmudgeon, and sometimes he succeeds,” Hellberg said. “He has a big heart, he means well.”

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