Seahawks’ winning streak meant opportunities for Seattle businesses to win big too. Seattle’s most iconic burger joint, Dick’s Drive-In, scored thousands of new Facebook fans, commemorative t-shirt sales, and burgers buys. The city’s first ever Super Bowl victory celebration also coincided with the family-owned and run restaurant’s 60th anniversary.
Sixty Years and the 12th Man
Fans in a stadium during a football game are referred to as the “12th Man. Last year, the Seahawks’ 12th Man broke the Guinness World Record in making crowd noise. Over the past few months, big and small businesses alike have shown their support for the Seahawks. As excitement for the Seahawks mounted, signs with the number 12 began to pop up in office windows, bus dashboards, lit on the side of high rise buildings, and even atop the Space Needle. T-Mobile bathed its headquarter buildings in blue and green light (Seahawks colors). Savor Seattle Food Tours tracked local eateries that special 12th Man themed snacks. Even now, there are still street vendors hawking ‘12’ t-shirts and locals sporting Seahawks football jerseys.
Although I’m not a football fan myself, I live just a few blocks from CenturyLink Stadium, where the games are played. On game days, I can hear the roar of the “12th Man” from my condo.
The Seahawks’ wins came at a convenient time for Dick’s. Every five years, the restaurant prints special t-shirts to celebrate another major anniversary. Last month, Dick’s turned 60. After the Seahawks won a game in early December that positioned the team for the Super Bowl playoffs, Dick’s printed blue and green versions of the 60th anniversary t-shirts with the number “12” printed on the back. Thousands of the shirts sold out at the six restaurant fronts. Now the shirts are only available for sale online. All 179 of their restaurant crew still sport the “12” t-shirts as their work uniforms.
In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Dick’s Facebook fans posted photos of themselves wearing Dick’s Seahawks anniversary t-shirt and their score predictions. The Seahawks themed posts received three to ten times as many hits as regular posts.
Jasmine Donovan, Vice President of Marketing at Dick’s Drive-In, said she couldn’t share the sales numbers but Seahawks game days definitely proved much busier than other days.
On game days, store managers always staff up because of the anticipated throngs of customers seeking a $1.80 Special burger and $1.50 hand cut French fries.
A family’s affair with burgers
After I chatted with Donovan, she said she would introduce me to Jim Spady, a Dick’s co-owner. She also slid in a disclaimer: “He’s my dad, by the way.” Donovan is the 28-year-old daughter of Jim Spady and granddaughter to Dick Spady, the co-founder and namesake for Dick’s.
Dick Spady founded Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants in 1954 with Warren Ghormley and “Tom” Thomas. Back then, he sold his burgers for 19 cents while burgers at his competitors were going for 30 cents. His lawyer son, Jim, first started working at Dick’s to help with a buyout from the co-founders that would make the restaurant chain entirely owned by the Spady family. Jim left the law firm to join the restaurant full-time in 1991 as its Vice-President and Legal Consul.
“The world is full of great lawyers, but there are only a handful of really great burger joints,” said Jim.
Jim was followed by his three brothers, John, Walt, and Doug who also became vice-presidents. A cousin works as head of security. Jasmine is the first of the grandchildren to work full-time at Dick’s and the family’s only MBA. Dick Spady just celebrated his 90th birthday.
All of the Spady’s have had to work in a restaurant crew for at least one summer to understand the business. Jim said, “It’s required. You can’t benefit from all the blessings of the business without understanding where they comes from.”
Seattle’s hometown burger joint
In 1994, for their 40th anniversary, Dick’s decided to create a memory book. Once they began receive hundreds of entries, Jim said, “We realized we were not just another burger place but a place where memories were made.”
The memory book sold over 5,000 copies and updated editions were printed upon subsequent major anniversaries. Like many other Seattle area teenagers, I was initiated into Dick’s burger culture as a high schooler and have many personal memories of dropping by Dick’s Broadway location for a quick burger or milkshake.
Dick’s fame reaches far beyond Seattle. To date, Dick’s has 223,000 Facebook fans in a city whose Census population is just over 600,000 and the greater Seattle area includes 3.7 million residents. Dick’s was also immortalized in the music video “White Walls”, in which Grammy winners Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed atop the roof of a Dick’s Drive-In.
Even Dick’s employee benefits align with the city’s values.
Fast Company named Seattle as the “smartest city in North America” last year. Dick’s provides tuition scholarships to its part-time and full-time employees after six months’ of employment; they have given away more than $1.2 million in employee education scholarships.
“We know that for most of our employees, Dick’s is a transition job. We want them to upgrade their skills and to succeed in life,” said Jim. He added both his mother and father were the first in their extended families to attend college.
Seattle has been moving to pay people more. Atlantic Cities noted that Seattle has experienced the second high wage growth in the country in 2013. The city is currently debating to increase minimum wage to $15/hour. Dick’s starting minimum wage is $10.25 per hour, which is significantly higher than the national standard of $7.15-8.98 per hour.
“Dad always says, ‘you got to grow where you’re planted’,” said Jim. ‘And Dick’s was planted in Seattle. We’ve grown along with the city. Every city has their hometown burger joint and we are lucky to be Seattle’s burger joint.”
When asked to describe Dick’s values, Jim said, “We’re a family business that loves its customers and tries to be a supportive member of the broader community.”
The Next 60 Years
Jim said he and his brothers, who are all in their fifties and sixties, are looking forward to the third generation of Spady’s to take over.
Jasmine just started working full-time at Dick’s last September, after serving in the Navy for four years. “This is an amazing opportunity to work with my father and grandfather and to grow the business over the next 60 years,” she said.
Jasmine also said she’s grooming her one-year-old son, James, to be the fourth generation to run Dick’s. To ensure he lives up to his civic duty as a Spady and a Seahawk fan, I suggested Dick’s start selling the ‘12’ t-shirts in baby sizes.