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January 30, 2015

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Heart Attack Grill: Health intervention or obesity inducer?


Sam Morris

The recently opened Heart Attack Grill is seen in the old Jillian’s space at Neonopolis on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.

The sign outside says it all: “Over 350 lbs eats free.”

The Heart Attack Grill, which offers free meals to customers of a certain girth, opened Wednesday at Neonopolis in downtown Las Vegas. The restaurant can be seen in very different ways: a clever marketing ploy to lure diners with stomachs of steel (or slightly twisted senses of humor), or the latest salvo in a war against healthy living.

The theme of the fast-food joint isn’t exactly subtle. The restaurant looks like a hospital, customers are “patients,” waitresses are “nurses,” and food orders are “prescriptions.”

The calorie count of menu items is stratospheric. Burgers come in sizes that range from the “single bypass” (one patty with cheese and toppings) to the 8,000-calorie “quadruple bypass” (four patties with four slices of cheese and all the fixings). Fries are cooked in pure lard and dubbed “flatliner fries.” The milkshakes are touted to have the highest butter fat content in the world. The restaurant also sells beer, soda, candy and no-filter cigarettes.

“The Heart Attack Grill diet is not for everyone,” a telephone recording at the restaurant warns. “Side effects may include sudden weight gain, repeated increase in wardrobe size, back pain, male breast growth, loss of sexual partners, lung cancer, tooth decay, liver sclerosis, stroke and an inability to see your penis. In some cases, mild death may occur.”

Customers who finish quadruple bypass burgers earn the honor of being pushed to their cars in wheelchairs. Thursday, hamburgers cooking on the grill kicked off so much fat the equipment caught fire.

“What better place to have such a gluttonous restaurant than in Sin City?” mused owner Jon Basso, who goes by the name “Dr. Jon.”

The first Heart Attack Grill opened in 2005 near Phoenix and was met with much criticism. Arizona’s attorney general threatened to close it in 2006, saying Basso was in violation of a state law allowing only people with valid nursing licenses to be called nurses. Basso was arrested after saying he’d release a fire hose on a group of picketing health care providers.

The grill’s spokesman, 29-year-old Blair River, who stood 6-foot-8 inches tall and weighed 575 pounds, died in March of pneumonia, and the original Arizona location closed in May. That same month a second grill opened in Dallas. It also was met with protesters — and a line of customers.

Basso understands the criticism and welcomes it.

“You’re intelligent if you don’t eat our food,” he said Thursday. “If people pondered what I’m doing, they’d realize I’m creating a mockery of this. When you hop on that scale and you’re 350 pounds and we give you a free burger and people cheer, what’s really going on? We’re singling you out as a freak. On the one hand, I could try to defend myself ethically and call myself a crusader that’s trying to wake up America and conduct an intervention on obesity. That’s half true. The other half is I’m an entrepreneur trying to make a buck, plain and simple.”

Basso stopped, thought for a minute, then added: “The only thing I can say in my defense is: If you compare me to Burger King and McDonald’s, I’m honest and they aren’t. It says right on my door: ‘Caution, bad for your health.’”

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  1. Hate to say this is what things have come to in America.

    Everyone with any sense at all knows this is not good for you but there are people that will eat there because they want to. Freedom of choice in life.

    I would have no problem with it as long as everyone takes responsibility for their own actions. You die from being to fat, you pay the price. Don't expect anyone to pay your way in life. No special laws to protect you for something you bring upon yourself.

    Dr. Jon is working the market. He found people will run to his door for what he has to offer.

    I have no problem with what he is doing. Free enterprise at it's best, giving the American public what they want.

    You don't want it, don't go there. You do go there, remember you made that choice. No one forced you. Don't sue him for your own actions and don't expect us taxpayers to pay for your medical bills.

    He provides a product and employees people. Good for him! ;-)

  2. I for one can't wait to try this place! Can't understand why people have to protest these places, if you don't like the food or the motto of the company then don't go! Thank you for coming to Vegas. Here is to me eating the "quadruple bypass"!

  3. I have no issues if someone wants to destroy their health by consuming a 3,000 calorie meal...just make sure any health consequences are never paid by the taxpayer.

    You are an idiot for eating there, but there's no law against idiocy. I credit him for admitting that people that take up his challenge are freaks. You can't regulate stupidity. Just as long as I don't pay for your heart by pass surgery, your obesity medication or any medical costs...go hog wild. You want your kids to be fatherless and motherless at an early age...keep eating there.

  4. Good for him! Vegas is the perfect place for this kind of thing where tourists will love this kind of exaggerated experience. That's what Vegas is really all about, and ESPECIALLY when it comes to food!

    Neonopolis needs a place like this to call attention. And as long as no one mettles with him, he, and Downtown will do very well.

  5. The business generates some jobs and what is wrong with that. It is a gimmick and no one forces you to go and eat there. It is still a free country.

  6. "It is still a free country."

    A 4 days stay in the hospital for bypass surgery isn't "free"
    High blood pressure medication isn't "free"
    Obesity, diabetes aren't "free" from medical issues.

  7. Gee... I wonder if we should draft some state legislation to control the consumption of unhealthy food? Oh, wait; won't the new federal health care legislation take care of that?

    Thankfully, Las Vegas might be the last place in the US where government tries to legislate "health" -- and good for us. The nannies can

  8. ... stay in Washington.

  9. It is a free country. However, these people that eat here should have to pay double on their health insurance. These morons that do not care about their health affects my private sector health insurance costs.

    Your freedoms do not have a right to do that. Do things that effect the rest of our private sector costs, you pay.

  10. Ah I love this city..I may not eat here but this is great! For a tourist city! Have some fun!

  11. Ray's Hell Burgers would be a much more appropriate concession because it serves the broad spectrum population.

  12. I might eat some of those lard-fried fries for a treat. I weigh about 125 lbs. You can't eat like that every day, but a treat is nice once in a while.

  13. Welcome to Las Vegas!! I cant think of a better city to have a restaurant like this! I will be going there soon to check it out in person! Cant wait!!
    To the past and present protester... GET A LIFE!

  14. I could see this place being on a Saturday Night Live skit, but as a real business the concept just confuses me.

    A huge burger, sure. Lard in the fryer, ok.

    But heart attacks are not funny, and not something I want to think about while eating. I just can't make sense of this place.

  15. The restaurant's waitresses are dressed as "nurses," which demeans the profession.

  16. "Calling someone an idiot for eating here
    (TomD1228) is an idiotic statement as well as an insult."

    OK, how about "not intelligent"?
    Before you answer, make sure you read the owners comment in the article.

  17. apparently so does Halloween...

  18. Gee whiz!.....I sure hope the government steps in and saves me from my bad decisions.

    .....we are the sum of our choices <Sartre>

  19. The portions and calorie-count on these gut-bombs are obnoxious! I also notice at least 40 casino buffets that do the exact same thing...just not all in one plate. Buffet lizards spend 2 hours grazing at these all-you-can-stuff-down-yer-gullet orgies in between huffs of oxygen and 20 cc's of insulin. It's one thing for the 1-2 times a year tourist"But I see locals do this 2 x week! I can't wait until I get my Hover-round! zoom zoom!

  20. If you generally eat right and are in relatively good shape, not overweight or obese and want to sample the fare at Heart, try it out. Those people aren't the problem. It's the guy or gal so fat they need a scooter are the ones I'm worried about. Those with no respect for their bodies who continue to eat garbage food. You only get one body in this lifetime and it's amazing how many people out there will abuse it to no end. I mean, do you really need 3 plates of buffet food? When you order off the menu you get your steak, a potato and maybe a vegetable. When it comes time that you say to yourself "taint enough, need more" better start looking at the waistline.

  21. If someone enjoys the food at the establishment then they should be left alone. It's a matter of personal preference. If they over indulge, that's their problem. However the tax payer will eventually absorb part of the true cost for those who are heavy users. For citizens who scream for freedom of choice and don't want the government to infringe on our personal choices, I wonder if they feel the same way about drug and alcohol consumption?

  22. "It is still a free country."

    "A 4 days stay in the hospital for bypass surgery isn't "free"
    High blood pressure medication isn't "free"
    Obesity, diabetes aren't "free" from medical issues"

    Yes, but you pay for all that through your insurance. The fact that there are costs involved doesn't mean you can take away people's freedom of choice. If the government chooses to cover some or all of it for lower income people, you still cannot take away their freedom of choice. The only possibility is taking away the benefit if it becomes too expensive.

  23. @going bust
    LOL...most of those passing thru the door don't have insurance. I'm not taking away their freedom of choice, I'm just unwilling to pay for their medical problems thru Medicaid. Freedom of choice has consequences, remember that. Too many use freedom of choice statements and then want to send their $15,000 hospital stay for by pass surgery bill to the taxpayers in the form of Medicaid. Get real.

    The owner of the restaurant is calling you unintelligent for eating there....LOL. The owner!!...LOL.

  24. The average customer will likely be a male tourist in his 20's or 30's who will eat there once or twice on a Vegas trip and then go back home to wherever and eat the way they normally do.
    A "treat" once in a while (like 2 or 3 times a year) isn't going to hurt you. The "regulars" ordering the 8k 4 slab bomb 2 or 3 times a week will be inviting problems, but I imagine a large percentage of customers will be tourists who go there once so they can tell their buddies back home at work how good it was. I may try it once, but I'll stick to a single burger. Maybe we'll stay at Mandalay Bay or Sunset Station, so we can walk over and back in order to burn off the extra calories.