Still Flippin’ Giff’s Steakburgers For Nearly 40 Years
By Jon Lewis
Home of the Ugly Burger
Story by Jon Lewis
Photos by James Mazzotta
GRUFF IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT when it comes to describing Dick Blake, the mustachioed proprietor of Giff’s Steakburger. In keeping with the season, Grinch may be a little bit closer to the truth.
Gruff. Grinch. Grump. Blake, 76, has heard ‘em all, and worse. And he freely gives as good as he gets, which is one of the traits his ragtag group of regulars loves about him.
Of course, they’re also fond of the burgers he grills himself, and Blake has dished out a lot of them. Having been in business for 39 years, he estimates he’s made more than a million steakburgers, including the namesake Ugly Burger. Each one is made and pressed by hand from fresh beef delivered daily from R&R Quality Meats and grilled over real charcoal.
And he’s made a lot of friends over the years. A lot. The dozen or so who stop by early in the morning for coffee and conversation—NASCAR and the Shasta Speedway are popular topics, as well as politics, the weather and the garden-variety goings-on in town—and the mainstays who while away the afternoon hours are proof that behind Blake’s crusty exterior lies an affable, kindhearted man.
All of which is not to say that a visit to Giff’s is like a stroll through a Hallmark store. Thin-skinned customers are advised to toughen up a bit; political correctness is not exactly in Blake’s skill-set. Diners whose political inclinations lean leftward should avoid most of the signs filling the walls lest they risk losing their appetites. Other signs steer clear of politics and opt instead for the risqué or off-color.
Blake is an unapologetic American and the decorations in his small establishment reflect that. Blake was drafted into the Army as a 26-year-old father of one and served 18 months in Vietnam as the crew chief on a Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. “I have no regrets,” he says. “When I came home, the war was over for me.”
Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Blake spent 37 years in the grocery business before retiring.
Some 18 months after his stint in Vietnam, Blake met his second wife, Barbara, and the two have been married 51 years. “She’s a very good lady. She puts up with all my (BS).” Blake came up to Redding on a vacation in 1978 and was looking to relocate to an area where he felt safer raising his family.
He ran across Giff’s Steakburger, which had been open for six months and was for sale. He gave it the once-over and decided to buy it. As he was completing the paperwork, the seller offered a less-than-optimistic prediction: “He said, ‘You’re not going to make it,’” Blake recalls with a wry grin.
“This little place has been very good to me,” Blake says. “Some days are good; some days are bad. I just go with the flow. But I’ve got a lot of friends.”
The secret to Giff’s Steakburger’s success? Nothing more complicated than hard work. “I’m 76 years old and I work 12 hours a day, six days a week. That’s what the doctor says keeps me going: I’ve got something to do,” Blake says.
It was nearing closing time on a recent afternoon when Gus McEntire, the owner of a landscaping business and a Giff’s regular, showed up and entered into a salty give-and-take dialog with Blake that sounded like it had been going on for years.
In between good-natured invectives, McEntire observes that he, Blake and the other regulars have been talking politics at Giff’s for
37 years. “We haven’t solved anything yet, but we’re working on it,” Blake replies.
A few years ago, when Blake was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century and finally began accepting debit and credit cards, the news prompted Redding Radio’s Don Burton to produce a spoof commercial heralding the development in authentic Giff’s language. (Although hilarious, the spot cannot be excerpted in a family publication.)
The history of the Ugly Burger, though, is fit for print. Recalls Blake: “A customer I call Ugly Bob came in and said he wanted a bigger burger. He said, ‘I want something big and ugly,’ so I smashed two patties together and that’s how it came about.” •
2827 Bechelli Lane, Redding • (Mission Square shopping center)
(530) 223-3586 • Hours: 9 am to 4 pm Monday-Saturday