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Health advocates vs. so-called heart-stopping sandwiches

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

I had a chance to check out Burger King’s Whopper Bar in Manhattan over the weekend and took notice when the changing menu board flashed on the Pizza Burger, a 2,520-calorie mozzarella and pepperoni-laden meal that’s four times the size of the chain’s signature burger and large enough to feed a small family. Significantly, the company markets the sandwich, which debuted in a city that already requires chains to post calorie counts, as something to be shared rather than a giant indulgence for one person.

In an age when Americans are so anxious to stem the tide of childhood obesity that cities ban toys from quickservice children’s meals, every trend list includes healthier dining and chains nationwide are adjusting their menus in anticipation of next year’s nutritional posting requirements, some companies are proudly touting their weightier offerings.

KFC caught the interest of health advocates with the launch of its Double Down earlier this year, and the media took notice when other chains followed suit with new sandwiches such as Denny’s Fried Cheese Melt and the Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt at Friendly’s. The website Holy Taco recently posted a photo array dubbed “25 Heart Stopping Sandwiches,” starting with a sandwich from Tony’s I-75 Restaurant in Michigan that boasts a full pound of bacon.

Most chains and eateries are content to limit their outrageous offerings to one or two spots on the menu and tout the healthier aspects of the bulk of their dishes, but not so for one Arizona restaurant that’s won big buzz lately with its unhealthy approach. The 5-year-old Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Ariz., and its 8,000-calorie Quadruple Bypass Burgers would likely send New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg screaming for reform and give cardiologists nightmares, but owner and former Jenny Craig franchisee Jon Basso argues that his high-calorie, lard-laden Bypass Burgers and Flatliner Fries feed the happiness that makes people healthier no matter their size. The eatery thrust itself into the spotlight this week with a campaign promoting its practice of feeding anyone over 350 pounds for free and featuring a 570-pound spokesman. In a Utah radio spot and an Australian TV interview, Basso sticks firmly to his shtick, even when debating with an Australian nutritionist who tries to make a serious point about how Basso’s concept might normalize unhealthy eating.

The new ad campaign has also encouraged a lively social media following for the restaurant, with Facebook fans eagerly tallying the media mentions and posting encouraging messages. Despite the eatery’s concept that calls its scantily clad female servers nurses, posts health warnings about its own food and encourages its patrons — dubbed “patients” — to step on the scale and chart their weight gains, Basso insists he’s serious about promoting happiness by helping guests recover from unhealthy and unrealistic body image goals.

Health advocates have serious problems with the concept, which has also spawned at least one restaurant that Basso says imitates his eatery way beyond the point of flattery. In February, his company sued Heart Stoppers Sports Grill in Delray Beach, Fla., claiming the newer establishment’s décor, theme and menu add up to a copycat.

Is Heart Attack Grill owner Jon Basso’s shtick merely smart shock-marketing or a serious threat to public health? Tell us what you think.

PhotoEuphoria via iStock