Kennewick's Ruff's Giant Burgers to close

By Loretto J. Hulse, Herald food writerAugust 25, 2012 

— The Tri-Cities is losing a local fast-food icon this weekend.

Duane Ruff, who opened Ruff's Giant Burgers on Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick in the late 1970s, will be opening his doors Sunday for the final time.

Gone will be the silhouettes of 1950s dancers decorating the exterior, the 45 rpm records on the interior walls and the giant cheeseburger/Pepsi cup statue sitting near the sidewalk.

"I opened Ruff's when I was 29," he said. "It was my baby, and I nursed it for 35 years. I turned 65 last month. It's time to retire."

Ruff has four children, but none are interested in taking over the restaurant.

"They're all professionals and have their own careers," he said.

Ruff has kept quiet about the closure, informing his employees but not many others.

Longtime customer George Grimes, 54, of Kennewick, discovered the sad news last Monday when he stopped in for his favorite burger -- the classic Giant Ruff's.

"I noticed all the pinball machines were gone," Grimes said. "I don't really know Ruff, but I was used to seeing him there, so I made a point to yak with him a bit. He told me he was giving it up, had sold to someone who owns Mexican restaurants."

Ruff said he's leased the land and building to the owners of a restaurant in Pasco, Taqueria El Sazon on Court Street, who were not available for comment.

Grimes said he hates to see Ruff's close.

"For me, it's like losing the drive-in theaters," he said. "These old-time places bring back good memories."

He said he grew up in Walla Walla eating the generous-sized burgers at the Ice-Burg Drive-In on Birch Street.

"I moved to the Tri-Cities in 1984 to work and, boy, I was happy to discover Ruff's," Grimes said. "I have a fondness for those big, giant Ruff's burgers. And they're big, about 8 inches across. Huge, but I always finished my burger."

Grimes said whenever someone new came to town, he always made a point of taking them to Ruff's.

"Just the nature of the place, how it made you feel when you walked in, it's old school," Grimes said. "Kids nowadays are missing out on that."

Ruff said the decision to close the restaurant was fairly easy to make. The restaurant has been on the market for at least five years, but it didn't sell with the downturn in the economy, he said.

"But the economy is doing better now. The new owners should do really well," Ruff said.

Ruff said he has no plans to leave the Tri-Cities. He grew up in Sunnyside, worked and went to college in Yakima, and when the Grizzly Bear pizza parlor opened by Columbia Center, he transferred from Yakima pizzeria to manage the Kennewick location.

When the Grizzly Bear in Kennewick closed in the 1970s, Ruff took two unemployment checks and opened Ruff's Giant Burgers in the former Dog N Suds building.

"I leased it from week to week. I didn't have enough money to lease it for a month," Ruff said. "I decided on burgers because then I didn't have to change appliances. I just used what I had."

Ruff said he couldn't compete with the likes of McDonald's and Burger King and their burgers.

"I knew I had to be different, so I went bigger with bigger buns and really lean meat," Ruff said. "Burgers have done well by me."

In 1989, he doubled the size of the Kennewick restaurant.

A year earlier, he'd opened a second Ruff's Giant Burgers in the former Speedy's Drive-in on Lewis Street in Pasco. He closed it after 13 years.

"Everything was good in the 1990s, then it gradually dropped off," Ruff said.

Ruff said what he'll miss most are his customers.

"I have a lot of really loyal ones. But I'm not leaving, I'll see them on the streets," he said.

Or perhaps he'll run into them at a restaurant. Closing Ruff's, he said, "will give me more time to get out."

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