Nov. 17, 2006 -- The motto of the Tempe, Ariz., restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill is "Taste … worth dying for." That's because it serves only artery-clogging food like big, greasy hamburgers with names like the Quadruple Bypass -- that's four half-pound patties -- and Flatliner fries, deep-fried in lard. It refuses to sell diet anything.
Jon Basso is the restaurant's owner. He calls himself "Dr. Jon" and works in a doctor's coat. But his uniform isn't what earned the Heart Attack Grill a threatening letter from the office of Arizona's attorney general.
The government is upset because the "Doc" calls his waitresses nurses. He also has them dress as nurses, or in some cases, as nurses you'd see only in an X-rated movie, with micro-miniskirts, net stockings and high heels. One customer told us, "If I had a nurse like that when I was in the hospital, I'd probably still be in the hospital."
The Arizona Board of Nursing asked the attorney general to write to Basso, advising him that according to law, "only a person who holds a valid and current license to practice professional nursing … may use the title 'Nurse.'"
It seems ridiculous, but it sure got Basso's attention.
"When somebody with the title of attorney general calls you up and you're a small businessman like me, with three kids to support, that's scary," Basso told ABC.
"I thought, oh my God … all the money that my wife and I spent to this restaurant is in jeopardy because here's a lawsuit and I don't have the money to afford attorneys to defend this."
"It's the Whole 'Naughty Nurse' Image"
The Board of Nursing would not talk to us about this, but Sandy Summers, executive director of the Center for Nursing Advocacy, did. "It's not only the Heart Attack Grill," said Summers. "It's the whole 'naughty nurse' image."
Summers' group said the "naughty nurse" stereotype kills people, thousands of people, because it creates a nursing shortage by discouraging women from becoming nurses.
"We have this environment where decision-makers who run hospitals or members of Congress don't value nursing to the extent that they should," said Summers. She added that there are fewer nurses handling more patients.
"They're given eight patients instead of four, and sometimes even more than eight. And when you double a nurse's workload from four patients to eight, patient mortality increases by more than 30 percent."Summers also maintains that the media's sexualized images of nurses have led to sexual harassment on the job.
"It's a constant association of sex and nursing that we object to," Summers said. "And it creates an environment where people actually think that nurses are people you can have anonymous sex with -- these brainless sluts."
Defending the Heart Attack Grill
Clark Neily is an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a law firm that defends small businesses from governments that bully them. Neily said nurses who are offended by the Heart Attack Grill may have a point. "They work hard. They're professionals, and they should be treated with respect."
Neily said Summers' protest is far better than what the government is doing. "They have a letter-writing campaign on their Web site. Nurses have sent letters to the Heart Attack Grill. That's the right way to go about it, but getting the government to come in and try to censor somebody who's saying something that offends you or that you disagree with is the wrong way to go about it."
Everyone at the restaurant told us the state nursing board's complaint was ridiculous. "Nurse" Vanessa said, "I really think they need to grow a sense of humor."
"There's so many great causes that we can spend our taxpayers' dollars on. Why do they want to pick on this simple little 40-stool restaurant? I don't know," wondered Basso. "The government has gotten big enough as it is -- do they really have to stick their nose into my business?"
Good question. Even nurses' advocate Summers, who has that letter-writing campaign against the restaurant on her Web site, calls the attorney general's action an assault on free speech. Kudos to her — that's the right way to protest something that offends you.
Just today, the Arizona state nursing board met and finally decided it would not take any action against the Heart Attack Grill.
That's good news, and I bet it probably won't be long before some other government officials come and threaten to shut his place down just because of the fatty food it serves. And I say to all those killjoys: Give me a break!