Every single time you consume a meal or a drink, you are either helping your body or hurting it, which is why making healthy dietary choices is so important.
After failing for years to get that point across as a fitness professional, one Arizona man decided to take another, more controversial, approach. However, many claim he went too far after seeing what he put on display in his restaurant.
Turning a Passion Into a Career
When this young man graduated from college, he decided to pursue his passion for health and fitness. After dedicating most of his life to sports, diet, and exercise in high school and college athletics, it was the next natural step. His goal was to help others on their journey to good health.
A Health Expert
So after graduating college, he opened and owned a chain of Jenny Craig weight loss centers and a chain of personal training studios. “I was the owner, operator, janitor, personal trainer, the whole nine yards,” the man explained. “And for years and years, I was playing doctor as a personal trainer pretending I knew much more about the body.”
As time passed, the trainer and business owner started getting disillusioned with the fitness industry and his role in it. Each day, he would take people’s money and promise them he could give them their dream bodies if they did exactly what he said. But in most cases, he believed those goals were physically impossible to achieve.
“I was prescribing diets to people with typically one goal, which was to lose weight,” the man explained. “You are not being very real with people and by the nature of the fitness industry, it’s disgusting because you are promising people things that are outside genetic possibility. Give me money and I’ll make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that’s not going to happen.”
A Complete Fraud
“Year after year went by and I became more and more jaded and bitter. After a while I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror because I was a complete fraud who was supporting my family by lying,” said Jon Basso, the man once happy with and proud of the profession of personal training.
The Turning Point
However, one day Basso received a letter in the mail that changed everything. The notice was from a powerful intellectual property firm in Los Angeles that was notifying him that he was being sued. According to the letter, the name of his fitness studios was too similar to a famous hamburger chain. “I couldn’t fathom that this was happening because I was the do-gooder, the hero … this was the evil burger empire coming down on me for using common language, an old English expression, in and out, meaning a rapid rate, and I had no intention of selling burger or fries,” Basso said.
He tried to defend himself against the lawsuit. At a certain point, however, he realized he didn’t stand a chance even though he was right. So after a year and a half of fighting, Basso decided to close his businesses. Yet he refused to give up trying to help people live healthier lives.
A New Approach
“Instead of being a slimy, crooked, dishonest peddler of health and fitness services, which I was, promising anybody who would pay me any type of miraculous results if they followed my advice and did physical exercise, I would actually launch a hamburger concept that would be absolutely honest,” Basso explained. So in 2005, he opened a hamburger restaurant in Tempe, Arizona.
The Heart Attack Grill
The concept was to make food “so bad for you it’s shocking.” Since it’s beginning, Basso has packed the menu with items like the “Quadruple Bypass Burger” and “Flatline Fries.” The food is all extremely high in fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol. Some meals actually exceed 8,000 calories, which is about four times the recommended daily intake.
The Warning Signs
In fact, the food is so bad for your health that Basso placed warning signs all around the restaurant telling people not to eat there. “Go away. If you come in this place, it’s going to kill you,” a sign at the entrance reads.
The Side Effects
Basso also eagerly warns patrons about the other risks involved with eating at his restaurant. Some of the side effects of eating such unhealthy food include sudden weight gain, repeated increase of wardrobe size, back pain, male breast growth, lung cancer, tooth decay, liver sclerosis, and stroke.
“I’m probably the only restaurateur in the entire world who is unapologetically telling you that my food is bad for you, that it will kill you, and you should stay away from it,” Basso said. In the restaurant, which eventually moved to Las Vegas, Basso even installed a cattle scale to weigh customers and show them how overweight they really are. Yet customers kept coming…
An Inevitable Loss
Eventually, the inevitable happened. In March 2011, 29-year-old Blair River passed away due to health complications related to his obesity. When he died, Blair weighed 570 pounds, which was partly a result of eating regularly at the Heart Attack Grill. In fact, Blair was such a big fan of the restaurant that he was its TV spokesperson.
More Health Emergencies
In February 2012, a man started having a health emergency while eating a Triple Bypass Burger at the restaurant. “The gentleman could barely talk. He was sweating, suffering,” Basso said. “I actually felt horrible for him because the tourists were taking photos of him as if it were some type of stunt. Even with our own morbid sense of humor, we would never pull a stunt like that.”
The Second Death
Just two months later, another woman experienced a similar health emergency while eating her meal. Then in 2013, 52-year-old John Alleman, an unofficial spokesperson for the Heart Attack Grill, suffered a heart attack just outside the restaurant. While Alleman only weighed 180 pounds, he was genetically predisposed to cardiac problems, which made eating the artery-blocking food especially dangerous.
A Perfect Example
“He never missed a day, even on Christmas,” Basso said about the beloved patron. “People just loved him. He connected with people in a real way. He never wanted a handout from anyone. He always insisted on paying. He lived, ate and breathed the Heart Attack Grill.” According to Basso, Alleman is proof that anyone is at risk of a heart attack. “You don’t have to be tremendously old or fat. You can be in your 30s and 40s and die of a heart attack.”
Despite proving how dangerous his food is, Basso won’t close down the Heart Attack Grill. According to him, his goal is twofold. Firstly, he wants to make money. “I’m here to tell you straight up that I’m here to make a buck,” he said in an interview. Secondly, Basso wants to wake people up to the reality that obesity is deadly.
In order to illustrate just how dangerous the food is, Basso has even displayed Alleman’s cremated remains in the restaurant for patrons to see. “It’s a sacrifice that has to be made,” he said. “Somebody has got to stand here and say, ‘Screw it. Wake up, world. No, I’m not going to call you ‘plus-size.’ I’m not going to say you’re ‘portly.’ No, you’re fat. Lose some weight, or just hurry up and die and be done with it.”
A Failed Mission
“Two out of three of us is overweight. That’s a fact. That statistic alone is proof that the medical and fitness community has failed us in their mission. They still padded their pockets. But they failed in their mission, so all I’m saying is, I too was failing in my fitness mission as a fitness professional,” Basso said. According to him, he’s actually been able to do more good with the Heart Attack Grill than he ever did operating his gyms and Jenny Craig businesses. The proof can be seen in the before-and-after photos people send Jon to thank him for making them realize how overweight they actually were.
An Honest Approach
“For every Alleman who dies, we can hopefully help 10,000,” Basso said. “Do I want others to die at my restaurant? No. Actually, I want to wake up one morning and open the door and have no one ever come in again, because maybe the world would have learned the truth. Now, I make good money joking about how bad [for you] my food is. But at least I’m honest.”