Augie Richards, a Newbridge-area restaurateur and impresario, was the owner and proprietor of a succession of Newbridge, NJ eateries, including Ye Olde Newbridge Tavern, Ye Olde Burger Barn, and the Battermobile. Along with his wife, Doris Richards, and his off-and-on partner, Ron Fuqua, Richards dedicated his life to providing his customers with the hottest, heaviest, most gooey buttled fare in northern New Jersey.
A Dream is Born
Richards, a fifth-generation restaurateur, got his start in the restaurant business when he inheritied Ye Olde Newbridge Tavern, a tavern owned and operated by the Richards family since 1822. Never content with the status quo, maverick Augie began to overhaul the tavern only a few months after assuming control. Richards converted the historic tavern into a Applebeesesque family-style eatery and pub, which he named Ye Olde Burger Barn. He soon thereafter installed the centerpiece and trademark feature of the Burger Barn, The Batter Butler, a 15-foot trough of golden, bubbling oil. Upon receiving their meals, Burger Barn customers were encouraged to dip their food into the batter mixture of their choosing, then lower the batter-covered burgers and fries into the Batter Butler's trough of boiling oil, flash-frying the mass into an ooey, gooey, oleaginous gob of super-food. After letting the buttled food cool for about 45 minutes, the meal was ready to eat.
Customers had their choice of four batter flavors (Lemon, Rye, Chocolate, and Grape [a fifth flavor, Butterscotch, was tried but quickly dropped due to excessive mouth-scalding]) and three different batter viscosities (Light, Heavy, and Da Bomb™). By all accounts, the food was slamming.
To maintain a consistent temperature throughout the trough, the Batter Butler was powered by Delstar 143, a fuel described by Richards as "a mixture of rocket fuel and carbon dioxide compressed times a thousand." The prohibitive costs of the Batter Butler, the Delstar 143, and extensive Butler maintenance caused Richards significant financial hardship. But rather than abandoning his dreams of providing an interactive, hands-on deep-fry family dining experience, he instead made a difficult and unusual decision. Betting that the Burger Barn experience had value beyond that of other restaraunts, he developed a bold new pricing strategy, raising the price of a platter of food from $4 to $36 and instituting an entrance fee, a restroom usage fee, a darts fee, and a TV-watching fee. (Those who refused the TV watching fee had their chairs turned around to face the wall.) He also raised the price of the payphone from $0.35 to $8.75.
While some low-class individuals and crybabies balked at the expense, Richards' hunch paid off. Ye Olde Burger Barn remained the place to see and be seen eating buttled fare, attracting such celebrities as Jerry Only, Hector "Macho" Camacho, and Jack Steeples. Aside from one tragic incident in which an unsupervised child piddled into the Butler's trough, causing her to become severly burnt, Ye Olde Burger Barn was an unparalleled success. Richards opened a Batter Butler museum and began construction on an indoor mini-roller coater, The Batter Butler Express. Every Tuesday, the Burger Barn was packed for "Best Show on WFMU" night, where the customers hooted and hollered along with the radio as Tom Scharpling delivered his trademark brand of Mirth, Music, and Mayhem. Soon, however, that mirth would turn to bitter tears of golden, boiling oil.
A Dream Smashed
Riding high on the wings of his recent successes, Richards contacted Scharpling during an episode of The Best Show to ask him to perform a remote broadcast direct from the Burger Barn. Over the course of their conversation, things began to unravel. Richards proposed that in exchange for a personal appearance, all of Tom's drinks and buttled fare would be half-price, and that the entrance fee would be reduced to $2 for Best Show fans.
Scharpling, apparently unhappy with the offer, made openly critical remarks about Ye Olde Burger Barn and Richards on the air. He then took several calls who cast further aspersions towards the Barn, accusing Richards of wrongdoing and personal liability for their "injuries," none of which could be confirmed. Scharpling criticized Richards for allowing inebriated persons to operate the Batter Butler, citing a call from a young man who claimed to be a fraternity pledge injured during a buttled fare-themed hazing ceremony. Richards responded that there is a large sign above the Batter Butler which reads "DUNK AT YOUR OWN RISK," removing all liability for batter-related injuries.
Tom Scharpling was also critical of the Burger Barn's popular Buttled Engagement promotion, which offered prospective fiancees the opportunity to bite into a piping hot, golden-brown gob of batter and discover a scaldingly hot diamond engagement ring; as well as the even more popular Buttled Divorce, where the divorcee is served a buttled hunk of horsecrap, served on a placemat of divorce papers and delivered by a notary. Scharpling questioned whether the health codes would allow for something like the Buttled Divorce, but Richards explained to him that since Ye Olde Newbridge Tavern was established in the 19th century, it existed in a legal gray area ungoverned by the Department of Health.
Richards, reeling from the brash DJ's criticism, decided that Scharpling was not "Burger Barn material," confirming the opinions of his close friend and confidant, Ron Fuqua. Richards announced that he would now play Fuqua's program, Kid Midnight, instead of The Best Show at the Burger Barn. Scharpling's pride now smarting, Richards ended the call feeling victorious. This feeling would be short-lived. By the next morning, the accusations of Tom Scharpling and his callers had reached the office of the Newbridge Township Fire Marshall, who immediately shut down Ye Olde Burger Barn and issued fines to ButtledWorld, LLC, in excess of $1,600,000. Further complicating matters was an order to shut down the Batter Butler within 24 hours. Richards tried to explain that the Delstar 134 would require several days to cool down before it could be drained, but the Fire Marshall would not budge, possibly in part due to his lawn being littered with batter-fried horsecraps in the middle of the night by an unnamed vandal in a brown 1999 Dodge Caravan. Richards' failure to comply led to still more fines.