Where do you begin when none of your words are good enough for Good Times? When there are bambino burgers and frozen custard and wild fries on the line? When you dip into your little cardboard box of green chile cheese fries and get one entirely coated with cheese and just the right sting of chile and all is right in the world and at your coffee table?
Yes, we have In-N-Out, Shake Shack and Whataburger now, but whatabout Golden-headquartered Good Times? Why aren’t we talking more about our homegrown drive-through hero and just how good nearly everything on its mammoth menu is?
I am breaking the Good Times silence. I am shouting my love for it from the rooftops, because Good Times needs to know just how much we love and appreciate it before it’s too late.
We are not worthy of you, Good Times. Of your all-natural burgers and antibiotic-free chicken. (“At least something is drug-free here in Colorado,” says their cheekily brilliant advertising campaign.) You care more for our health and well-being than we do, and how do we thank you? We park ourselves for two hours in an In-N-Out drive-through line.
But Good Times is patient; Good Times is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. Good Times never fails. Good Times forgives us our transgressions and welcomes us with open arms and breakfast burritos. Because, yes, they do breakfast, too!
I am a cynical person who believes in basically nothing, and certainly not humanity, but I believe in these burgers and fries. I believe that all potatoes should be covered in green chile and cheese and placed in a small cardboard box or, at the very least, come coated in spices, crisped up and served with wild dippin’ sauce.
About those fries. Wild fries have been on Good Times’ menu since it opened in Boulder in 1987. (Die-hards will know that Good Times is a spin-off of Round the Corner, a sit-down burger joint where you’d phone in your order from booths.) At one point, Good Times took the wild fries off their menu (they wanted to cut their own potatoes and keep things all-natural). You can imagine how that went.
“There was such an upheaval in society that we brought back the wild fries,” said Amy Nedwell, director of marketing for Good Times. “They revolted. More than any other things we’ve had on our menu that we got rid of, there was an uprising over the wild fries. So wild fries came back.”
Wild fries are critical to Good Times’, and our own, survival, but there’s also a time and a place for the natural taters. That place is inside that cardboard box, topped with green chile and cheese, and that time is, on retrospect, always.
Of course there’s green chile, because this is Colorado and we love ourselves some green chile. Do you remember that Good Times’ foray into the green chile game began with Santiago’s? It did, back in 2011, on fries and in breakfast burritos, but that was a temporary partnership. Good Times wanted to continue and Santiago’s did not, and so Good Times did something slightly traitorous and, instead of using our Pueblo peppers, went down to New Mexico’s Hatch Valley to source the requisite peppers for their chile.
“They didn’t have enough big growers that could continually support a restaurant,” Nedwell said of the Pueblo chile snub. “There wasn’t the capacity to do that, the farms weren’t hooked in with the food distributors. We ended up going Hatch Valley.”
These days, Good Times goes through 4,200 bushels of Hatch chiles a year, which actually seems low considering all the green chile cheese fries my household consumes. It’s worth noting that Good Times tries to go local in most areas — that all-natural meat comes from Meyer Natural in Loveland, they serve Daz Boggs coffee and Aspen Bakery makes the bambino buns — but really everything about Good Times is worth noting.
Especially the frozen custard. When Good Times introduced frozen custard to its menu in 2001, it was pretty novel for Colorado. We had ice cream and froyo, sure, but the midwestern frozen custard was still a rarity, and we can thank Good Times for granting us its thick, creamy goodness.
My beef with the custard? Oregon freaking Blackberry. Why am I so often limited to the confining flavor choices of vanilla and Oregon Blackberry? Nedwell tells me that the reason we see Oregon Blackberry pop up on the custard menu three times a year — when we have to wait a full year for the other, vastly superior flavors — is because you people love it. It’s their best-seller, and since the restaurants are so tiny and without room to be churning multiple flavors, we get Oregon freaking Blackberry thrice a year.
The frozen custard is the basis for perhaps the most important menu item at Good Times: the Pawbender. Made of custard, peanut butter and dog biscuits, Pawbenders are the greatest things to happen to our pooches since tummy rubs. When it was time to say goodbye to my beloved devil pug, Smeagol, last fall, I turned to Good Times for his Pawbender send-off.
Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind my final meal coming from Good Times. It would include the West Coast cheeseburger and its three slices of American cheese sticking to the glistening bun, those glorious green chile cheese fries, and frozen custard in pretty much any form. (Except, big sigh, Oregon Blackberry.) I might throw in the chain’s best-selling Bambino burger for good measure.
Now I don’t want to create panic, but Nedwell tells me that changes are afoot for Good Times. It’s considering franchising outside of Colorado (there currently are two outposts in Wyoming that are co-branded with Taco John’s), and it’s also undergoing a remodel and rebranding. The first to get the touch-up is the restaurant at 120th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Thornton. The goal is to make the drive-through restaurants more inviting for sit-down meals, and so they’re adding new awnings, patio tables and market lights. Each table will get a ring on it to hold Pawbenders so they don’t scoot across the floor when your own devil pug digs in.
Pawbender tables are fine, but the franchising worries me. Early 2000s’ advertising promised that Good Times was “gonna be big,” but I don’t want them to be big. I want them to be exactly as they are, all wild fries and bambino glory. I’ll even white-knuckle it through three months of Oregon Blackberry if it means the rest of my order remains exactly the same.
“We’re a Colorado burger and that’s who we are,” Nedwell said. “If we take it outside (Colorado), it’s a Colorado burger. That’s what we want to be. This brand represents Colorado.”
Good Times is Colorado, and Colorado needs its Good Times. Yes, In-N-Out might turn our heads, but it’s Good Times we come back to. Good Times that wakes us up in the morning and keeps us warm at night.
Please stay the same, Good Times. And don’t mess with our wild fries.