The owner of the Heart Attack Grill, an infamous Las Vegas eatery that’s been connected to two actual heart attack deaths in recent years, defended the business’s fat-shaming gimmickry Sunday night during the pilot episode of Showtime’s “7 Deadly Sins.” “I’m reflecting society,” Jon Basso explained in the episode, which focused on gluttony. “I’m only doing to [the customers] what they want me to do.”
And what the self-dubbed “Dr. Jon” does at his medically themed restaurant has shocked many: offer a menu of disgustingly unhealthy items, such as the four-stacked Quadruple Bypass Burger, topped with chili and 20 slices of bacon; weigh customers (“patients”) on a cattle scale in the middle of the room; reward those who are over 350 pounds with a free meal; and punish people who don’t finish their food with spankings delivered by scantily-clad “nurses.” The restaurant’s TV spokesperson, 29-year-old Blair River, died in 2010 of issues related to his 570-pound weight. And a heart attack killed John Alleman, the restaurant’s “best customer,” as he was leaving the premises in 2013.
The Quadruple Bypass Burger. Photo courtesy of the Heart Attack Grill.
“It’s a sacrifice that has to be made,” Basso said on the show, created by documentarian Morgan Spurlock. “Somebody has got to stand here and say, ‘Screw it. Wake up, world. You’re fat.’ 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.”
Basso’s online critics have been speaking out in the wake of the broadcast, with tweets declaring his approach “fat hating” and “stomach-churning.” And PETA swiftly responded to the episode with an ad highlighting the impact on animals slaughtered for the Heart Attack Grill’s meat-based menu. (To that, Basso replied with a single tweet: “Our vegan menu includes Lucky Strike cigarettes. They are pure leaf tobacco with no meat byproducts.”) Since Basso launched the restaurant concept in 2005, he has been heavily criticized in the media, characterized as a “drug pusher,” and much worse.
In a conversation with Yahoo Health, Basso (who noted the “7 Deadly Sins” episode was actually shot two years ago) maintained that he is actually a performance artist who is simply resorting to shocking means in order to get across his message: that obesity will kill you. “I do more to combat the obesity epidemic than any other individual in the country, including the Surgeon General,” claimed the white-coat wearing proprietor, who ironically began his career as the owner of a fitness center before finding his true calling.
The Flatliner Fries. Photo courtesy of The Heart Attack Grill
“If you’re a real fat guy, you’re not going to go to the gym, you’re not going to seek help. So I’m the first point of contact,” he explained to Yahoo Health. “And the first step to healing is awareness. Some of these people don’t even know how big they are.” Stepping on the scale in front of an audience, he said, could hopefully be the moment they realize. It’s been the case for at least 30 Heart Attack Grill customers, Basso said, who have sent him thank you letters with before and after photos of their major weight-loss successes.
“For every Alleman who dies, we can hopefully help 10,000,” he said, noting that he keeps the bag of the cremated man’s ashes on his desk as a reminder to keep going with his message that obesity kills. Basso freely admits that the restaurant’s message is designed to be “as unhealthy as possible,” and noted in a recent segment of Bloomberg News, “I am 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 that you should stay away from it.”
But, as Basso noted in the Showtime series, “We’re selling a lethal but legal commodity. And we’re selling it and selling it and selling it.” And he readily admits to making a good living while he’s at it. “I may snicker my way to the bank,” he told Yahoo Health, “but I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because I’m able to be an artist…Burgers are just the price of the ticket for the show.”