The 20-something-foot metal marquee sign outside of Zippy’s Burritos, Tacos & More is not afraid to say what everyone else in Baton Rouge is thinking. And for that, it has become a can’t-miss part of Baton Rouges’ culture—especially in early November when LSU plays football rival The University of Alabama.
“There is some public discord about it. People are like, ‘You’ve gotta take that down.’” Neal Hendrick, owner of Zippy’s, says. “Well, I’ve got five people out there standing in front of the sign laughing their [asses] off, taking pictures of it. If you don’t like that kind of humor, then we’re probably not the kind of place you’ll have fun eating at.”
After opening just 16 days after 9/11, Hendrick took initiative three months later to cheer the public up with a silly sign that read, “Yes, we’re open.”
“We’re the underdog of Mexican food,” Hendrick says. “We had to do something to attract attention. Something that’ll make people laugh.”
Twenty-one years later, the sign is still changed out every few days with quippy sayings. After years of creating the signs himself, Hendricks’ staff and community began weaving their ideas into the mix and today the public calls and messages the Zippy’s team with suggestions regularly.
The restaurant has made a tradition of putting the call out to the public during what Hendrick and Zippy’s refers to as Bama Hate Week, leading up to when the rivals face off during football season. The restaurant makes a Facebook post and asks for the community’s best ideas in the comments section. The winners receive a $50 Zippy’s gift card. This year’s winner was Baton Rouge native Ashley Arnold.
Arnold was scrolling through the comments herself when the idea popped in her head: “He’s a 10, but Nick Saban is his coach.” Her comment hung high for all to enjoy on October 31.
“Anytime I pass by, I enjoy their fun, catchy phrases,” Arnold says. “It’s a staple in Baton Rouge…[Friends] always snap a picture and send it to me. We always joke about the signs.”
Ben Phillips, Zippy’s assistant manager, says the staff likes to celebrate people in the neighborhood, too. They’ve put a number of signs up for birthdays and anniversaries.
“I think we’d have a serious issue if we got rid of [the sign],” Phillips says. “It’s definitely a core piece of who we are.”
The Zippy’s staff informally talks about the sign every day. There is no official meeting or list of ideas, according to Phillips. The Zippy’s team feels that the impulsivity of the day’s sign is what keeps the community watching.
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Louis Mykoff, Zippy’s general manager, has a group chat with his friends and family where they throw ideas for the sign around. He said he’ll occasionally ask his sister, who works in public relations, if an idea is too edgy.
Hendrick adds Zippy’s does not try to hurt anyone’s feelings. They intentionally do not go after anyone already who is not in the eye of public. But those who are—like a head football coach, for instance—should expect to get picked on a bit.
“Kind of like what your drunk uncle would say,” he jokes.
Apart from football season, the sign is often also themed around news events, popular sayings or holidays. During Lent, for instance, the sign once read “Real Catholics eat fish tacos.” One year, it read “Real men eat fish tacos.” According to Hendrick, a group of women complained about the saying, so the next day the team changed the sign to read “Real women eat fish tacos”.
According to Mykoff, Zippy’s has considered swapping the sign for a digital version, but decided to keep its old-school look instead. And locals, it seems, are just fine with that.
“When I put up the sign today, before I could even get a picture for our social media, there were people stopping and taking pictures,” Mykoff says.
To add your Bama Hate Week sign suggestion, click here. Zippy’s is located at 3155 Perkins Road.