TEMPE, Ariz. – The Heart Attack Grill -- a theme restaurant whose specialties include the Quadruple Bypass Burger and Flatliner Fries, cooked in pure lard -- is making health-care professionals' blood pressure rise, and not because of the menu.
It is because of the waitresses' naughty nurse uniforms.
The waitresses wear skimpy, cleavage-baring outfits, high heels and thigh-high stockings -- a male fantasy that some nursing organizations say is an insult to the profession.
Several nurses have complained to the Arizona attorney general's office, and a national nursing group has repeatedly asked Heart Attack Grill owner Jon Basso to stop using the outfits.
"Nurses are the most sexually fantasized-about profession," said Sandy Summers, executive director of the Center for Nursing Advocacy, based in Baltimore. "We're asking people, if they're going to have these fantasies, please don't make it so public. Move these sexual fantasies to other professions."
Basso shrugs off Summers' complaints, and refers to her and her supporters as prudes, cranks and lunatics.
"If anything, I think it glorifies nurses to be thought of as a physically attractive and desirable individual," Basso said. "There's a Faye Dunaway, Florence Nightingale hipness to it. Nobody wants to think of themselves as some old battle ax who changes bedpans for a living."
The most serious complaint Basso has faced was made to the Arizona attorney general's office by the state Board of Nursing. In September, the attorney general's office wrote Basso a letter informing him that he is illegally using the word "nurse" at his restaurant and on his Web site. Citing Arizona Statute A.R.S. 32-1636, the attorney general said only someone who has a valid nursing license can use the title "nurse."
Basso refused to remove "nurse" from his Web site but inserted an asterisk next to every nurse reference and included the following disclaimer:
"The use of the word `nurse' above is only intended as a parody. None of the women pictured on our Web site actually have any medical training, nor do they attempt to provide any real medical services. It should be made clear that the Heart Attack Grill and its employees do NOT offer any therapeutic treatments (aside from laughter) whatsoever."
The attorney general's office sent a follow-up letter on Nov. 22 saying the Web site cleared up the issue, and it was resolved.
Basso said the complaints have been good for business, "all they've done is ensure there's going to be a gajillion of these all over the country."
The Heart Attack Grill opened a year ago with a Hooters-like formula of red meat and sexy waitresses. Diners choose from among four cheeseburgers: the Single, Double, Triple and Quadruple Bypass. The Quadruple is a towering monstrosity with four half-pound beef patties, four pieces of cheese and a mound of bacon.
"Essentially, it's nutritional pornography. It's so bad for you it's shocking," Basso said.
If "patients," as customers are called, finish a triple or quadruple bypass, waitresses will push them out to their cars in wheelchairs at no additional charge.
"The service is fantastic," Steve Koebensky of Scottsdale said with a snicker. "But they're overly dressed."
Phoenix resident Amanda Price, one of the few women customers at the restaurant, said the outfits did not offend her. "You don't hear nuns complaining about pregnant nun costumes, and that's more disgraceful than sexy nurses," she said.
But Scottsdale nurse Kira Wilder, who contributed to the letter-writing campaign against the Heart Attack Grill, complained: "Why do they have to denigrate the nursing profession and sexualize nursing? It's just not necessary."
Courtney Chapman, a 20-year-old waitress at the grill, said she found nothing wrong with the uniform or the stares she gets.
"They definitely look at us, but they're guys," she said. "If our butts are coming out the bottom of our skirts, and our boobs are coming out the top of our shirts, we're kind of asking for it."