Four Winds, home of famed loaded Ranger Burger, closed its doors Saturday

Four Winds, the restaurant famed for its loaded Ranger Burger, will close its doors Saturday after a 35-year run.

Susan Cox, who launched the Cusseta, Ga., eatery in 1979 with her husband, Donald, moving to the current location in 1992, confirmed Friday that Four Winds has lost its tenant, with Saturday the last day.

But Cox hopes that won’t be the final chapter for the popular restaurant that developed a bond with the military through the years, serving everyone from Army privates to decorated generals. The eatery is located at 464 Georgia Hwy. 26, not far from Fort Benning’s southern border.

“I’m going to continue to try to get somebody in there. I don’t know which one will come first. I’ll either sell it and be done with it or lease it,” said Cox, who lives behind the 7,545-square-foot restaurant that she and Donald — who passed away suddenly in July 2013 — constructed from 1986 until 1992, with the help of Army Rangers on their days off.

Cox, who turns 65 next March, said she doesn’t have the energy to operate Four Winds anymore without the support of her husband and her mother, Mary Renfroe, who died 23 days after Donald, pushing the emotional toll even higher.

“I’m still going through quite a bit,” she said. “I want it to reopen, but I just don’t have the strength to do it.”

Cox said Columbus restaurateur Mark Jones decided not to renew his lease at Four Winds. Jones, who owns several eateries in and around Columbus, had been operating the Cusseta location since October 2013.

She’s not sure what happened at the restaurant, although changes in the menu may have had an impact on the business, including one item in particular.

“The first thing he did is change the Ranger Burger recipe. And that’s my baby. The Ranger Burger is famous all over the world the way I had it made,” said Cox, explaining the new management used a different type of cheese, a different grind of meat, and bacon pieces instead of strips of bacon. The restaurant’s Facebook page has a customer suggesting they return to using bacon strips.

Whatever the reason for its closing, Four Winds will leave a colorful legacy of having served tens of thousands of customers through the years.

It had become a tradition of sorts for Army Rangers to wolf down a Ranger Burger as part of their transition into the Special Operations ranks. It featured two 8-ounce ground beef patties, two slices of cheese, two strips of bacon on a large bun, served with fries and iced tea.

There also was the “Ranger Challenge,” with customers offered the chance to devour an 86-ounce steak, one-pound basket of fries, side salad, roll and beverage in 45 minutes. If they accomplished that stomach-stretching feat, the feast was free.

“I started that,” said Cox, who couldn't recall how many diners were successful. “It’s huge. It scared me for them to do it.”

Before moving into the larger building in 1992, Cox recalls becoming so crowded one day that a piece of plywood was laid on top of the pool table so that an Army general would have a place to put his plate and grab a bite to eat.

“Can you believe a two-star general ate on a pool table?” she said. “That’s what made us decide to build a bigger building, because we couldn’t hold the people that we were getting in the little bitty building.”

One photo on the restaurant’s Facebook page shows two of the more celebrated Fort Benning generals inside Four Winds, apparently in 2011. It has Maj. Gen. Robert Brown (now a lieutenant general) side by side with retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr. Both are former Fort Benning commanders, with the annual Best Ranger competition named in honor of Grange.

“I’ve got some very, very good memories,” Cox said.