The Surprising Histories Behind Your Favorite Fast Food Restaurants
Eschewing moderately priced restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, price-conscious eaters are instead opting for to pay from $4 to $8 for a meal. These days, according to USA Today, diners are eating at fast food restaurants more than ever.
Fast food restaurants are on fire. Keep reading to find out how your fave joint got its start — you might be surprised about its roots.
1. Krispy Kreme
In 1937, Vernon Carver Rudolph and his associates pooled their money, which came to $25, to rent a storefront in Winston-Salem, N.C. Rudolph talked a local supermarket into lending him the ingredients he needed so he could make doughnuts to sell to stores, according to Mental Floss.
Because customers loved the doughnuts so much, Rudolph actually cut a hole through Krispy Kreme’s wall so he could sell them right on the street. Cut to the 1950s and Krispy Kreme got mechanized production machinery, which helped the company keep up with demand. Rudolph died in 1976 and Beatrice Foods bought Krispy Kreme, which it later sold to a group of franchisees.
Next: From truck driver to restaurateur
2. Carl’s Jr.
Bet you didn’t know that Carl’s Jr. started out as a Los Angeles hot dog stand. In 1941, founder Carl Karcher was driving a truck for a living when he and his wife, Margaret, decided to use their entire life savings of $15 to open the place, reports Mental Floss.
The stand took off and the Karchers opened three more. In 1945, however, they opened a sit-down restaurant in Anaheim, Calif., called Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue — and added hamburgers to the menu. Because Carl’s became an instant hit, the Karchers branched out in 1956 with two smaller versions of the place and Carl’s Jr. was born.
Next: A place built on a bet
3. Jimmy John’s
Jimmy John Liautaud made his father a bet after high school. He got his dad to lend him $25,000 to get a restaurant off the ground and pledged to join the Army if his business didn’t make a profit the first year, according to Mental Floss.
Liautaud decided to make the place a sandwich joint. In 1983, he started selling his gourmet creations on homemade bread — from a remodeled Charleston, Ill., garage. Two years later, Liautaud paid his dad back and today has almost 3,000 places across the U.S.
Next: This duo ditched their jobs to open a place.
5. Waffle House
When Atlanta neighbors Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner decided their hood — Avondale Estates — needed a diner that was open 24/7, they ditched their jobs and opened the first Waffle House in 1955. Chances are, people in the 1950s thought they were kind of crazy for leaving paying jobs in pursuit of a dream.
Things worked out for Rogers and Forkner. By 1961, they had opened four or five more, according to the website Mental Floss. The pair served as managers until the 1970s, when they retired and named Rogers’s son president and CEO.
Next: A childhood dream comes true
Dave Thomas, Wendy’s founder, wanted to own a restaurant since he was a youngster, thanks to his fond memories of eating at five-and-dime stores, according to Mental Floss. Thomas served as a regional director for Kentucky Fried Chicken but left to open his own hamburger place in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969.
Thomas’s daughter, Melinda, could never pronounce the “L” in her name and somehow ended up with the nickname Wendy. The little girl with pigtails — Wendy’s logo — is also designed to look like her. Thomas stepped down from Wendy’s in 1982, but the chain is still killin’ it.
Next: Arizona needed a Chinese restaurant.
6. P.F. Chang’s
Philip Chiang studied art in school but couldn’t find a job when he graduated, according to Mental Floss. His mother had been a restaurateur, so Chiang decided to go into the biz and opened Mandarette, a casual Chinese place. When Paul Fleming — owner of the California franchise, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — visited the joint, he and Chiang connected.
Fleming eventually moved to Arizona and noted that the state had a real shortage of good Chinese restaurants. They launched the first P.F. Chang’s in a Scottsdale, Ariz., shopping mall and the rest is history. The moniker is a combo of the Fleming’s initials and Chaing’s last name, slightly Anglicized.
Next: CIA graduate chooses fast food
7. Chipotle Mexican Grill
Steve Ells, who started Chipotle, is actually a Culinary Institute of America graduate and a chef. He worked as a sous chef, according to Mental Floss, and found he loved focusing on fresh ingredients.
Ells launched his first restaurant in Denver, which featured Mission-style burritos. Then, in 1993 he founded Chipotle because he wanted to practice for the fine-dining establishment he eventually wanted. Business took off and Ells stuck with it, building the place into the popular chain.
Next: Big news — drive-throughs
In 1948, California got its first drive-through burger place, thanks to husband and wife team Esther and Harry Snyder. There were no carhops at the place, though; instead, Harry installed a two-way speaker system so customers could order from their cars, according to the website. In 2015, the restaurant opened In-N-Out No. 300. Pretty impressive for its modest roots.
Next: Milk truck driver with aspirations
9. Top Hat
In 1953, Troy Smith opened the first Top Hat restaurant, according to Mental Floss, which was basically a root beer stand in Shawnee, Okla. A military vet, the young Smith zeroed in on the food industry after he left the Army and did a short stint as a milk truck driver. He opened a number of other establishments, hoping one would take off.
Top Hat was an immediate success and Smith canned the other places to concentrate on growing it. In 1959, he renamed the place “Sonic” and came up with the slogan “Service with the Speed of Sound.”
Next: Talking clowns?
10. Jack in the Box
Robert O. Peterson opened the very first Jack in the Box in San Diego, Calif., in 1951, according to Mental Floss. He had already founded a fast-food chain called Oscar’s but was excited about the new two-way intercom system through which customers could order.
Peterson mounted the intercom in the plastic clown — an image that’s now synonymous with Jack in the Box’s name. He converted one of his Oscar’s locations into a drive-through place and Jack in the Box was born.
Next: Popeyes poppin’ up all over
11. Chicken on the Run
Before Popeyes, there was Chicken on the Run, reports Mental Floss. To compete with KFC, Al Copeland opened one in Arabi, La., in 1972.
Copeland found that his traditional Southern-fried chicken wasn’t selling, so he dumped it and started serving a spicier, New-Orleans-style kind. And he renamed the place Popeyes, after detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle of The French Connection fame. By the mid-1980s, Popeyes locations were popping up all over — there were 500 locations in the U.S. and one in Canada.
Next: $900 turned into $1 billion
According to USA Today, two brothers bought a pizza joint in Ypsilanti, Mich., for $900 in 1960. Eight months after that, James Monaghan gave his brother Tom his half of the business in return for a used Volkswagen. He lived to regret it.
When the brothers bought the place it was called DomiNick’s and in 1965, Tom renamed it Domino’s. The first franchisee opened his Domino’s in 1967 and the chain became wildly popular. So popular, in fact, that when Tom retired in 1998 and sold 93% of his company to Bain Capital he made $1 billion.
Next: A recipe for success
Harland Sanders was a fortysomething guy who had a roadside gas station in Kentucky during the Great Depression and who began selling food to hungry travelers, according Business Insider. Sanders’ fried chicken was the star of the menu, for which he had a secret spice mix so secret that he forbid the chef to write it down.
Sanders sold the restaurant in 1956 and traveled the country with his wife, drumming up franchisees. Cut to 1963 — there were more than 600 Sanders’ restaurants in the states and Canada.
In 1965, Sanders sold his interest in the company for $2 million. Renamed Kentucky Fried Chicken, the restaurant was on its way to becoming an American icon. In the spring of 2017, 35.91 million people ate at KFC, according to statista.
Next: One franchise that’s tough to get.
S. Truett Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in Hapeville, Ga., in 1967, according to Business Insider. The place focused solely on pressure-fried chicken sandwiches — and business exploded. Before Cathy died in 2014, he stipulated that his children could sell the company, but not take it public.
Today, if you’re lucky enough to get a franchise — only between 75 and 80 people get one each year — you’ll pay only $10,000 for it. That said, you’ll pay much higher fees to the parent company than if you opened a different chain franchise.
Next: From broom closet to pizza parlor
15. Papa John’s
John Schnatter graduated college in 1983 and went home to Indiana to manage his father’s dingy bar, Mick’s Lounge. He decided to give it a facelift, according to Mental Floss, and within a month the place was making a profit.
To make more dough, so to speak, Schnatter turned a broom closet into a kitchen and started turning out pizzas. They were a hit — and Schnatter came out of the closet and got backers to help him set up a place next door. Papa John’s was born, and by the early 1990s the business was doubling in size every year.
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