The fast-food industry in this country has a long and storied history. The founders of America's biggest chains built mega-empires based on the pursuit of the American dream, and in the process changed the way that the world eats. But how did these chains first get off the ground?
Given the ways that fast food influences everything from American pop culture to politics to dietary trends, it's fascinating to look back on the origins of the biggest players in the industry. One of the first fast-food chains to emerge was White Castle, founded by Bill Ingram in Wichita, Kan. in 1921; the design of the original White Castle was inspired by the Water Tower building in Chicago.
The novel and efficient system developed by the McDonald brothers at their original San Bernardino, Calif., location inspired a handful of other up-and-coming entrepreneurs to try their hand in the industry, namely Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns (founders of Insta-Burger King, which would later become Burger King), Carl Karcher (founder of Carl's Jr.), and Glen Bell (founder of Taco Bell). But certainly the person most famously inspired by the original McDonald's was Ray Kroc, who bought the company from the McDonald brothers in 1954 and turned it into the mega-corporation that it is today.
Restaurants come and go, but for one reason or another (usually a combination of quality product, smart marketing, and good luck) these chains have firmly cemented their place in history. But as big and powerful as they are today, they all started just like any other restaurant: small and driven by one person with a dream. Read on to learn the origins of America's most popular fast food chains.
Brothers Dan and Frank Carney borrowed $600 from their mother to open a pizzeria – then a novel concept – in Wichita, Kansas in 1958. It was a huge hit (giving away free pizza on opening day didn’t hurt), and franchising began a year later. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Sanjay ach Click Here to see More on Where Your Favorite Fast-Food Chains Began
Former bread salesman Troy N. Smith purchased a root beer stand with an attached log house in Shawnee, Okla. in 1953, and converted the log house into a steak restaurant called the Top Hat. After he and his business partner noticed that hot dogs and hamburgers were the top sellers they switched focus, and also installed an intercom system that allowed customers to order from their cars. Smith and new partner Charles Pappe opened the first franchise location in 1956, and upon learning that the name Top Hat was already trademarked, they changed the name to Sonic in 1959. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Magnus Manske
Brothers Tom and James Monaghan bought a small pizzeria called DomiNick’s in Ypsilanti, Mich. in 1960 for $900, and eight months later James traded his half of the business to Tom for a used Volkswagen (bad idea). In 1965 Tom changed the name to Domino’s, and the first franchise opened in 1967. Tom retired in 1998, after selling 93 percent of the company to Bain Capital for about $1 billion. Photo Credit: Domino's Pizza Click Here to see More on Where Your Favorite Fast-Food Chains Began
The Raffel brothers opened the first Arby’s (named after the initials of “Raffel brothers,” R and B) in Boardman, Ohio in 1964. The former restaurant equipment salesmen saw a gap in the market for fast food other than burgers, and the original location sold only roast beef sandwiches, potato chips, and soft drinks. They began to expand to other states in 1968, and throughout the 70s they opened about 50 stores per year. Photo Credit: columbusrestauranthistory.com
The Dwarf House (originally The Dwarf Grill) started out in 1946 in Hapeville, Ga., when S. Truett Cathy opened it with a $10,000 investment. It had 10 counter stools and four tables. By the mid-1960s Cathy had opened a handful of other Dwarf House locations, and in 1967 he opened a restaurant devoted to selling pressure-fried chicken sandwiches, which he called Chick-fil-A. Additional locations opened in mall food courts throughout the 1970s and 80s, and the first freestanding location opened in 1986. Cathy is still alive today; his outspoken son Dan is now the owner. Click Here to see Even More of Where Your Favorite Fast-Food Chains Began Photo Credit: Yelp/ Jenny M
-- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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