There has always been fast food of sorts, but 1950s America put mass-produced, flavour-rich but nutritionally-poor fast food on the culinary map. It was the decade that quick-service restaurant chains began to open and franchise, heralding a seismic shift in the way we eat.
Burger Chef began operating in 1954 in Indianapolis, Indiana, expanded throughout the United States, and at its peak in 1973, had 1,050 locations, including some in Canada. Signature items included the Big Shef and Super Shef hamburgers.
The chain was bought out by Hardee’s in the late 80s and the final restaurant to carry the Burger Chef name closed in 1996.
Burger King was founded in 1954 by Miami natives David Edgerton and James McLamore. The Whopper was introduced to the menu in 1957 and the burger has been on the menu ever since.
By the 1980s, while people still enjoyed McDonald’s over any other burger joint, Wendy’s was emerging as a competitor and Burger King was a very close second.
‘Happy Meals’ were a large factor in McDonald’s success, and eventually, Burger King came up with their alternative – Kids Club – the “Kids Only” meal which included prizes as well. Extremely popular were their Burger Buddies (little hamburgers and cheeseburgers that came in threes).
In Australia, the Burger King franchise is known as “Hungry Jack’s” (the name “Burger King” was already trademarked by a small takeaway food shop in Adelaide, South Australia) but has the same corporate branding.
CHUCK E CHEESE
In 1977, video games giant Atari opened the first Chuck E Cheese restaurant in San Jose, California – a nightmarish “fun for the whole family” eatery featuring robotic animals and electronic games.
Pizza delivery chain Domino’s was founded in Michigan (USA) by Tom Monaghan in 1960 and opened its first franchise location in 1967. By 1978, the company had expanded to 200 stores and has since become the largest pizza chain on the planet, thanks to the world’s insatiable appetite for takeaway pizza.
KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN (KFC)
Harland David Sanders (a.k.a. “Colonel Sanders”) was a grandfatherly southern gentleman who opened what would be the first in a chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Corbin, Kentucky in 1932 in a lunchroom behind his gas station. The restaurant was soon listed in Duncan Hines (a renown food critic) guidebook Adventures in Good Eating.
In 1934 Kentucky Governor Rudy Laffoon so liked Sanders’ food that he bestowed upon him the honorary title of a Kentucky Colonel. By 1937, Sander’s Cafe seated 142 customers who often came for the Colonel’s specially prepared southern fried chicken, which contained a “secret blend of eleven herbs and spices.” His trademark formula (which the Colonel claimed could be found on everybody’s kitchen shelves at home) became the most guarded one in the history of advertising (outside of the Coca-Cola formula).
After 1950 the Colonel began to dress the part in his now famous white suit, black string tie and white goatee beard.
In 1964, Sanders sold the flourishing Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation for $2 million. However, by retaining the “Kentucky Colonel” as a roving ambassador and instituting his image as the corporate icon, the company was able to continue promoting its product as “finger-lickin’ good” chicken in the best tradition of Southern-fried home cooking.
One TV spot in the 1960s showed an angry housewife who kidnapped the Colonel, interrogated him in an abandoned warehouse and demanded he give up his secret recipe. Of course, he didn’t.
In 1975, Colonel Sanders was sued unsuccessfully for libel when he publicly referred to Kentucky Fried Chicken gravy as “sludge” and that it had a “wallpaper taste.”
While not representing KFC, the Colonel contributed money to a number of charities and community organisations and at the age of eighty-seven, he testified against the mandatory retirement before a Select Subcommittee on Aging.
Finally, on 16 December 1980, Harland Sanders died at the age of 90. He was buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery. His legacy has now been franchised worldwide to new generations who still find his chicken “Finger-Lickin’ Good.”
The “down home” identity was somewhat compromised by PepsiCo’s $840 million buyout in 1986. The company was re-branded “KFC” – the word “fried” deemed inappropriate in an era of consumer health-consciousness – and integrated with other PepsiCo-owned fast food chains, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut
The Colonel Harland Sanders museum at the KFC Headquarters, located west of Interstate 264 (exit 15A) in Louisville, Kentucky, traces the history of the Colonel’s chicken empire.
McDonald’s fast-food restaurants started to appear in America in the mid-1950s, but their most iconic burger – the Big Mac – wasn’t born until 1967. “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” – If you said it in four seconds, they gave you a free drink.
“Speedee”, the original Mcdonald’s mascot (pictured below), lasted until 1960 when the “hamburger loving clown” Ronald McDonald took over his coveted position.
By the 1990s, nearly $30 billion worth of McDonald’s hamburgers were being sold worldwide each year.
Dan and Frank Carney – two brothers from Wichita, Kansas – opened the original Pizza Hut in 1958 with a $600 loan from their mother. Six months later, they opened a second outlet, and within a year, they had six Pizza Hut restaurants.
The brothers began franchising in 1959, and the iconic Pizza Hut building style – with shingled roofs and trapezoidal windows – was designed in 1963 by Chicago architect George Lindstrom.
PepsiCo acquired Pizza Hut in November 1977. Twenty years later, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken were spun off by PepsiCo and all three restaurant chains became part of a new company named Tricon Global Restaurants.
The first-ever Wendy’s opened in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. Founder Dave Thomas named the restaurant after his fourth child Melinda Lou “Wendy” Thomas. Photographs of her were on display at the original Wendy’s restaurant until it closed.
In 1970, Wendy’s pioneered the first drive-thru window. It had a separate grill for quick service.
The chain is known for its square hamburgers, sea salt fries, and the Frosty, a form of soft-serve ice cream mixed with starches.
In Britain, Wimpy appeared in 1955 following J. Lyons’ decision to license the name and the product (a round meat patty served in a bun) from its American owners.
The first British “Wimpy Bar” was opened in the Lyons Corner House in Soho’s Coventry Street, but pretty soon, other Wimpy Bars began to spring up around the UK as the influence of America crept ever nearer.