The History of Fast Food Restaurants

Most historians agree that the American company White Castle was the first fast food establishment, starting in Wichita, Kansas, in 1916. It sold hamburgers for five cents each and quickly generated numerous competitors and emulators. In 1940, Maurice and Richard McDonald moved their father's food stall, “The Airdrome”, from Monrovia to San Bernardino and renamed it “McDonald's Bar-B-Q”. After restructuring the business to focus on hamburgers and fries, they changed the name to McDonald's. The oldest operating McDonald's restaurant is in Downey, California.

The first Pizza Hut was opened in 1958 by brothers Dan and Frank Carney in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas. They decided on “Hut” after discovering that the building's sign only had space for eight letters. In 1986, the original cabin was moved to the campus of Wichita State University, the Carney brothers' alma mater, where it serves as a museum. The original Starbucks store started selling coffee beans and equipment from its 2000 location on Western Avenue in 1971. In 1977, they opened the “1st and Pike” café, located at the mouth of the historic Pike Place market.

In 1983, six businessmen got together and changed the face (ahem) of chain restaurant history when they opened a “deliciously tacky, but unrefined” restaurant by the name of Hooters. The original Hooters continues to serve wings with the chain's signature hospitality. In 1964, three former high school classmates opened the first Blimpie sandwich shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. One of the founders, Tony Conza, came up with the name after searching the dictionary for an alternative to the names sub and hoagie and encountering the word dirigible.

Unfortunately, the original Blimpie location has closed. After discovering that the name of his burger joint was already trademarked, the owner of Top Hat Drive-In, Troy Smith Sr., changed the name of his Oklahoma network Sonic Drive-In in 1959. Although it wasn't the original location of Top Hat (which was in Shawnee), the first Sonic sign arrived at the Stillwater restaurant and that's where it stays today. In 1973, Chinese immigrants Andrew Cherng and his father Ming Tsai Cherng opened the Panda Inn restaurant in Pasadena, California. After 10 years of providing Los Angeles with exclusive sit-down meals, Glendale Galleria management asked them to consider creating a fast-food version of their restaurant.

They agreed, and now no trip to the mall is complete without a delicious free sample of unidentifiable goodness. The first In-N-Out opened in 1948 when Harry and Esther Snyder set out to offer customers fresh food with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment. The original location was demolished so that Interstate 10 could be built. In 1986, Jerry and Janie Murrell founded Five Guys with four other boys (Jerry's children).

The couple had advised them to “start a business or go to college”. The first restaurant was located in Westmont Mall which also housed Brenner's Bakery where they got their bread rolls. Five Guys no longer calls Arlington home but they maintain a strong presence in northern Virginia where they opened their first five locations. In 1938, father-son duo John Fremont “Grandpa” and Alex McCullough tested a revolutionary soft ice cream formula at their friend Sherb Noble's ice cream shop.

The trio knew they were after something when they sold more than 1600 servings of it in less than two hours. Two years later Noble opened Dairy Queen in Joliet. Peterson opened Jack in the Box in 1951; with its two-way intercom and pickup window it made fast food even faster at its San Diego location. The first Chick-fil-A opened its doors at Atlanta's Greenbriar Mall in 1967 after S.

Truett Cathy began experimenting with boneless chicken breasts while working at Dwarf House restaurant in Hapeville Georgia. At first Cathy referred to her burger alternative as a “chicken steak” sandwich but was warned that it couldn't be trademarked so she changed “steak” to “steak” and then misspelled it for trademark reasons. Both Chick-fil-A and Dwarf House are still open to this day unless it is Sunday. Romano's Macaroni Grill founder founded Fuddruckers in 1979 because he believed that “the world needed a better burger”. The restaurant started out as Freddie Fuddruckers and opened its doors in a former bank which continues to serve customers today.

Before there was Burger King there was Insta-Burger King which flipped hamburgers and served milkshakes for just 18 cents each in 1954.

Tristan Gagliardo
Tristan Gagliardo

Proud social media ninja. Bacon expert. Unapologetic gamer. Proud zombie nerd. Freelance pop culture scholar.

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