While it’s not always good for you, it’s hard to pass up a meal at your favorite fast-food joint. Some of America’s most iconic restaurants are immensely popular for the convenience and prices they provide for their customers. But some of these restaurants took a little time to get established.
The men and women behind places such as McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, and Nathan’s Famous hotdogs worked hard to launch their businesses. While some of the original locations are still in tact, others have been replaced by parking lots and interstates. Read on to see how some of these hamburger and sandwich joints got started…
The Pizza Hut In Wichita, Kanas, Got Its Name Because ‘Hut’ Could Fit On The Sign
Brothers Dan and Frank Carney opened the first Pizza Hut in their hometown, Wichita, Kansas, in 1958. They used the word “hut” in the name because it was a short word that could easily fit on their sign, and the building itself resembled a hut. The original building was relocated to the city’s state university in 1986 where both brothers are alumni.
Chicago architect George Lindstrom designed the iconic Pizza Hut buildings we know today back in 1963. PepsiCo bought the business in 1977.
McDonald’s In San Bernardino, California, Started Out As A Carhop
Richard and Maurice McDonald founded the first McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California in 1940 and called it McDonald’s Bar-B-Q. It was a carhop drive-in for eight years before the siblings decided to focus on burgers and french fries. They then renamed it to simply McDonald’s.
The original location was on 1398 North E Street in San Bernardino, but it’s no longer in operation. The building is currently used as the headquarters of Juan Pollo Restaurants, and it houses a McDonald’s Museum. If you want to see the oldest operating McDonald’s, visit the one in Downey, California
Wendy’s Opened Its First Location In Columbus, Ohio, & Borrowed The Idea For Square Burgers
Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas borrowed the idea for old-fashioned, square hamburgers after a place in his hometown (Kewpee Hamburgers in Kalamazoo, Michigan) He launched his first restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. The square patties were meant to stick out of the buns to show the quality of meat.
The restaurant is named after Thomas’ fourth child, Melinda Lou “Wendy” Thomas. Her pictures were on display at the original location until it shut down. Wendy’s is the third largest hamburger fast food chain following McDonald’s and Burger King.
The next breakfast joint on our list got its name from its most popular menu item.
Waffle House In Avondale Estates, Georgia, Promised Speedy Food All Day Long
Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner launched the first Waffle House on Labor Day Weekend in 1955 at 2719 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates, Ga. The first Waffle House restaurant is currently a museum in Avondale Estates. The restaurant was named after the most popular item on its menu.
The founders’ goal was to create speedy fast food that was available 24 hours a day. The original sign included font the resembled syrup dripping off the letters. There are currently 2,100 locations in 25 states.
Dunkin’ Donuts, Which Launched In Quincy, Massachusetts, Got A Name Change In 2019
A man named William Rosenberg opened a coffee and donuts shop in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1948. He changed the name to Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950. He began franchising the restaurant in 1955, and in 1963 his son Robert became the CEO at just 25-years-old. The company’s 100th restaurant also opened that same year.
Baskin-Robbins’ holding company Allied Lyons bought Dunkin’ Donuts in 1990. In 2019, the doughnut chain was renamed Dunkin’ with a bigger focus on it being a “beverage-led company.”
The Original Location Of Nathan’s Famous In Brooklyn, New York, Hosts An Annual Hot Dot Eating Competition
Jewish immigrant Nathan Handwerker and his wife Ida started a hotdog stand in Coney Island in 1916. Ida was responsible for the hotdog recipe, while her grandmother created the secret spice recipe. The couple used their live savings, which was $300, to start their business.
The Handwerkers charged just five cents for the hotdog, half the price of their competition. There are now over 40,000 restaurants around the nation. The original restaurant is still in tact, and it’s the location of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which has turned Joey “Jaws” Chestnut into a famous competitive eater.
The Chipotle Mexican Grill In Denver, Colorado, Sold 1,000 Burritos A Day Only One Month After Its Launch
Chipotle Mexican Grill founder Steve Ellis attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and was a line cook in San Francisco before opening his restaurant in Denver, Colorado in 1993 at 1644 East Evans Avenue near the University of Denver campus.
Ellis’ father gave him an $85,000 loan, and they figured out he would need to sell 107 burritos every day to make a profit. One month later, he was selling over 1,000 a day. His original plan was to take the profits and open a fine-dining establishment, but he was so successful he concentrated on the Mexican grill instead.
The First White Castle In Wichita, Kansas., Has Been Replaced With A Parking Garage
White Castle was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, by restaurateur Cook Walt A. Anderson and insurance and real estate man Edgar Waldo “Billy” A. Ingram. They had just $700. The original location on the northwest corner of First and Main is gone, and a parking garage stands in its place.
Americans were wary of eating meat following the release of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, which broadcast the terrible sanitation practices of the meat packing industry. So White Castle hired staff wearing spotless uniforms and built restaurants with stainless steel interiors to promote a sense of cleanliness.
The First Blimpie In Hoboken, New Jersey, Is Still In Operation
Three old high school pals opened up the first Blimpie sandwich shop in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1964. Co-founder Tony Caza is responsible for the name after searching for similar words to “sub” and “hoagie.” He thought “blimp” was pretty close and added the “ie” for more pizazz.
The restaurant was an instant hit. The three men sold the first franchise sold to a friend in western New York for merely $600 in 1964. The first Blimpie in Hoboken is still in operation at 110 Washington St.
Five Guys And A Lady Started Five Guys In Arlington, Virginia
Fans of this burger chain might be surprised to learn that the name “Five Guys” refers to five actual guys. The restaurant’s name, however, leaves out an important figure in the company’s story: Janie Murrell.
Five Guys was established in Arlington County, Virginia, in 1986, by husband-and-wife team Janie and Jerry Murrell, as well as their sons Jim, Matt, Chad, and Ben. Another son would follow in 1988. Today, it’s headquartered in Lorton, with 1,500 stores under development as of 2016.
The Original Dairy Queen In Joliet, Illinois Is A City Landmark
Iowa-born John Fremont “J.F.” “Grandpa” McCullough and his son Alex created the soft-serve formula in 1938. They partnered with friend and customer Sherb Noble to create the first Dairy Queen restaurant in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. Their new ice cream shop sold more than 1,600 servings in just a couple of hours.
The initial restaurant stopped operating in the 1950s, but the building still exists at 501 N Chicago St. and is a city-designated landmark. The business has been franchised since 1940, and Texas has more Dairy Queen restaurants than any other state. The first store in Canada launched in Estevan, Saskatchewan, in 1953.
The First Taco Bell In Downey, California Had No Indoor Seating Or Drive-Thru Service
The very first Taco Bell was located at 7112 Firestone Blvd in Downey, California. Glen Bell founded the restaurant after running a hotdog stand in San Bernardino in the late 1940s. He opened Bell’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in 1950 but noticed how people flocked to a Mexican restaurant nearby.
He built the first Taco Bell in 1962. The first franchise was bought by a Lose Angeles police officer. The original restaurants featured only walk-up windows and no indoor or drive-thru service, and the original building is now owned by an unaffiliated Mexican restaurant.
This burger company sold for a whopping amount of money just a few years ago.
Burger King, Established In Jacksonville, Florida, Has Been Sold Four Times Since Its Inception In 1953
Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle, Matthew Burns, founded Burger King in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida. It was originally called Insta-Burger King. The pair used insta-broilers to cook up to 400 burgers per hour. Insta-Burger franchisees James McLamore and David R. Edgerton bought the business in 1959 and changed the name.
The company has since changed hands an additional three times. 3G Capital of Brazil acquired a majority stake in Burger King in 2010 in a deal valued at a whopping $3.26 billion. The original location is currently used by a restaurant called Stan’s Sandwich.
Sbarro Got Its Start In Brookyn, But Its Busiest Shop Was In The World Trade Center Mall Before September 11
Italian immigrants Gennaro and “Mama” Carmela opened the first Sbarro in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1956 on 1701 65th St. It started out as an Italian grocery store. The place was so popular, the Carmelas started opening more restaurants in the Manhattan area.
The original Sbarro location closed down in 2004. The family launched their first restaurant in a shopping mall in 1970. One of their busiest restaurants was located in the World Trade Center mall, but it was demolished in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Sonic In Stillwater, Oklahoma Tripled Its Sales After Carhops Started Delivering Food To Customers
Sonic was originally known as Top Hat Drive-In until owner Troy N. Smith Sr. realized the name of his burger joint was trademarked. The World War II veteran launched a walk-up root beer, hamburger, and hotdog stand in 1953 on 215 N Main St. in Stillwater, Ok. He boosted sales by having customers order from speakers at their cars and carhops delivered the food.
The name was changed to Sonic in 1959. The first Sonic sign was installed at the Stillwater Top-Hat Drive-In. This location was demolished and renovated in May 2015.
Kentucky Fried Chicken Officially Launched In Salt Lake City, Utah When Colonel Sanders Earned Just $104 A Month
In 1952, Colonel Harland David Sanders franchised his secret recipe “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the very first time to Peter Harman, a restaurateur in Salt Lake City, Utah, who owned one of the city’s largest restaurants. Harmen hired a sign painter who coined the name Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The first restaurant, however, was not in Utah but rather in Corbin, Kentucky, where it was called Harland Sanders Restaurant. Sander’s operated a hotel, gas station, and restaurant at his original location. In 1964, Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation for $2 million. The actual concept started in Corbin, Kentucky.
Subway Got Its Start In Bridgeport, Connecticut, So The Founder Could Pay For Med School
Aspiring physician Fred DeLuca, 17, of Bridgeport, Conn., (pictured here) borrowed $1,000 from Dr. Peter Buck in 1965 to start a sub shop and pay for college tuition. Pete’s Super Submarines was shortened to Subway in 1968, and four more shops were launched. DeLuca gave up his dreams of becoming a doctor to focus on his successful sandwich business.
The North End restaurant in Bridgeport is no longer around, but there are currently more than 40,000 restaurants to dine at all over the world. In 2002, DeLuca received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bridgeport.
In-And-Out Burger In Baldwin Park Was The First Drive-Thru Hamburger Stand In California
Harry and Esther Snyder built the first In-N-Out Burger in the Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Park, Calif., in 1948 at the southwest corner of what is currently the intersection of Interstate 10 and Francisquito Avenue. It has since been demolished to accommodate the interstate.
It was the first drive-thru hamburger stand in the state. Up until that point, carhops took orders and served food. Harry and Esther’s grandchild, Lynsi Snyder, is the current company president. Unusually, the company is not franchised nor public. Lynsi plans to pass ownership of In-N-Out to her children.
Jack In The Box First “Popped” Up In San Diego In 1951
The Jack in the Box website’s history page says, “Equipped with an intercom system and drive-thru window, the tiny restaurant served up hamburgers to passing motorists for just 18 cents, while a large jack-in-the-box clown kept watch from the roof.” Robert O. Peterson, a California businessman, opened the very first Jack in the Box in San Diego in 1951. The restaurant also sold a shrimp-and-fries meal for 59 cents!
Jack-in-the-Box has been expanding nationwide ever since, at least within a few hundred miles of its flagship location.
Chick-Fil-A Got Its Start With A Restaurant Called ‘The Dwarf Grill’ Located In Hapeville, Georgia
S. Truett Cathy opened a restaurant called The Dwarf Grill in 1946, in Hapeville, Georgia, that would later become one of the most popular fast food joints in America. Hapeville is a suburb of Atlanta and the Grill was located near the Ford Motor Company Atlanta Assembly Plant. Many of the plant’s employees ate there for lunch. It wasn’t until 1961 that Cathy found a deep fryer that cooked chicken in the same amount of time that a burger could be prepared. He then trademarked the name Chick-fil-A, Inc.” and the restaurant’s name was changed to The Dwarf House, which still stands today.
The chain was a staple of food courts in southern malls until expanding to stand-alone franchises country-wide. Chick-Fil-A is the title sponsor of the Peach Bowl and has roughly 2,000 locations as of 2016.
Rubio’s Coastal Grill Is San Diego Born And Raised
Formerly known Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, the cuisine is described as “Fresh or New Mex” for its twist on traditional Mexican food, specializing in fish tacos. This comes as no surprise, as founder Ralph Rubio attended San Diego State where he was introduced to fish tacos in Baja California on spring break.
This inspired him to open up his own restaurant in San Diego with his first location being on Mission Bay Drive in the Pacific Beach area. Today, its headquarters are in Carlsbad, California, and as of 2013 has more than 200 restaurants in neighboring states as well as Florida.
TGI Friday’s Was Originally A Singles bar
Living in a Manhattan neighborhood, restaurant founder Alan Stillman was looking for a place where he could meet new people, especially women, and enjoy good food and drink. Coming up empty-handed, he decided to take matters into his own hands and started his own bar and restaurant, TGI Friday’s.
He claimed that “singles bars were a rarity” before 1965 and was one of the first people to use “ladies night” as a promotion. The original location on 1152 1st Ave, New York, New York closed in 1994 but the chain is still running today.
Starbucks’ Founders Started Small And Worked Their Way Up
Partners Jerry Baldwin, Sev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker met as students at the University of San Francisco. After learning how to roast coffee beans from entrepreneur Alfred Peet, the three decided to try their hand at selling their own equipment and coffee beans.
They opened the first Starbucks store in Seattle, Washington on March 21, 1971, which existed until 1976 when the building had to be demolished. They went on to open up their new store at the Pike Market Place and the company took off from there. Today, there are more than 30,000 locations worldwide.
Hooters Was Originally A Joke Idea
In 1983, six businessmen got together and came up with the idea to make a restaurant like no other. With a goal to create a restaurant that emphasized some bodily “areas” that other establishments would never dare, they opened up their first restaurant in Clearwater, Florida October 4, 1983.
They even established themselves as a business on April 1, mostly as a joke, with all of them assuming their idea would crash and burn. Their first restaurant was built on the site of an old strip club where it remains to this day.
Panda Express Started Off As A Sit-Down Restaurant
Back in 1973, Chinese immigrant Andrew Cherng and his father Ming Tsai Cherng opened up the Panda Inn sit-down restaurant in Pasadena, California. For 10 years, the restaurant did incredibly well, feeding the people in the Los Angeles area delicious and upscale Chinese cuisine.
However, they were eventually approached by the management for the Glendale Galleria who asked for the Cherngs to consider taking their food into the fast-food industry. Although their restaurant was doing fine, they agreed and now everyone has heard of Panda Express.
Little Caesar’s Is Still Serving Them Hot-n-Ready
In 1959, brothers Mike and Marshall Ilitch made the decision to open up a pizzeria in a strip mall in Garden City, Michigan. Originally, Mike had the idea to call their pizza joint Pizza Cheap, but that idea was shot down by Marshall who suggested Little Caesar’s Pizza Treat.
Unlike most other small pizzerias, Little Caesar’s beat the odds and became the massive success that it is today. The original location is still in service today which guarantees a “Hot-n-Ready” pizza in just eight minutes or less.
Jamba Juice Started Out As A Senior Project
Before the opening of the first store, Jamba Juice was an idea for a senior project while health activist Kirk Perron was attending California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. However, his idea proved to have weight to it and he opened up his first store in San Luis Obispo in 1990, although it was originally named Juice Club.
He was later joined by three friends, with the company going public four years later after it acquired Zuka Juice Inc. The original store is still up and running in the college beach town.
First opening in Ontario, Canada in 1964 and selling hamburgers, the company was founded by professional hockey player Tim Horton who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although he was still a professional athlete, he managed to juggle both of his jobs after hiring Ron Joyce as his business partner.
They no longer sell hamburgers as they did in the beginning, but the original Tim Hortons is still standing on 65 Ottawa Street N., which was appropriately changed to Tim Hortons Way.
Benihana Had A Rough Start
In 1964, after driving an ice truck in Harlem, 25-year-old Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki took his saving and opened up the first Benihana in New York, New York. At first, the place didn’t receive the kind of business that Aoki had originally been intending. Many New Yorkers weren’t interested in sitting at a communal table with strangers as a chef performed cooking tricks.
However, after Benihana received positive reviews from critics, people became more open to the idea. Numerous celebrities have enjoyed a meal at the location which is still open today.
Carrabba’s Italian Grill Was Bought Out By Outback Steakhouse, Inc.
Based on their claim that at Carrabba’s they’re not real chefs but “real eaters,” this restaurant attracted people early on. Johnny Carrabba and his uncle Damian Mandola opened their first location in 1986 in Houston, Texas. After a few years in operation, their restaurant was receiving so much attention that they opened another location in Houston.
Then, in 1993, the family duo joined a joint venture with Outback Steakhouse, Inc. with Outback purchasing the rights to the chain just two years later. However, the first two locations are still owned and run by the Carrabba family.
Fun At Fuddruckers
Thinking that “the world needed a better hamburger,” founder Philip J. Romano founded Fuddruckers in 1979 in San Antonio, Texas. The first location was on the site of an old bank that Romano converted into a restaurant with the goal to serve fresh-ground beef, home-made buns, and plenty of condiments.
After making its way to California, the establishment became part of the high-end fast food scene, and by 1988 had 150 restaurants in the chain.
Bojangles’ Is Still Dishing Up Chicken And Biscuits
Prior to opening their first Bojangles’ restaurant, both co-founders Richard Thomas and Jack Fulk knew what they were getting into. Thomas had owned a KFC franchise with Fulk also owning a Hardee’s. So, it was safe to say both were comfortable inside a fast food restaurant.
The duo opened up their first location in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1977 where they began their specialization on fried chicken and biscuits. The business is still running to this day with little changing in the past decades.
Popeyes Failed At First
First opening as Chicken on the Run on June 12, 1972 in Arabi, Louisiana, founder Al Copeland originally intended to compete with Kentucky Fried Chicken. However, Chicken on the run soon failed just months after opening.
As stated in the company’s official history, they sold “traditional mild fried chicken [but] business was slow, and the chicken team realized they’d have to sell a spicier alternative to their standard chicken recipe if they wanted to impress flavor-seeking New Orleanians.” So, Copeland re-opened the restaurant as Popeye’s Mighty Good Chicken and began franchising in 1975.
Domino’s Was Originally DomiNick’s
Back in 1960, brothers Tom and James Monaghan took over DomiNick’s, a small pizza chain in Ypsilanti, Michigan, formerly owned by Dominick DiVarti. With an original agreement to split the hours, James didn’t want to quit his job as a full-time postman and sold his half for a Volkswagen Beetle they used for deliveries.
In 1965, Tom bought two more pizzerias, eventually changing the name to Domino’s. Domino’s opened up its first franchise in 1967 and had 200 locations by the next year.
Arby’s Only Sold Roast Beef At First
Originally owing a restaurant equipment business, Forrest and Leroy Raffel came to the conclusion that there was a market for fast food restaurants that sold items other than hamburgers. They opened up their first restaurant on July 23, 1964 in Boardman, Ohio, calling it Arby’s. The name was based on the first initials of each of their names.
Initially only selling roast beef sandwiches, chips, and soda, they decided they needed to expand their menu to attract higher-end customers. During the 1970s, they were expanding by more than 50 stores a year, adding menu items along the way as their popularity grew.
Baskin-Robbins was formed in Glendale, California after brother-in-laws Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins decided to merge their separate ice cream parlors. Bakin owned Burton’s Ice cream Shop and Baskin owned Snowbird Ice Cream, which had 21 flavors.
When the two fully merged, they then had a total of 31 flavors, something unheard of at the time, and is now part of their famous slogan. The company was acquired by United Brands Company in 1967 and eventually went public in 1972.
Hardee’s Changed Hands Fast
The parent company to Carl’s Jr., the first Hardee’s restaurant was opened by Wilber Hardee in September 1960 in Greenville, North Carolina. After one year of operation, Hardee decided that he wanted to expand and met with James Gardner and Leonard Rawls to see if they wanted to come into the business.
Their first company store was then opened in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. However, Hardee later dropped out of the business for unknown reasons, and Gardner and Rawls built it into the corporation it currently is.
Hunt Brothers Pizza Was Decades In The Making
Although Hunt Brothers Pizza first opened in 1991 in Nashville Tennessee, its inception can be traced back decades. It originated from four brothers, Jim, Don, Lonnie, and Charlie Hunt in 1962. They started a wholesale pizza route that they called Pepe’s Pizza.
They would distribute pre-baked pizza crusts and other pizza items to restaurants, bowling alleys, drive-in theaters, or just about any place that sold pizza. Although it took some years, by 1994 the company had over 750 locations. They then began opening up pizza shops in convenience stores for people who wanted something to eat on the go.
IHOP Had To Compete With Other Companies
International House of Pancakes, or IHOP, was founded by Jerry Lapin, Albert Kallis, and Al Lapin in 1958. With the help of Sherwood Rosenberg and William Kaye, they opened their first restaurant in Toluca Lake, Los Angeles, California.
By the 1980s, the breakfast menu was expanded to include more lunch and dinner items in order to compete with other restaurants such as Denny’s. Today, IHOP has 1,822 locations worldwide, opening up IHOP Express locations in 2011.
The Cheesecake Factory Started With A Compliment
Evelyn Overton decided to start her own business after the compliments she received about the cheesecake she made for her husband’s employer back in 1949. So, she opened a small cheesecake shop in Detroit, Michigan in the late ’50s, but let it fall by the wayside to raise her two children.
She later continued making and selling cakes to local restaurants which continued when the family moved to Los Angeles, where she started a wholesale bakery. After her son started a small restaurant in Beverly Hills, California in 1978, they added a menu of just cheesecakes, the first unofficial Cheesecake Factory.