We tend to think of fast food chains as having arrived in the world fully formed, with their extra value meals and experimental breakfast initiatives raring and ready to go, backed by a massive board of executives. These are the individuals responsible for unleashing the 10 biggest fast food chains upon America.
Who Started America's 10 Biggest Fast Food Chains? (Slideshow)
Everyone (and everything) has to start somewhere, and the founding of the biggest companies tend to closely resemble the founding of the smallest companies: with a group of highly dedicated people putting in long hours and late nights, working hard to make their dream a reality. Some of the biggest fast food chains were quickly bought by larger companies which then engineered their expansions, but other founders stayed on board to make their visions the household names they are today.
Some of these companies were founded by young entrepreneurs, others were started by lifelong businessmen who could afford the investment, and others were last-ditch efforts during desperate times. But their creations all ended up in the same place: firmly engrained into the American culinary scene. Some have strayed a bit from the original visions, but a surprisingly large number of these chains still adhere to their founding principles and concepts, albeit with slightly expanded menus.
So if you’re thinking about starting your own company, keep in mind that every mighty oak starts as an acorn, and even the biggest companies started small. Read on to learn about the people behind the 10 biggest fast food chains in American.
Burger King: James McLamore and David R. Edgerton
Burger King traces its roots to a burger joint called Insta-Burger King, founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida, by Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle, Matthew Burns. The duo built a moderately successful chain thanks to special cooking devices called Insta-Broilers, but after the company failed in 1959 it was bought by its Miami franchise owners, James McLamore and David Edgerton. They restructured the company, re-named it Burger King, and expanded it to 250 locations before selling it to Pillsbury in 1967.
Chick-fil-A: S. Truett Cathy
The story of Chick Fil-A began in 1946, when founder S. Truett Cathy, who passed away at age 93 in November 2014, opened a restaurant in the Atlanta suburbs called Dwarf House. This business turned into a chain (with a full menu); 11 Dwarf Houses, now called Chick-fil-A Dwarf House, are still in operation in the Metro Atlanta area. Several years later, Cathy purchased a pressure fryer that he discovered could fry up a piece of chicken for a sandwich in the same amount of time it took to cook a burger, and the proverbial light bulb went off. He trademarked the name Chick-fil-A (pronounced "fill-ay," not "fill-ah," of course), and in 1967 his first unit, specializing in chicken sandwiches and with a menu devoid of any beef products, opened in the food court of Atlanta’s Greenbriar Mall. Today the company is run by his son, Dan.
America's 10 Favorite Regional Fast-Food Chains
As a part of its 2019 Reader’s Choice Awards, USAToday announced the Top 10 Best Regional Fast Food brands. From a small biscuit chain in North Carolina to a beloved burger brand in California, here were the winners.
Methodology for USAToday’s 10Best Readers' Choice Awards: USAToday’s travel experts select the top 20 nominees in contests covering food, lodging, destinations, travel gear, and things to do before opening up the voting to its readers. After a certain voting period, USAToday announces the top 10 picks in each category.
1. Habit Burger
Established in Santa Barbara in 1969, Habit Burger continues to make churn out smoky charburgers. The chain, which now has 268 locations across 11 states, continues to use California-sourced produce and seafood to top its burgers, create salads, and use in other beach-inspired dishes, like the grilled ahi sandwich.
“At The Habit, we strive to deliver high quality taste in each bite of every menu item every day, and our fans have shown their appreciation with this award,” said Russ Bendel, chief executive officer at The Habit. “Being voted as the 2019 USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice winner is a humbling honor for our company.”
2. Pal’s Sudden Service
Since the 1950’s Pal’s Sudden Service has been serving up burgers, hot dogs, and fries to Eastern Tennesseans. The colorful, drive-thru restaurants, which are adorned with a giant fiberglass hamburger, hot dog and fries, are known for its quick service and hospitality. Over the past 70 years, the chain has multiplied and its 29 locations are sprinkled across the border of Eastern Tennessee and Virginia.
"We love our customers, and it is an honor to see that so many of them took time from their busy day to vote for us in the poll,” said Pal’s Chief Executive Officer Thom Crosby. “Their support by visiting one of our 29 restaurants on a regular basis is truly appreciated.”
Although the classic Texan chain has been around since the 1950s, Whataburger has seen a resurgence in popularity over the past decade. Diners flock to Whataburger for burgers, chicken sandwiches, and breakfast sandwiches throughout the day. Whataburger now has more than 800 locations.
This gas station, made-to-order sandwich shop combo is a beloved spot for locals in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. With a customizable menu that is available 24/7, guests can create subs, sandwiches, wraps, coffee drinks, etc., with any ingredient they prefer.
5. In-N-Out Burger
In-N-Out Burger’s history dates back to the 1940s. The fast-food chain is a cult favorite among West Coast diners who order Double-Double cheeseburgers and fries with an “Animal Style” twist off of the Not-So-Secret Menu. Today there are 342 locations across California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Texas.
6. Quaker Steak & Lube
With more than 26 different wing sauce flavors, it’s no wonder one of the most popular menu items at Quaker Steak & Lube are wings. Across its 50 locations, the full-service chain serves 30 million wings annually. Guests can also order sandwiches, steaks, burgers, and other favorites at the restaurant.
Known for its customizable milkshakes—guests can choose from 40-plus flavors—and trays, Cook Out is a Southern favorite. The North Carolina-based chain now has locations across Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Maryland.
Best known for its tiny slider-like hamburgers, Krystal is a favorite across the South. Since opening 85 years ago in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the chain has grown to 346 locations across 11 states.
“Being selected to USA Today’s Top-10 Best Regional Fast Food List is huge for us,” said Paul Macaluso, Krystal president and CEO. “We want to thank our customers in the market where it all began with 50-cent burgers on Customer Appreciation Day in Chattanooga.”
Culver’s is best known for its frozen custard concrete mixes and the original Butterburger. The Wisconsin-based chain began as a small family restaurant before expanding across the Midwest and down into the South.
With 55 locations in North Carolina and Virginia, Biscuitville is truly a regional chain that locals love. The biscuits that create breakfast sandwiches are baked fresh every 15 minutes with a recipe that’s been used since 1966.
10 Most Famous American Fast Foods
It's a fast paced world we live in. Thanks to the Internet, information is available in an instant, stocks can be traded in real time with the click of a button and you can buy just about anything you can think of on the spot (with overnight delivery). Digital cameras render crystal clear photographs ready for viewing in a single second. Cell phones put us in touch with anyone we want nearly instantly. Americans simply don't like to wait. The same can be said for how we eat. Since the first fast-food chain, White Castle, opened in 1921, Americans have grown accustomed to getting the food we want in short order.
Fast-food has since spread, with more than 30,000 McDonald's restaurants alone located around the world. McDonald's is the undisputed king of fast-food, serving 52 million people a day in more than 100 countries [source: McDonald's]. That's a lot of Chicken McNuggets. In an article in Rolling Stone magazine in 1998, a survey of American schoolchildren revealed that 96 percent of them could identify Ronald McDonald -- only Santa Claus ranked higher at the time. The same article claimed that McDonald's famous "Golden Arches" had become more widely recognized around the world than the Christian cross [source: Schlosser].
Of course, all this fast-food has led to a problem -- obesity. In 2004, the National Center for Health published a study on obesity in the United States. Between 1962 and 2000, the percentage of obese Americans swelled from 13 percent to 31 percent [source: CDC]. It's probably no coincidence that fast-food restaurants saw tremendous growth as well. The National Bureau for Economic Research published a report in November 2008 that stated that childhood obesity could be cut by as much as 18 percent if fast-food ads were banned [source: Reuter's].
Obese or not, people love their fast-food favorites. That's why we're going to take a look at 10 of the biggest selling fast-food menu items in America on the following pages.
It may feel like a newer franchise, but Subway actually started out in 1965 as a means for co-founder Fred DeLuca to help pay for college. Since then, DeLuca has been able to pay for a lot more than tuition fees. In 2006, he was named by Forbes Magazine as number 242 on the list of richest Americans, with a net worth of about $1.5 billion [source: Forbes]. In 2008, Subway celebrated being in business for 43 years. The sandwich chain has grown from a single shop to more than 30,000 franchises in 88 countries around the world [source: Subway].
Subway stands alone as the largest sandwich chain in the world and operates more stores in the United States, Canada and Australia than McDonald's does. How does this kind of growth translate into sub sales? In the United States alone, Subway sells almost 2,800 sandwiches and salads every minute. The company's Web site also touts another interesting fact -- if all the sandwiches made by every Subway store in a year were placed end-to-end, they would wrap around the Earth at least six times. No word on how many millions of gallons of mayonnaise that means.
9: Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich
Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy is probably best known for two things: He's credited with inventing the boneless chicken sandwich and his restaurant chain is closed on Sunday. It's unthinkable today to imagine a life without the chicken sandwich, but in 1946 it was all about the hamburger. It's also hard to believe that a corporation that has annual sales of more than $2 billion each year would close down one day a week. Cathy's dedication to his Christian faith has kept the Sabbath wide open for his employees since day one.
Originally a shopping-mall-only restaurant, Chick-fil-A expanded to freestanding stores in 1986 and now operates more than 1,300 franchises in 37 states. The menu has branched out somewhat over the years, adding salads, nuggets and wraps, but the restaurant's bread and butter (literally) is still the original chicken sandwich. Its beauty is in its simplicity -- a pressure-fried chicken breast with pickle slices on top, served between a buttered bun [source: Chick-fil-A].
Pizza may be Italian in origin, but it has become a truly American food because of how popular it is in the United States. In 2007, the total pizza sales in America nearly hit $37 billion and as of July 2008, there were more than 75,000 pizza stores sliding pies into the oven. Independently operated pizzerias make up a slim majority of these totals. The chain Pizza Hut stands as the largest and most successful franchise with almost 14 percent of the total chain sales at a total of $5.1 billion in 2007 [source: Pmq.com].
The original Pizza Hut was opened on campus at Wichita State University in 1958, but didn't become a franchise until the following year. The company now operates almost 15,000 units in the United States alone. The chain is known for its all-you-can-eat pizza and salad buffet and for putting some unusual spins on the classic pie -- crusts stuffed with cheese that you're supposed to eat backwards, "The Insider," which is kind of like a pizza sandwich and another concoction called "The P'Zone." Pizza Hut is the number one seller of pizzas in the United States.
Fried chicken is known as a staple food of the Southern United States, but its appeal is clear all over the world. In 1930, in the throws of the Great Depression, a man named Harland Sanders opened a fried chicken restaurant in the front room of a gas station in Corbin, Ky. The Sanders' Court & Café would grow and expand as the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise and become the most popular chicken restaurant on Earth.
As of 2008, KFC operates more than 11,000 restaurants in more than 80 countries. Founder Colonel (honorary) Harlan Sanders first began selling his famous "Original Recipe" chicken with its 11 herbs and spices in 1940, and the iconic bucket came along about 17 years later. In 1969, KFC became a publicly traded company, and in 2006, the company sold more than one billion chicken dinners [source: KFC]. Even though KFC was doing well on its own, it joined YUM! Brands, Inc., in 2002 to become part of the largest restaurant group in the world. KFC's partner chains include Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, both listed on this top 10.
If small, square hamburgers are your thing, then you're probably a fan of either Krystal or White Castle. Both fast-food chains are known for the small hamburgers that customers gobble down several at a time. Since White Castle is the original, we'll give them the nod in this case. Walter Anderson and Billy Ingram partnered up in 1921 to create the first fast-food hamburger restaurant, selling their signature "Slyders" for five cents each. The restaurant's name matches the look -- each White Castle restaurant looks like a white castle.
In 1949, White Castle made a change that would end up being its legacy. It made five holes in each square patty and cooked the meat on top of a bed of diced onions. The burger never makes contact with the griddle and is cooked by the steaming onion. The holes allow for a faster, more even cook. The buns are placed on top of the meat to soak up extra flavor as well. Add a slice of dill pickle and you have an American institution -- the Slyder.
Even though White Castle only has 382 stores as of 2009, it sells 500,000,000 Slyders a year and has served 16 billion since 1949. It was the first to reach one million burgers sold and then the first to reach one billion [source: White Castle].
Not many fast-food restaurant founders have been as visible as Wendy's Dave Thomas was. In a bold marketing move, Thomas became the face of the franchise on TV commercials in 1989, and continued doing so until he passed away in 2002. The first Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurant was opened by Thomas and co-founder John Schuessler in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. It was important for Dave from the beginning that Wendy's be a cut above its competitors in terms of food quality. If you look closely at the famous logo, you'll see the words "Quality is our Recipe" above the red-haired pigtails the company's mascot "Wendy" wears.
You won't find a heat lamp with a rack of burgers sitting beneath it at a Wendy's. Each "single" hamburger is made-to-order. The classic burger is a 4-ounce, square patty served on a bun with your choice of toppings -- lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and whatever condiment you fancy. Wendy's ranks third on the burger chain list behind Burger King and McDonald's, with more than 6,500 locations worldwide. In 2006, Wendy's had total revenues of almost $2.5 billion and employed 57,000 people [source: Wendy's].
The chain is also famous for its chocolate version of the milkshake, the Frosty. It was one of the original five menu items and remains a top seller. Dave Thomas wanted to make a milkshake so thick you had to eat it with a spoon and he was pretty successful -- Wendy's sells about 300 million each year [source: Hentges].
4: Arby's Roast Beef Sandwich
Each category of fast-food chain restaurant has its "best in show." There can be only one best selling sub sandwich, one best burger, one best taco. In the middle of the hamburger craze in 1964, Arby's found its niche in the land of roast beef. The Raffel brothers opened the first Arby's Roast Beef Restaurants in Boardman, Ohio. Beef was a big hit with the burger chains, so the Raffels decide that instead of grinding it up, they'd slow roast it and slice it thin. The name Arby's comes from spelling out the initials R.B. -- for Raffel brothers, not "roast beef."
Arby's operates more than 3,500 restaurants in the United States and Canada, and the chain's most popular sandwich is still the signature roast beef sandwich. The beef is sliced fresh for each sandwich and customers can top it themselves with the famous Arby's and Horsey sauces. In 2008, Arby's purchased Wendy's for $2.34 billion, forming the third largest fast-food company in the world.
Just like Arby's cornered the roast beef market, Taco Bell has carved out a spot as the number one Mexican fast-food restaurant chain. If you've ever stopped and wondered just what the heck a "taco bell" is, you'll be glad to know that a man named Glen Bell started the franchise and named it after himself. He started the chain in 1962 in California at a time when Mexican food was pretty out of the ordinary in America. The first franchise opened in 1964 and now, the company boasts more than 5,800 restaurants in the United States, Canada, Guam, Aruba, Dominican Republic, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Asia, Europe and the Philippines [source: Taco Bell].
The popular chain serves about 2 billion customers a year and perhaps not coincidentally, also sells roughly 2 billion of its signature tacos. The franchise plows through 3.8 billion tortillas, 62 million pounds of pinto beans, 106 million pounds of cheese and 295 million pounds of ground beef a year [source: Taco Bell]. It made revenues of $6.8 billion in 2005, part of that coming from the million burritos it sells each year. Add in quesadillas, nachos and some signature spins on Mexican classics, like double-decker tacos (a soft flour tortilla wrapped around a hard shell corn tortilla taco) and odd items like the "Crunchwrap Supreme" and you've got a gut pleasing late-night drive-thru destination.
Burger King isn't quite the king -- that distinction resides with McDonald's. But BK has a solid grip on the number two spot, with 11,200 franchises. You can find Burger King franchises in the United States and 69 other countries around the world. Burger loving entrepreneurs James McLamore and David Edgerton started BK in Miami, Fla., in 1954. The Whopper became their signature burger in 1957. One thing that distinguishes Burger King from its competitors is the fact that the burgers are flame broiled instead of cooked on a griddle. The idea was to give the meat that home-grilled taste.
The Whopper is a one-quarter pound beef patty between a sesame seed bun with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and sliced onion. Of course, it is Burger King, so you can always "have it your way." This is the advertising slogan from 1974 that the chain is still most well-known for. The BK Web site claims that there are actually 221,184 possible ways you can have it your way. Even though it's a distant second place to McDonald's, total sales of all the Burger Kings are still massive BK restaurants in 2007 surpassed the $13 billion mark [source: Burger King].
There can be only one. One top dog, one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. One that transcends the mundaneness of a mere fast-food chain to become something else altogether -- the symbol of a country, the face of an industry: McDonald's. If you're American, the name itself conjures up an embarrassingly high number of familiar images and memories.
The McDonald brothers started the franchise as a hot dog stand in 1937 and changed things up in 1948 by making the switch to burgers and fries made using a speedy and efficient assembly line system. Things took a fortuitous turn when the McDonald brothers met a milkshake machine salesman named Ray Kroc. Kroc was impressed with the operation and asked to be included as a franchise agent, splitting profits with the brothers for growing the chain. Kroc opened the first franchise in 1955 in Des Plaines, Ill., and the rest is fast-food history. He bought the brothers out for $2.7 million in 1961, and the franchise has grown to operate more than 31,000 stores in over 100 countries [source: McDonald's].
The Big Mac is the most popular fast-food item on Earth. The famous jingle from the 1975 TV commercial taught Americans the ingredients for the Big Mac -- two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion on a sesame seed bun. In 2004, Mickey D's celebrated the fortieth birthday of the iconic burger. The company sells an astonishing 560 million Big Macs each year, even though they're only available in 13,700 of the franchises [source: Friedman]. People love the Big Mac, some so much that it's become almost an obsession. A man in Fond Du Lac, Wis., claimed he ate two Big Macs a day, every day since 1972. That makes 21,292 Big Macs as of August 2004. And, how many trips to the cardiologist?
9. Little Caesars
Little Caesars is affordable but unhealthy. Image credit: wikimedia.org
When ordering a signature pizza dish at Little Caesars, the only thing little about it is its price tag. You can get a pizza large enough to feed a family of 4 for $5. You have to ask yourself what kind of quality of ingredients (or lack thereof) are used to make this pizza. Customers often complain of the poor taste of the cheese and toppings the perfect example of quantity vs. quality is found right here.
Fast Food Industry Analysis 2020
- Globally, fast food generates revenue of over USD 570 billion – that is bigger than the economic value of most countries.
- There are over 200,000 fast food restaurants in the United States and it is estimated that 50 million Americans eat at one of them every single day.
- Fast food restaurants, along with fast-casual restaurants account for 50% of sales in the entire restaurant sector.
- Hamburger fast food restaurants account for 30% of industry sales.
- Pizza parlors account for 15% of market share.
- Health focus: Major chains are promising to source fresher ingredients with fewer additives.
- The global fast food industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.1% by 2027.
The First Fast Food Restaurant
The history of fast food in America runs parallel to the invention of the car. These two industries are so intertwined that most people today think of fast food as anything being served out of a window and into an automobile. McDonald&rsquos can easily claim fame for perfecting the service and style of cooking we know today as fast food but the first fast food restaurant in the US was not a McDonald&rsquos. It was White Castle, a hamburger joint that opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1916.
Curb service, where a fast food restaurant employee delivers food from the restaurant to waiting customers outside in their cars, started as a novelty at an A&W Root Beer shop in the 1920s but was so popular the practice spread nationwide in short order. By the 1940s, the friendly carhop person delivering the food to the cars had gone mobile, too, wearing roller skates to speed service. Drive-through windows soon followed.
Year founded: 1940
For decades, kids and adults have had a soft spot for soft serve. The first DQ opened in Joliet, Illinois in 1940, distributing 1,600 servings on soft serve in just two hours. Dairy Queen’s continues to find success at its more than 5,700 locations.
Where fast-food chains began
White Castle: The first White Castle location opened in 1921 in Wichita, making it the original American fast-food burger chain. Founder Bill Ingram used $700 to open the starting location and started serving the chain's signature sliders. The following year, the second White Castle opened in El Dorado, Kan., and by 1924, Ingram expanded the chain to Omaha and Kansas City, Mo. (Photo: White Castle)
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 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.), Glen Bell (founder of Taco Bell), and James Collins (the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken). 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 14 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 14 of America's most popular fast food chains.
In 1940, brothers Mac and Dick McDonald opened McDonald's Bar-B-Que in San Bernardino, Calif. eight years later they decided to revamp the restaurant's concept to specialize in their most profitable menu item, hamburgers, and shortened the name to McDonald's. In 1954, Multimixer salesman Ray Kroc visited the restaurant and was blown away by the efficient system developed by the McDonald brothers he started franchising the brand and bought the company one year later.
Former KFC franchise owner Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy's location on Nov. 15, 1969, in Columbus, Ohio. The following year, Thomas opened a second location, this time adding a drive-through pickup window. From the beginning, the chain served up its signature square burgers and milkshakes.
The predecessor of this burger mega-chain was originally founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Fla., by relatives Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns. They decided to call their first location Insta-Burger King due to the broilers they purchased to cook the burgers, called Insta-Broilers. The following year, James McLamore and David Edgerton began opening Insta-Burger franchises in Miami — they replaced the Insta-Broilers with the flame broiler system that Burger King is famous for. Due to financial hardships, Kramer and Burns sold the company to McLamore and Edgerton in 1959 they subsequently renamed the chain Burger King.
Inspired by the McDonald brothers, Glen Bell opened a burger place with a similar model. However, once others started catching onto the idea, Bell decided to come up with a fresh menu concept. He began selling crunchy tacos with a combination of Mexican ingredients designed to please the American palate at his new restaurant, Taco Tia, in Downey, Calif., in 1954. Bell decided to expand the brand to include a variety of menu items and called the new concept Taco Bell.
The first White Castle location opened in 1921 in Wichita, making it the original American fast-food burger chain. Founder Bill Ingram used $700 to open the starting location and started serving the chain's signature sliders. The following year, the second White Castle opened in El Dorado, Kan., and by 1924, Ingram expanded the chain to Omaha and Kansas City, Mo.
In 1930, during the Great Depression, Harlan Sanders opened his first restaurant in a gas station in Corbin, Ky., called Sanders' Court & Café. By 1952, The Colonel began franchising his fried chicken business, which was a hit largely due to his use of pressure fryers, which greatly increased the production speed.
Al Copeland opened a restaurant called Chicken on the Run outside of New Orleans in 1972, and after it got off to a slow start he decided to make the chicken spicier, which proved to be a winning recipe. He changed the name to Popeyes Mighty Good Fried Chicken and started selling franchises in 1976.
The idea for Subway was inspired by founder Fred DeLuca's decision to open a sandwich shop to help pay for his medical school education. The idea to open the shop came from Dr. Peter Buck, who lent DeLuca $1,000 to open the original location of the sandwich shop in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1965 and became his business partner. The first shop was called Pete's Super Submarines, and it was not until 1968 that the chain took on the name Subway.
This chain was founded in 1950 in Quincy, Mass., by William Rosenberg. He had noticed that coffee and doughnuts were top sellers during his time selling food at factories and construction sites, and his formula took off he started selling franchises in 1959.
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.
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% of the company to Bain Capital for about $1 billion.
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.
Brothers Dan and Frank Carney borrowed $600 from their mother to open a pizzeria – then a novel concept – in Wichita in 1958. It was a huge hit (giving away free pizza on opening day didn't hurt), and franchising began a year later.
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.
Top 10 Fast Food Franchises
For more than 40 years, these quick-service franchises have proved that fast food is here to stay. Whether its pizza, hamburgers, tacos or donuts, these tasty franchises continue to draw crowds around the world. Here are our picks for the Top 10 Fast Food Franchises of 2008.
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #2
Submarine sandwiches & salads
Since opening in 1965, Subway has grown from a tiny submarine sandwich shop into the world's largest submarine sandwich chain. With more than 28,000 restaurants in 86 countries, Subway continues to grow through its image as a fresh, healthy alternative among fast-food restaurants. Subway has claimed the No. 1 spot 15 times on Entrepreneur's Top 10 since it debuted in 1988.
#2 Dunkin' Donuts
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #3
Coffee, doughnuts, baked goods
Dunkin' Donuts is the world's largest coffee and baked goods chain. In addition to selling 52 varieties of donuts and more than a dozen coffee beverages, the chain also carries an array of bagels, breakfast sandwiches and other baked goods. With more than 5,000 U.S. franchises, Dunkin' Donuts has maintained a consistent Top 10 ranking since 2004.
#3 Pizza Hut
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #4
In 1958, brothers Frank and Dan Carney borrowed $600 from their mother to open a small pizza parlor in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Fifty years later, America's first pizza chain hasn't stopped growing. Pizza Hut's specialty pizzas can be found in franchises throughout the world, and the restaurant continues to be a popular destination for pizza lovers.
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #5
Hamburgers, chicken, salads
This famous hamburger restaurant has made the Top 10 ranking 27 times in the 29 years we've been compiling the Franchise 500. Ray Kroc opened his first restaurant in 1955 and earned a modest first day's revenue of $366.12. More than 50 years later, McDonald's earns more than $23 billion a year.
#5 Sonic Drive-In Restaurants
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #6
Since opening in 1953, this drive-in, car-hop restaurant hasn't strayed far from its roots. Originally started as a hamburger and root beer stand, Sonic now offers wraps, smoothies and other signature items in addition to its traditional American classics. With 3,350 drive-ins coast to coast, average unit sales are more than $1 million a year.
#6 KFC Corp.
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #7
Harland Sanders opened the first KFC restaurant in a Kentucky gas station during the Great Depression. Nearly 80 years later, his original recipe is still used in more than 11,000 restaurants worldwide.
#7 Domino's Pizza LLC
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #9
Pizza, breadsticks, buffalo wings
Started in 1960 with $500, this pizza giant had $5.1 billion in global retail sales in 2006 and delivered more than 400 million pizzas. This is the ninth time Domino's Pizza has appeared in the Top 10.
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #15
Sandwiches, chicken, salads
When Arby's opened in 1964, customers enjoyed roast beef sandwiches, potato chips and Texas-sized iced teas. Today, Arby's continues to stray from the traditional fast food fare by offering the same slow-roasted and freshly sliced roast beef sandwiches, in addition to other deli-style sandwiches, wraps and salads.
#9 Baskin-Robbins USA Co.
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #16
Ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen beverages
Since 1945, Baskin-Robbins has introduced more than 1,000 ice cream flavors. With more than 5,800 retail shops in 34 countries, Baskin-Robbins is the world's largest chain of ice cream specialty shops, each serving the company's famous 31 flavors of ice cream as well as frozen yogurt, sherbet, cakes and drinks.
#10 Taco Bell Corp.
2008 Franchise 500 ranking: #22
Quick-service Mexican restaurant
This popular Mexican fast food chain sells more than 2 billion tacos and 1 billion burritos each year. Taco Bell has more than 5,800 franchises and reached $4.4 billion in franchise sales.
The Original Locations of 15 Famous Food Chains
Ever wonder where your favorite fast food chain first popped up? Look no further.
1. McDonald’s (1398 North E Street, San Bernardino, California)
In 1940, Maurice and Richard McDonald moved their father’s food stand “The Airdrome” from Monrovia to San Bernardino and renamed it “McDonald’s Bar-B-Q.” It functioned as a carhop drive-in until 1948, when the brothers restructured the business to focus on burgers and fries and changed the name to “McDonald’s.” While the North E Street location is no longer a functioning Mickey Ds, the building’s current owner, Juan Pollo Restaurants, utilizes the space as both their corporate headquarters and an unofficial McDonald’s Museum. The oldest operating McDonald’s restaurant is in Downey, California.
2. Pizza Hut (503 South Bluff St, Wichita, Kansas)
The first Pizza Hut was opened in 1958 by brothers Dan and Frank Carney in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas. The two knew they wanted to have “Pizza” in their new establishment’s name, but didn’t decide on “Hut” until they discovered the building’s sign only had room for nine letters and that the structure itself looked like a hut. In 1986, the original hut was moved to the campus of Wichita State University—the Carney brothers' alma mater—where it is used by the International Business Student Association as a meeting place.
3. T.G.I. Friday’s (1152 1st Ave, New York, New York)
Looking for a place to meet people—especially the eligible women he noticed in his Manhattan neighborhood—Alan Stillman took the initiative and founded a bar and restaurant. Before it opened in 1965, “singles bars" were a rarity. Friday’s is even credited as being one of the first bars to use “ladies night” as a promotion. The original T.G.I. Friday’s closed in 1994 and is now Baker Street Pub & Grill.
4. Waffle House (2719 East College Avenue, Decatur, Georgia)
Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner opened the first Waffle House in 1955 and remain involved with the company to this day. The original location is now the Waffle House Museum, where you can make your own waffles in its unchanged interior.
5. Dunkin’ Donuts (543 Southern Artery, Quincy, Massachusetts)
Before America was running on Dunkin’, it was a simple donut shop on Southern Artery—yes, like the heart—in Quincy, Massachusetts. The location opened in 1948 under the name Open Kettle, then a year later it became Kettle Donuts, then a year after that it finally became Dunkin’ Donuts. While the building has been remodeled over the years, it still maintains the original aesthetic.
6. Starbucks (2000 Western Ave, Seattle, Washington)
The original Starbucks store began selling coffee beans and equipment from its 2000 Western Ave location in 1971, but by 1976, their building was to be demolished and they had to find a new place. In 1977, they opened the “1st and Pike” cafe, located at the mouth of the historic Pike Place Market, and the rest is highly-caffeinated history.
7. Chipotle Mexican Grill (1644 E Evans Ave, Denver, Colorado)
When founder Steve Ells opened the first Chipotle Mexican Grill just down the road from the University of Denver, he and his father figured that it would have to sell 107 burritos a day to be profitable. In a month’s time, the store was selling over ten times that amount. You can still get a Chipotle burrito from its original location.
8. Nathan’s Famous (1310 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, New York)
What began as a Coney Island hot dog stand in 1916 . remains a Coney Island hot dog stand. Sure, in the years since Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker used his life’s savings of $300 to begin selling franks made with his wife Ida’s recipe to hungry Brooklynites, Nathan’s Famous has become a national chain with over 40,000 outlets. But for the Surf Avenue stand, little has changed in its physical appearance (which probably can't be said about most of those training for Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, an annual competition held at the original location).
9. Wendy’s (257 E Broad St, Columbus, Ohio)
Though Wendy’s closed its original restaurant in 2007, the spirit of the company’s first restaurant still lives on—in their flagship store in Dublin, Ohio, which boasts an entire “community room” full of company history and memorabilia. Some historians, such as Yelp user Jeffrey H., still found the original location’s shutdown to be tragic, calling the day it closed its doors “one of America’s darkest.”
10. Hooters (2800 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd, Clearwater, Florida)
In 1983, six businessmen got together and changed the face (ahem) of chain restaurant history when they opened a “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined” dining establishment by the name of Hooters. Thanks to the “Hooters Six”—as they are referred to in the “Saga” section of the restaurant’s website—never again would someone have to suffer through ordering food and beverages from a person wearing actual pants. While it has been subject to extensive remodeling projects, the original Hooters is still home to their trademark hospitality, wings, and weird uncle smell.
11. Blimpie (110 Washington St, Hoboken, New Jersey)
In 1964, three former high school classmates opened up 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 sub and hoagie and coming across the word blimp, which he felt would sound enough like a sandwich with “ie” at the end of it. The original Blimpie is still functioning, so come on down—and, for the love of all that is piled on top of a hero, don’t mention Jared.
12. Taco Bell (7112 Firestone Blvd, Downey, California)
The building that was once the very first Taco Bell is now home to an unaffiliated Mexican takeout place, but if you “Yo quiero Taco Bell” and only Taco Bell, don’t worry—there’s one right across the street. There aren’t many places where one can enjoy a Fourth Meal and admire history at the same time.
13. Burger King (7146 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville, Florida)
Originally called Insta-Burger, the first Burger King was founded by Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle-in-law Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. With the help of their “Insta-Broilers”— ovens capable of cooking 400 burgers per hour—the two went on to open multiple Insta-Burger restaurants and become a franchise. In 1959, Kramer and Burns sold the company to Insta-Burger franchisees James McLamore and David R. Edgerton, who changed the name to Burger King. A place called Stan’s Sandwich now operates out of the original location.
14. Sbarro’s (1701 65th St, Brooklyn, New York)
It may be difficult to imagine a Sbarro’s that isn’t steps away from a Spencer’s Gifts, but the pizza chain began as a salumeria (or Italian grocery store) in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1956. The original Sbarro’s, where Gennaro and “Mama” Carmela set up shop after emigrating from Naples, is now a Japanese restaurant. You can still put the old adage about there being no such thing as bad pizza to the test at Kings Plaza Shopping Center, where they opened their first mall-based location in 1970.
15. White Castle (NW corner of First and Main St, Wichita, Kansas)
Where the first White Castle opened in 1921 now stands a multi-tiered parking garage. Today, the closest place to that original location to grab a case of sliders is all the way in St. Louis. Though seemingly content with depriving the people of Kansas, White Castle didn't forget where it came from: In 2011, the company celebrated its 90th birthday by making a special one-day only return to Wichita to grill up burgers as a fundraiser for the Kansas Food Bank.