A social history of fast-food—II

The industry has seen the rise of some iconic brands with fascinating histories

A social history of fast-food—II


arry and Esther Snyder started In-N-Out Burger in 1948 to offer busy Americans a convenient place for fresh, high-quality sandwiches. Their commitment to excellence resonated with the customers and their first stand in Baldwin Park thrived, selling 2,000 hamburgers in its first month.

Without relying on credit or franchising, In-N-Out gradually grew to 18 restaurants in Southern California by Harry’s passing in 1976. Their sons, Rich and Guy, took on different roles. Rich led the company and introduced innovative ideas like printing Bible verses on packaging while Guy, battling drug addiction after a severe motorcycle accident, leaned towards rebellion. After Harry’s death, Rich became company president, Guy became the executive vice president, and Esther the secretary-treasurer.

In 1992, In-N-Out celebrated the opening of its 80th restaurant in Las Vegas, marking significant expansion. Tragedy struck when Rich died in a plane crash in 1993, leaving Guy in his brother’s role. Under Esther’s guidance and with support from dedicated employees, In-N-Out continued to grow, reaching 124 locations by 1997. However, Guy’s life was cut short by a drug overdose in 1999. This left Esther and her teenage granddaughter, Lynsi Snyder, to navigate the company’s future.

Conflicts arose in 2006 when Richard Boyd, a longtime vice president, sued In-N-Out, accusing Lynsi and her second husband of attempting to seize control and enforce religious practices at work. The legal battle was resolved privately, resulting in Boyd’s departure.

In the same year, Esther passed away, leaving 24-year-old Lynsi as the sole leader of In-N-Out. Despite adversity, the company persevered and expanded to over 300 locations across the Western and Southwestern regions. Lynsi, who keeps a low profile, remains devoted to preserving her family’s vision and the company’s legacy. In a 2015 interview, she expressed reluctance to make the company public for financial gain, emphasising her deep connection to In-N-Out and her desire to honour her family’s aspirations.

In 1953, inspired by McDonald’s success, Keith Kramer and Matthew Burns opened multiple locations called Insta-Burger King. James McLamore and David Edgerton later bought the franchise rights and introduced the “flame broiler” to replace the broiler. They acquired the struggling Insta-Burger King company and renamed it Burger King.

In 1961, they launched the flame-broiled Whopper sandwich. Burger King Corporation was sold to Pillsbury in 1967 and became the second-largest US hamburger chain. Over the years, Burger King’s ownership changed hands, including acquisitions by TPG Capital and 3G Capital. In 2014, it merged with Tim Hortons, forming Restaurant Brands. Burger King regained its position as the second-largest US hamburger chain in 2018 and expanded its portfolio by acquiring Popeyes.

In 1941, Robert Oscar Peterson established Topsy’s Drive-In, later known as Oscar’s, in San Diego. He rebranded the El Cajon Boulevard location as Jack in the Box in 1951, introducing the drive-thru concept and a two-way intercom. The success led to all Oscar’s locations becoming Jack in the Box. Peterson’s innovation of concealing the intercom within a clown’s head revolutionised the drive-thru experience. In 1967, Peterson sold Jack in the Box to Ralston-Purina, with over 300 locations at the time.

Subway’s founder, Fred DeLuca, started his entrepreneurial journey in 1965 with the support of his friend Peter Buck. They opened a sandwich shop in Bridgeport, CT, initially called Pete’s Submarines. Despite early success, financial struggles and a name mix-up led to challenges. To project success, they opened a second store.

These initial shops helped finance DeLuca’s education. In 1974, they embraced franchising, propelling Subway’s growth to 100 stores by 1978 and 200 by 1982. They achieved their goal of 5,000 stores by 1990. By June 2021, Subway had over 37,000 global locations. DeLuca and Buck’s legacy lives on after their passing.

The remarkable success of Subway was underscored by Entrepreneur magazine, which, in five out of six previous years, acclaimed the franchise as the world’s number one in a 1993 Los Angeles Times article.

Reflecting on the genesis of his career, DeLuca humbly said, “In all honesty, it was rather serendipitous. Venturing into the business world was never a conscious dream of mine. No one in my family had pursued such endeavours.” Sadly, DeLuca passed away in 2015, followed by Buck in 2021, leaving behind an indelible legacy.

Glen Bell founded Taco Bell after being inspired by Salvador and Lucia Rodriguez, owners of the Mitla Cafe. He learned the art of making hard-shell tacos from them and added them to his menu in 1951. Bell’s tacos gained popularity, leading him to open Taco-Tia stands and eventually the first Taco Bell restaurants in 1962.

The connection between Bell and the Mitla Cafe was discovered by writer Gustavo Arellano. In 1978, Bell sold around 900 Taco Bell restaurants to PepsiCo. Today, Taco Bell has over 7,000 locations worldwide, while the Mitla Cafe continues under the Rodriguez family’s ownership. Glen Bell’s legacy lives on after his passing in 2010.

Harmon Dobson, a versatile individual with diverse experiences, entered the food industry driven by a premonition. He joined forces with Paul Burton to create a substantial and flavourful burger, opening the first Whataburger in Corpus Christi, TX, in 1950. Dobson and Burton later parted ways due to a pricing disagreement, with Dobson continuing to expand Whataburger. After Dobson’s tragic death in 1967, his widow Grace took over, leading the company to open its 200th location in 1977. However, differences arose as the chain diversified its menu, causing a rift between the corporate office and franchisees.

In 1993, Grace handed over control to her son Tom, who became chairperson. Tom prioritised returning Whataburger to its original values, emphasising fresh, handmade burgers in a welcoming, family-centred atmosphere, all at a reasonable price. This shift realigned the corporate office and franchisees, strengthening their relationship. Although Grace Dobson’s passing in 2005 marked the end of an era, Whataburger remains a beloved, family-owned business.

Soft serve ice cream, distinct from regular ice cream, stands out due to its lower milk fat content, higher production and storage temperature and the incorporation of air during freezing. John Fremont ‘Grandpa’ McCullough and his son Alex are credited with pioneering soft serve in 1938. They organised an event on August 4 of that year, offering an “all you can eat for 10 cents” promotion at Sherb Noble’s ice cream store in Kankakee, IL, serving over 1,600 servings in just two hours.

Noble, reflecting on the success, mentioned its popularity even in the corner tavern. On June 22, 1940, the McCulloughs and Noble partnered to establish the first Dairy Queen store in Joliet, IL. However, other individuals also claim to have invented soft serve, leaving the true origin open to debate.

In 1926, Charles Taylor patented the first soft server machine. Tom Carvel, the founder of a renowned ice cream brand, started selling soft serve in 1936 after being forced to sell his melting ice cream from a flat tire incident in 1934. Despite the debate on the origins of soft serve, Dairy Queen has achieved significant success over its 80-plus-year history.

The Chick-fil-A fast food empire traces its roots back to The Dwarf Grill, later known as The Dwarf House, founded by S Truett Cathy in 1946. Although initially hesitant to serve poultry, Cathy’s encounter with surplus chicken breasts in the 1960s led him to develop a quick cooking method and introduce chicken sandwiches. Chick-fil-A’s Original Chicken Sandwich became popular between 1964 and 1967. Truett claimed to be the inventor of the chicken sandwich but earlier evidence of chicken sandwiches being served in restaurants exists, such as an advertisement from 1936.

The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

A social history of fast-food—II