Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

It’s the Pitts: Hamburger Heaven

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

I was born and raised in hamburger heaven. Four hours away was Lodi, Calif., where the oldest restaurant chain in America was founded by two guys named Allen and Wright, hence the name A&W. 

Supposedly, they were also the first chain to introduce car hops and root beer served in frosted mugs which came straight from the freezer. In 1926, the chain evolved into a franchise operation, and in the same year, they invented the double bacon cheeseburger. For this I think we can all be eternally grateful. 

I’m pretty sure, they were also the first to open a franchise in Bangladesh. Really.

The small town where I grew up was two hours north of Los Angeles, and its many environs, where fast food was born. 

In 1937, the precursor to McDonald’s was opened in Monrovia, Calif. by Patrick McDonald and his sons Richard and Maurice. It was called the “Airdrome” and its success led to their opening of a restaurant named McDonald’s along Route 66 in San Bernardino, Calif. in 1940. 

After finding hamburgers were 80 percent of their business, they concentrated on burgers when they introduced the first fast food in 1948, which included burgers cooked and served in one minute. 

A salesman of milkshake machines noticed one restaurant was sending in orders for an inordinate number of machines, and it piqued the salesman’s interest. This salesman was Ray Kroc who would eventually become chief executive officer of McDonald’s, and he expanded the chain and its first mascot – a hamburger-faced “Speedee” – across America. 

Their first hamburgers cost 15 cents, and their fabulous fries were 12 cents. Interestingly, Kroc supposedly copied the franchise system from the Singer Sewing Machine Corporation.

McDonald’s success fostered a slew of competitors and copycats, and soon the average American was eating three burgers per week. After coming to California to see the secret to McDonald’s success, two guys from Miami went home and started their first store in 1954 under the Insta-Burger King name, which later became Burger King.

Bob’s Big Boy was started in 1936 in Glendale, Calif. and would become famous, among other things, for introducing the first double-deck cheeseburger. Jack In The Box was started in San Diego, with a giant clown perched on its roof and customers in their cars ordered by talking to a clown who had an intercom for guts. 

Interestingly, Jack in The Box had a clown for a mascot before Ronald McDonald came along.

Other chains that got their start in California included Foster Freeze in 1946 in Inglewood, Calif; Hot Dog On A Stick in Santa Monica, Calif. in 1946 – originally called Party Puffs – and Carl’s Jr. in 1956 in Anaheim, Calif., which was originally a hot dog stand. 

Again, all of these places were within two hours of my home, but my mother never let us eat at a single one of them because she thought fast food was the handiwork of the devil.

One of my favorite chains that used a lot of beef but didn’t sell hamburgers was Taco Bell, which was started  in 1962 in another suburb of Los Angeles known as Downey. Taco Bell was an immediate success, and it gave rise to Del Taco two years later in Yermo, Calif. 

Taco Bell got its name from the founder’s last name which was Bell.

Glen Bell and his wife gave encouragement and the name to the owner of Weinerschnitzil, which also started in California and eventually became the largest hot dog chain in the world. 

Another chain started in California that didn’t serve hamburgers but did sell beef was Panda Express, which went into business in 1972 in Glendale, Calif. with its rendition of American Chinese food.

Perhaps, not since McDonald’s, has a California chain caused so much commotion as In-N-Out Burger. This chain began with a single restaurant in Baldwin Park – not far from McDonald’s original location – and soon its drive-up windows were overwhelmed by customers who wanted their Cheeseburger Double-Doubles. 

In-N-Out is anti-McDonald’s, with all of its burgers made from whole muscle cuts that are fresh, never frozen. Although it’s been mostly a California phenomenon until now, they’ve begun their march eastward.

Heaven forbid, if one ever tired of plain burgers there were other California beef delights developed in the Golden State like french dip sandwiches and chili burgers. For dessert, people could go to other California-founded chains like Baskin Robbins, IHOP or Orange Julius.

  • Posted in Columnists
  • Comments Off on It’s the Pitts: Hamburger Heaven
Back to top