Before you take another bite of that flame-broiled hamburger … Before you take a cell phone photo of that sandwich that you topped – all by yourself – at the fixins’ bar … Before you pay for your kid’s boxed meal with your credit card at the drive-thru window, just know that it’s all a farce. Or at least generous borrowing — of another restaurateur’s idea.
Not only do restaurant ventures make strange bedfellows, it’s a business in which being first might just help land you in the unemployment line.
Remember when Kentucky Fried Chicken came up with its Rotisserie Gold recipe? It was around 1993, and by 1994 it was being sold nationwide. The Colonel briefly rode the coattails of Boston Chicken, a regional restaurant that – at the time – was expanding at a rocket’s pace. Rotisserie Gold didn’t last very long, and neither did Boston Chicken. The company changed its name to Boston Market in 1995 and, by 1998, was forced to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.
Did you know? McDonald’s Corp. owned Boston Market from 2000 to 2007.
There’s something about brothers and pizza chains. Pizza Hut and Pizza Inn (which operates in 15 states and a dozen countries) both came to be in 1958. Both were founded by dough-tossing brothers. Just two years later, a couple of brothers opened Dominoes. Little Caesar’s got its start in 1959, by a husband/wife team.
When it comes to the dough — the yeasty and dollar types — Pizza Hut wins on being first. Not only is it the largest U.S. chain, it was the first (1978) to introduce pan style pizza. Give Dominoes credit though, because it is the largest worldwide chain, and Pizza Hut just recently began copying Dominoes’ practice of brushing the crust with a butter-flavored substance.
First, it should be known that Burger King’s founders opened their first restaurant (which failed) after visiting the first McDonald’s. Beyond that, it’s ‘Sister Wives’ interesting in the chain hamburger business.
Let’s start with Burger King and Burger Chef, both of which started hawking broiled hamburgers in the 1950s. (BK technically began a few years earlier than BC, but the company twice reorganized in its first 6 years of business.) While Burger King restaurants were required to use the Insta-Broiler to cook burgers, Burger Chef restaurants used a similar machine that was actually patented by its founders.
It’s not clear who first came up with the ‘club’ style hamburger, Burger Chef’s Big Shef hit the market around the same time as McDonald’s Big Mac. It becomes pretty clear after that, with the Big King, Big Hardee and Bonus Jack appearing on competitors’ menus much later.
There’s no question that Burger Chef pioneered the kids’ meal. As the second largest hamburger chain in the U.S. at the time, Burger Chef in 1972 introduced its Funmeal. It included everything from a token for a free treat to a flexi-disc (a flexible phonograph record). McDonald’s brought about its Happy Meal in 1979. (Burger Chef sued, but lost.)
Burger Chef also pioneered the ‘works bar,’ where customers could dress hamburgers exactly as they desired. You’re welcome, Fuddrucker’s.
As for mini-burgers – or sliders – most people have heard of White Castle, but southerners prefer their Krystal’s. In fact both regional chains pre-date McDonald’s (1940), Burger King (1953) and Jack in the Box (1951), but White Castle is 11 years older than Krystal, having been founded in 1921. And wouldn’t you know it, Krystal’s founder created his restaurant concept after visiting several White Castles.
Did you know? Most of the original Burger Chefs were assimilated with Hardees in the early 1980s, after General Foods sold the brand to a Canadian company. By 1992, the last remaining Burger Chef had closed.
Back in 2012, when I added the Food Snob Chronicles to the weekly lineup, I pledged to bring you delicious easy weeknight recipes. This one is exactly that. It’s fun and kid-friendly too. Feel free to add your own favorite pizza ingredients. Better yet, get the family in the kitchen — set up a Pizza Pot Pie bar.
Pizza Pot Pie
1 cup – Mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup – Sharp Cheddar, shredded
1 TB – Parmesan, shredded
3/4 cup – Marinara -or- pizza sauce
1/4 lb – Sweet Italian sausage
8 oz pkg – Refrigerated crescent roll dough*
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cook, crumble and drain sausage. Combine cheeses. Stack two pieces of dough and roll into a disc that’s large enough to slightly lap over the ramekin. The discs should be about 1/4-inch thick.
In four (6-7 ounce) ramekins, add:
- 1/4 cup cheese
- 2 TB sausage
- 2-3 TB sauce
Place dough discs atop filled ramekins and press slightly on the edges to seal. Bake on a lower rack of the oven until tops are golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. ~ Makes four Pizza Pot Pies.
*- For testing purposes, I used Pillsbury Crescent Rounds.