Regional Fast-Food Chains
- Paul Lukas
Last month, while traveling in Michigan, I stumbled upon an outlet of Chicken in the Rough, a small fried-chicken chain I'd never heard of before. Upon further research, it turns out that Chicken in the Rough has a long history (and a really amazing logo -- see for yourself at ckenintherough.com/History.html).
All of which has gotten me thinking about small, regional fast-food chains that have managed to hold on and hold their own against the McDonald's and Burger Kings of the world. Among those I'm aware of, aside from Chicken in the Rough:
- Kewpee Burger
- Halo Burger
- Krystal's (not really so small, but very regional)
What other smallish fast-food chains are out there?
In So. Calif. there is the Original Tommy's which began near downtown L.A. in 1946 and now has several dozen locations.
Better known is In-N-Out Burger which began in 1948 in Baldwin Park, about 20 miles east of L.A. It has grown to around 200 locations in CA, AZ & NV. Unlike the major chains, In-N-Out's basic menu of burgers, fries and drinks has never changed. Neither have the preparation methods. Everything is made fresh to order and there are no microwaves, freezers or heat lamps. French fries are still made from freshly cut, whole potatoes and the shakes are made from real ice cream.
For fast food, I would place both of these way ahead of the major national chains.
re: Sam D.
Don't forget So-Cal's (specifically L.A.) teeny, tiny mexican chain Poquito Mas - there were 5 or 6 of them when I left LA 3 years ago. The one in the Valley was the best of the bunch. Best burritos ever and they make their own tortillas. Makes me want to hop on a plane right now. I could be there in time for a late lunch!
re: Sam D.
In-N-out's Double Double cheeseburger is just about the only thing I miss about California.
In-N-Out is a class operation. Once when I ordered at the takeout window, I didn't get my fries. I thought I was calling that store to report it, but the number in the phone book connected me with headquarters. They were deeply apologetic, sent me a coupon for two burgers and two fries, called again about 10 days later to asked if I was happy.
Sure wish they'd expand to Georgia, where I live now.
Chicken in the Rough made it as far south as Oklahoma City. Maid-Rite is one of the oldest franchise concepts in America. (The restaurants are individually owned but have to "conform" to Maid-Rite specifications. They only exist in very small midwest towns.) Another example is Sonic Drive In's. For years and years, they were a local chain in Oklahoma City. Then, in a matter of months, Sonic became almost fully national with national television advertising. I would love to know the story about how such a dramatic transition took place. (Their Lime-aids are terrific.)
Continuing in the fried chicken vein, Chicken Box (linked below, the cousin of Wagner's Meat, of you-can't-beat fame) is a small New Orleans chain with very good but slightly greasy chicken. Bojangle's is a mostly-East Coast chicken chain.
Popeye's and Church's seem to be similarly regional, though Popeye's seems to have expanded greatly over the past few years. A little research turned up that both chicken companies are owned by the same conglomerate that owns Cinnabon and Seattle's Best Coffee. I had no idea, though it certainly explains the recent proliferation of Popeye's in airports.
Hardee's/Carl's Jr. and Rally's/Checkers seem to have regional associations -- is this the same thing as the Hellman's/Best Foods divide?
Kopp's Frozen Custard
Culver's (now also in Illinois)
Kopp's is the best, IMO - very much worth the drive from Chicago, or a stop on the way back from a Big Ten football weekend in Madison. I'm very fond of their BIG fish sandwiches. The Brookfield/Waukesha location is the location I frequent, being that it's very close to the famed Penzey's spice emporium, as well as a great kitchen store and a wonderful produce market that also features myriad local microbrews and some hard-to-find local cheese. Pick up a 4-pack of Sprecher ale...mmmmmmm-mmmmm good!