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Sep 14, 2011 03:27 PM

Where did chains start?

Did any chain restaurant start off with the intention of being a chain? Is there a "first" Chili's, or Appleby's etc.

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  1. A&W was first, then White Castle. But I have no idea if they envisioned having more than one when they opened the first stores. I'm guessing more modern chains opened with that in mind, since chains are commonplace. But back when A&W opened in 1916, I don't know what they would have been thinking.

    1. Bob's Big Boy started expaning and franchising around World War II. A lot of places across the country just picked up that model. I think Ray Kroc had expansion fully on his mind when he bought out the McDonald brothers in the 50's.
      The first McDonald's in Illinois is so noted. Max & Erma's, Wendy's and Bob Evans all have their no. 1 locations in Ohio, although the original Wendy's, just down the street from the capital building in Columbus, was closed a few years ago and is now a church. It did have museum-like displays inside before it closed, after sharing space with Tim Horton's the last few years.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Fibber McGee

        The McDonald brothers' original location in San Bernardino, CA now houses a small McDonalds museum and the offices of a small chain of chicken restaurants. It is kind of a cool place to visit when in the area.

        1. Don't forget about the Harvey Houses that started right after the Civil War. They are credited with being the first restaurant chain.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sloth

            Ah, yes, Fred Harvey. As a menu collector I know some of the more colorful menus are worth a pretty penny.

          2. The first chain was the Automat. These were stores that contained coin operated vending machines with a kitchen behind it.
            Horn & Hardt automats were the most prominent in America. Though the concept itself was of German origin.
            The modern fast-food franchise as we know it was the work of A&W and White Castle. They both started opening multiple locations in 1921.

            2 Replies
            1. re: meatnveg

              Harvey House restaurants pre-date the Automat by 30 years. They had standardized menus with consistent quality, staff uniforms and fast food (an entire passenger train could be fed in 30 minutes). I don't know of any other qualification for a chain.

              1. re: meatnveg

                Just for the record, it was Horn & Hardart.

              2. Not the first or anything, but I read somewhere that the founder of Stuckey's would select restaurant locations in the following manner: He would set out on the highway in the morning from a downtown hotel (headed to the next city as a salesman would), and wherever he first had to stop to go to the bathroom, that would be the chosen restaurant site for that area.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Steve Green

                  A little less scientific than even Sam Walton, and potentially problematic. Using one of my sons as a standard would have placed Stuckey's 1,000 miles apart, with the other son, about 25 miles.

                  1. re: ferret

                    Hindsight being what it is, they seemed to do all right.