|Jul. 1st, 2004 08:50 pm Some thoughts and memories about fast food|
One of the thought processes that led to me setting up my LiveJournal was going over some memories and other thoughts related to fast food. I got started thinking about this yesterday when I read an article in the Albuquerque Tribune online (http://www.abqtrib.com). This article was a "Cheap Eats" article about Wienerschnitzel. This led me to their website seeing if they had anything about their failed, or so I thought, experiment with the $0.49 Hamburger Stand. (In my later investigations I found that the owners of Wienerschnitzel still run Hamburger Stand restaurants, so I guess they just failed in Albuquerque). Following through with this got me thinking about fast food restaurants and my memories of them over the years.
For reference, one site I found that helped me collect thoughts is tesg's guide to big chain road food consumption (http://www.99w.com/evilsam/ff/index.htm).
Now for my random thoughts...
By most measures McDonalds is not the first fast food restaurant, but it is by nearly any measure the most successful. However, I don't know anyone over the age of about 15 or 20 who thinks of McDonalds as their favorite. While not my earliest memories of McDonalds, perhaps my best come from my trip to and from the 1981 Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill Virginia. Between Albuquerque and Virginia we drove for about 36 hours, over a 48 hour period. More than half of our meal stops were at McDonalds, starting when we picked up the last scout in Tucumcari. Few of my friends that were on that trip had any great desire to stop at McDonalds for sometime afterwards.
Until the mid 70's, Albuquerque had only two or three McDonalds. One was located on Menaul, on the Southwest corner of the intersection with San Pedro, or just west of there. Another was located somewhere on North Fourth, probably near Montano. Therefore we didn't go to them too often when I was growing up. I have vague memories of graduating from eating a hamburger or cheeseburger to eating a Big Mac. I am fairly sure that I was never in the age bracket (at least as a boy) where I would have gotten a happy meal.
Sometime around 1974-1976, McDonalds began a rapid expansion in the Albuquerque area. By the time the one opened at Coors and Corrles around 1978-1980, my older siblings and I observed that there was about a one-to-one relationship between public high schools and McDonalds, so there would have been about 10 in Albuquerque. I suspect that there are now 20 or more in Albuquerque, and only 11 public high schools -- 12 if you take into account that much of Rio Rancho was part of the Albuquerque Public Schools district until sometime in the 1990s.
At this point Burger King is the second largest Hamburger fast food chain, probably the second largest fast food chain overall. However, according to some of my reading over the last couple of days, it is poised to loose this position.
My first memories of Burger King are from 1976. I can date this very well, because these are memories of ads I saw for Burger King during the 1976 Summer Olympics. However, at that time there were still no Burger Kings in Albuquerque. In that era, some live programs would have the distinction of showing ads for products and businesses that weren't national. (I don't know how many times I saw nearly identical ads for Helman's and Best Foods Mayonnaise for this reason). Burger King chose to advertise their "Have it your way" message during ABCs broadcast of the Olympics, even though they were not in every market. The ad I remember best featured Fosbery, who had won the Gold in High Jump four years earlier by going over the bar upside down -- a move now known as the Fosbery Flop (A quick google search to confirm the spelling of "Fosbery," with hopes of finding his full name, resulted mostly in sites about intellectual property rather than sports). In the ad Fosbery wanted his hamburger upside down.
It was sometime in the next year or two that the first Burger Kings opened in Albuquerque. I remember thinking that they were better than McDonalds, but not enough to go out of my way to eat there. This has remained pretty much my opinion until recently, the quality has begun to slip.
Blake's is a local New Mexico chain. Until the McDonalds expansion in the mid-70s, there were probably more Blake's in Albuquerque than any other Fast Food place. However, we didn't eat there much. Their hamburgers came with lots of onions, and my brother really disliked this. In my late high school and early college years (circa 1983-1987) two things caused me to patronize Blake's a bit more. First, one opened in the food court at Winrock, replacing Barney's Beef and Things (or some such name). Second, we discovered that Blake's had real shakes. Just after I had my wisdom teeth out in 1985 I survived on Blakes shakes and pudding for about a week.
Now we get to what really prompted me to post this -- and to create my LiveJournal in the first place. Yesterday I rediscovered Burger Chef. In the early 1970's, and I'm not sure exactly when, there was at least one Burger Chef, and probably two, in Albuquerque. One was on Menaul near Coronado Center, not too far from Albuquerque's first McDonalds. I think that there was one on Gibson near the Truman gate to Kirtland as well. There may have been others. I am, however, not sure when they closed but I know that they were long gone by 1980.
I only have one vague memory of eating at a Burger Chef, which is why I think there was one on Gibson. I seem to remember eating at Burger Chef with my Dad. Most likely this was because I accompanied him when he went to work some Saturday. On the other hand I know that Burger Chef is somehow ingrained into my memories. In my mind I cannot hear "Burger Chef" with out completing it "and Jeff." I also could clearly remember the Burger Chef "Kite Look" buildings (see http://hometown.aol.com/jsf605213/page1.html) as being Burger Chef restaurants.
Looking over the websites I found about Burger Chef leads me to think that I should have a clue when they left Albuquerque. Burger Chef, as well as Burger King, had tie-ins with the original 1977 release of Star Wars (a.k.a. Episode IV: A New Hope). However, I cannot remember which, if either, were in Albuquerque for the initial Star Wars release.
My first memories of Jack in the Box were the incongruous ads on the radio in Albuquerque around 1980. Jack in the Box first opened in Albuquerque about the same time that they were getting rid of the drive through clowns. So we had these new fast food restaurants running ads talking about blowing up clowns, that the new stores didn't have. Over the following years, Jack in the Box was the place to get cheap, and not that good, fast food. But they had stuff that McDonalds and Burger King didn't.
Then, overnight, all of the Albuquerque stores -- four or five of them -- became Monterey Jacks. The food improved a bit, and the menu became more adult and upscale. They remained Monterey Jacks for about a year and then, again overnight, they went back to being Jack in the Box. I know that they were still around when I was in college. One of my friends one day said that he wanted a "Taco real bad" and then went to Jack in the Box where he considered the tacos were "real bad."
In 1989 I moved to the Chicago area and out of Jack in the Box's region. It was about that time that they left Albuquerque. I remember hearing about their problems with e-coli in Seattle, and other things so I knew that they were still around. In 1995, when I spent several weeks in Seattle and then about 4 months in Phoenix, I first saw the ads featuring Jack. I think I again ate at a Jack in the Box on one of those trips. What I discovered was a Jack in the Box with a Monterey Jacks menu. And it was very good! When I moved to San Diego in 1998 (it didn't take and I moved back to Illinois 14 months later) I became a fairly regular patron of Jack in the Box.
I think it was in Seattle in 1995 that I first tried a Carl's Jr. But, it may have been in Sacramento in 1990 or in Osaka in 1991. All I know for sure is that I've never had a bad meal at a Carl's Jr.
I've tried Hardee's all over the US, during the era before CKE (Carl's Jr's parent) bought the chain. I ate at the one in Albuquerque (I think it was on Montgomery between San Mateo and Carlisle), one in Kansas City, one in Delta Colorado, one in or near Galena Illinois and one somewhere in Kentucky. I don't think I ever got sick. But I don't think I ever found them that great.
On my move back to Chicago from San Diego in 1999, I took a bit on consolation when I found the small town Hardee's was sporting a Carl's Jr Star. However, I've only had one or two opportunities to try a "Star Hardee's." As with other reviews I've seen on the web, I never found that the Star Hardee's had transformed themselves into anything as good as a Carl's Jr. From what I read today, it seems that CKE is still trying to make Hardee's a success.
I also know that my impression of Hardee's is still better than many other people's, including my wife. I don't think she'd set foot in a Hardee's unless there was nowhere else to get food, and maybe not even then :-). Years of trouble have left a bad taste in people's mouths (not literally).
This afternoon after reading a bunch of fast food related web sites, I had a thought as to what CKE should, or at least could, do Hardee's. They should close them all, help their franchisees remodel the stores and reopen them as ... Burger Chef :-)
I could go on, and probably will at some later point. But for now I think I'll stop here.
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