Critical thought, elaborate story-telling, and hard-nosed reporting is more difficult early in the week. We're more in Buzzfeed mode today, so we spent the afternoon sifting through fast food chain histories and coming up with interesting nuggets (pardon the fun) about these places we see every day. Some, such as Jersey Mike's and Raising Cane's, are the American Dream at its most heartwarming. Burger King, on the other hand? A corporate dystopian nightmare...
Members of the Enfield Tennis Academy in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest compete in the fictional Whataburger Southwest Junior Invitational tournament.
Jersey Mike’s CEO Peter Cancro has been affiliated with the company off-and-on since 1971, when he was 14 years old. He and a team of investors brought together by his high school quarterbacks coach bought the flagship Point Pleasant, New Jersey shop three years later and Cancro, who once planned to play college football, has been there ever since. He now oversees an empire of around 750 storefronts. When Cancro bought Mike’s, as it was then known, the shop had already changed hands twice and nobody could remember who Mike was.
Taco Cabana founder Felix Stehling decided to keep his flagship San Antonio restaurant open 24 hours after thieves made off with all his patio furniture the first night of business.
Since college, the dream of a restaurant serving nothing but chicken fingers and sides has loomed large in the mind of Raising Cane’s founder Todd Graves. He’s been called a fool more than once. He got the lowest grade in his class at LSU when he turned in his first business plan for the restaurant, and investors laughed him out of the room time and time again. So he decided to raise the cash himself, working first as a boilermaker working 90 hours a week in a Louisiana refinery, and then heading north to Alaska's Deadliest Catch grounds to fish commercially for sockeye salmon, sleeping in a tent for some of that time. Nest egg finally in hand, he was able to get an SBA loan and open his first restaurant in Baton Rouge, not far from the school that had scorned his dream, and now has dozens of storefronts.
There are now 70 restaurants bearing the Carrabba’s name in Florida, against only 15 in the Carrabba family’s native Texas. With 16, even North Carolina has more Carrabba's than we do.
Though many believe that Freebirds World Burrito was born in College Station, that location was merely the first in Texas. The chain was founded in Isla Vista, California, a small town near Santa Barbara, thus making the restaurant doubly anathema to some Aggie-hating, Cali-bashing Orangebloods. Fun fact: the company is now owned by the Tavistock Group, which also owns English Premier League soccer club Tottenham Hotspur.
As with the armadillo, Northside-based Shipley Do-Nuts is slowly but surely advancing into SEC country and into rival Krispy Kreme’s home turf: there are now Shipley’s as far north as Bentonville, Arkansas and as far east as the Nashville suburbs and Birmingham, Alabama.
Burger King’s story is interesting in that it so purely, soul-crushingly dull and corporate. Aside from that creepy King in the TV ads, this has been a company with no human face for two generations, if indeed it ever had one. Since its purchase by Pillsbury in 1967, BK has been sold to a British conglomerate called Grand Metropolitan, which merged with Guinness in 1997 and became Diageo. In 2002 Diageo sold BK to a consortium of TPG Capital, Bain Capital, and a division of Goldman Sachs. It changed hands again and is now controlled by a Brazilian global investment firm called 3G Capital. Somehow, if you can believe it, with all those suits in control, BK lost its way. It now trails both Wendy’s and McDonald’s in the fast-food burger niche, and is also embattled by the rise of the likes of Five Guys and Smashburger on the pricier end and Carl’s Jr., Whataburger and a dozen sandwich chains at the same price point. What does that place even stand for today? These days it ain’t so hot to be the King.