When remembering Burger Chef, you need to take into consideration what they were able to accomplish in such a short time. I had never even heard of Burger Chef until my friend Jim Winters ended up gifting me with an old Burger Chef sign.
One week later, I was well versed in it. The burger steward side of me had been awakened. It would be the start of my collection that would culminate with the opening of my Burger Museum.
Burger Chef History
Year Founded: 1957
City Founded: Indianapolis, Indiana
Founders: brothers Donald and Frank Thomas
Number of Locations at the chain’s peak: 1,200
Locations still in operation: None
Signature Burgers: Big Chef and Super Chef
Slogan: “There’s more to like at Burger Chef”
Burger King had hired the General Restaurant Equipment company to build a broiler for them. Inspired by BK, General Restaurant Equipment saw the potential in starting its own burger chain.
The first step was to design and create a broiler to cook burgers. They even went so far as to advertise their first location as “Indianapolis’ first Florida-style self-service drive-in!” in the Indianapolis News on March 24, 1957.
In just ten years, Burger Chef became the second-largest burger chain, with only about one hundred fewer locations than McDonald’s. General Foods Corporation purchased the Burger Chef chain in 1968, which helped to fund its rapid expansion.
Under General Foods, they reached their peak of 1,200 locations in 1972.
The late 1970s and early 1980s were not kind to Burger Chef as they struggled financially. In 1982, the 679 locations of Burger Chef (420 of which were franchised) were purchased by Hardee’s for forty-four million dollars.
Many Burger Chef locations were converted to Hardee’s, while franchises or restaurants near pre-existing Hardee’s were allowed to switch to a different brand altogether. Some independent Burger Chefs continued to operate for years after the Hardee’s purchase.
The last Burger Chef restaurant in Cookeville, Tennessee, closed when its franchise agreement expired in 1996. For those of you still longing for a Burger Chef fix, Hardee’s has been known to bring back the Big Chef from time to time at some of their Midwestern locations.
Burger Chef Funmeal
Burger Chef’s Funmeal, which debuted in 1973, featured Burger Chef and Jeff as well as Burgerini, Count Fangburger, Burgerilla, and Cackleburger. Their mascots were Burger Chef and his younger sidekick Jeff. Each Funmeal cardboard box included riddles and puzzles galore and a small toy.
McDonald’s later introduced their Happy Meal, a similar concept. Burger Chef sued them in 1979 but ultimately lost the $5.5 million lawsuit
Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back Burger Chef Posters
During Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back’s original theatrical releases in 1977 and 1980, Burger Chef gave away posters with the purchase of a soft drink. The original posters are highly collectible and can be found on eBay.
Be careful; there are now reprints out there, so make sure to ask the seller where they got the posters before you buy them.
Burger Chef Commercial Collection
I found this collection of Burger Chef commercials on youtube and knew instantly that you needed to see them.
Burger Chef on Mad Men
You can see a Burger Chef restaurant in action on season seven of the TV show Mad Men. Burger Chef was one of the clients of the program’s fictional advertising firm, Sterling Cooper.
The production crew took Jim’s Burgers (now Chris’s Burgers) in Rialto, California, a former Burger Chef building, and painstakingly brought it back to its former glory inside and out.
Former Burger Chef Restaurant Locations
Vicki’s Lunch Van in Montgomery, Alabama, and Jack’s Old Fashion Hamburger House in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are both located in former Burger Chef buildings. They have one other thing in common; both serve awesome old-school burgers.
Most locations below still have the original building structure and sign outside. In some cases, the building may have been modified, or a repurposed sign is all that is left.
Can you think of anyone I’ve left out? Please leave a comment below so I can keep this list updated.
|Alabama||Plum’s Lounge||1186 Montgomery Highway||Dothan|
|Alabama||Vicki’s Lunch Van||2520 Fairground Road||Montgomery|
|Arizona||Car Wash El Beto||916 N 35th Avenue||Phoenix|
|Arkansas||Car Connection||5404 S University Avenue||Little Rock|
|California||Angelo’s Hamburgers||511 S State College Blvd||Anaheim|
|California||Wienerschnitzel||200 E 18th Street||Antioch|
|California||Speedy Zapatos Mexican Food||5225 N Blackstone Avenue||Fresno|
|California||B&B Donuts||925 Harbor Boulevard||Fullerton|
|California||Samo’s Hamburgers||1701 S Garey Avenue||Pomona|
|California||CL Auto Group||619 El Camino Real||Redwood City|
|California||*Chris’s Burgers||765 Foothill Blvd||Rialto|
|California||Antonio’s Quick Lunch||716 Colusa Avenue||Yuba City|
|Colorado||El Fogon||621 W 84th Avenue||Thornton|
|Florida||Jack’s Old Fashion Hamburger House||4201 N Federal Highway||Ft. Lauderdale|
|Florida||Umpa’s Diner||1115 N Courtenay Parkway||Merritt Island|
|Florida||Darrell’s Diner||1031 S Pine Avenue||Ocala|
|Florida||Kingfisher Sandwiches||1500 Barrancas Avenue||Pensacola|
|Florida||Fray’s Donut House||5236 16th St N||St. Petersburg|
|Illinois||Vacant||433 N Gilbert Street||Danville|
|Indiana||Mr and Mrs Tire||1094 Sagamore Parkway W||West Lafayette|
|Maryland||Vacant||5281 Reisterstown Rd||Baltimore|
|Massachusetts||Kwik Pik||590 Boston Road||Springfield|
|Michigan||A-1 Wyoming Outlet||3261 Division Ave S||Grand Rapids|
|Michigan||China Cafe||319 Broadway Street||South Haven|
|New Jersey||Nino’s Pizzarama||182 N White Horse Pike||Hammonton|
|New Mexico||Central Grill and Coffee House||2056 Central Avenue SW||Albuquerque|
|New Mexico||Clovis Mower Repair||501 W 7th Street||Clovis|
|New Mexico||Alanberto’s Mexican Food||1495 S Solano Drive||Las Cruces|
|North Carolina||San Luis Restaurant||1503 W Gate City Boulevard||Greensboro|
|North Carolina||Char’s Hamburgers||400 N Main Street #3556||Lexington|
|North Carolina||Pete’s Burgers||747 S Scales Street||Reidsville|
|Ohio||Ann’s Place||1604 S Hawkins Ave||Akron|
|Oklahoma||**Vacant||824 N 8th Street||Cache|
|Oklahoma||Tacos La Tia||604 Eastside Boulevard||Muskogee|
|Oklahoma||Caspian Auto Sales||4600 NW 39th Street||Oklahoma City|
|Oregon||Kenny’s Noodle House||8305 SE Powell Boulevard||Portland|
|Oregon||Mak’s Mini Mart||626 SW College Street||Portland|
|Oregon||Pacific Gold Cannabis||2367 SE 122nd Avenue||Portland|
|Pennsylvania||Vacant||2807 College Avenue||Beaver Falls|
|South Carolina||Lot Two Auto Sales||417 Wright Boulevard||Conway|
|Tennessee||The Chef||126 Keith Street SW||Cleveland|
|Texas||Vacant||2509 E Amarillo Boulevard||Amarillo|
|Texas||P. Terry’s Burger Stand||3303 N Lamar Boulevard||Austin|
|Texas||$25 Optical||545 S 11th Street||Beaumont|
|Texas||Benno’s Cajun Seafood||1200 Seawall Boulevard||Galveston|
|Texas||Las Morenitas||2728 S Richey Street||Houston|
|Texas||Vacant||701 Highland Avenue||Killeen|
|Texas||Fish Place||925 Texas Avenue||La Marque|
|Texas||Chen’s||302 S Timberland Drive||Lufkin|
|Virginia||Long River Restaurant||2835 Riverside Drive||Danville|
|Virginia||Boost Mobile||1654 Virginia Avenue||Martinsville|
|Virginia||Wrap Pack and Mail||806 Memorial Boulevard N||Martinsville|
|Virginia||Sal’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant||2017 S Sycamore Street||Petersburg|
|Washington||New Harbour||1830 N Division Street||Spokane|
|West Virginia||Stewarts Original Hot Dog||1025 Oak Street||Kenova|
|West Virginia||Martinsburg Tobacco & Vape Outlet||305 N Queen Street||Martinsburg|
|Wisconsin||Amelia’s||724 E Layton Avenue||Milwaukee|
*Where the Mad Men episode was filmed.
**Not the original Burger Chef restaurant location, but a refurbished signed was moved there
What Happened to Burger Chef? Video
My friend Troy at Restaurant Rewind did a great job on this What Happened to Burger Chef? video.
Links with great Burger Chef info
There is more Burger Chef information if you dig a little, I’d suggest you check out the links below.