Who remembers Burger Chef?
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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

Burger Chef Building 1973
Burger Chef Building 1973

Year Founded: 1957
City Founded: Indianapolis, Indiana
Type: Nationwide
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

The Beginning

Ad in Indianapolis News 5-24-57
Ad in Indianapolis News 5-24-57

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 their 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.

Grand Opening Ad in the Indianapolis Star 8-28-58
Grand Opening Ad in the Indianapolis Star 8-28-58
Burger Chef Lawson Garbage Can
Burger Chef Lawson Garbage Can
Grand Opening ad in Journal & Courier 6-3-59
Grand Opening ad in Journal & Courier 6-3-59

The Decline

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.

Journal & Courier 6-16-82
Journal & Courier 6-16-82
Burger Chef becomes Hardee's in the Berkshire Eagle 5-22-84
The Berkshire Eagle 5-22-84

Burger Chef Funmeal

Burger Chef in The Jackson Sun 06-11-74
The Jackson Sun 6-11-74

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

St. Louis Post Dispatch 4-27-79
St. Louis Post Dispatch 4-27-79
St. Louis Post Dispatch 5-23-79
St. Louis Post Dispatch 5-23-79

Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back Burger Chef Posters

Burger Chef Star Wars Posters
Burger Chef 1977 Star Wars Posters Ad

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 1980 Empire Strikes Back Posters Ad
Burger Chef 1980 Empire Strikes Back Posters Ad

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 have still 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.

STATECURRENT BUSINESSADDRESSCITY
AlabamaPlum’s Lounge1186 Montgomery HighwayDothan
AlabamaVicki’s Lunch Van2520 Fairground RoaddMontgomery
ArkansasCar Connection5404 S University AvenueLittle Rock
CaliforniaAngelo’s Hamburgers511 S State College BlvdAnaheim
CaliforniaWienerschnitzel200 E 18th StreetAntioch
CaliforniaSpeedy Zapatos Mexican Food5225 N Blackstone AvenueFresno
CaliforniaB&B Donuts925 Harbor BoulevardFullerton
CaliforniaSamo’s Hamburgers1701 S Garey AvenuePomona
CaliforniaCL Auto Group619 El Camino RealRedwood City
California*Chris’s Burgers765 Foothill BlvdRialto
CaliforniaAntonio’s Quick Lunch716 Colusa AvenueYuba City
ColoradoEl Fogon621 W 84th AvenueThornton
FloridaJack’s Old Fashion Hamburger House4201 N Federal HighwayFt. Lauderdale
FloridaUmpa’s Diner1115 N Courtenay ParkwayMerritt Island
FloridaDarrell’s Diner1031 S Pine AvenueOcala
FloridaKingfisher Sandwiches1500 Barrancas AvenuePensacola
FloridaFray’s Donut House5236 16th St NSt. Petersburg
IllinoisVacant433 N Gilbert StreetDanville
IndianaMr and Mrs Tire1094 Sagamore Parkway W West Lafayette
MarylandVacant5281 Reisterstown RdBaltimore
MassachusettsKwik Pik590 Boston RoadSpringfield
MichiganA-1 Wyoming Outlet3261 Division Ave SGrand Rapids
MichiganChina Cafe319 Broadway StreetSouth Haven
New JerseyNino’s Pizzarama182 N White Horse PikeHammonton
New MexicoCentral Grill and Coffee House2056 Central Avenue SWAlbuquerque
New MexicoClovis Mower Repair501 W 7th StreetClovis
New MexicoAlanberto’s Mexican Food1495 S Solano DriveLas Cruces
North CarolinaSan Luis Restaurant1503 W Gate City BoulevardGreensboro
North CarolinaChar’s Hamburgers400 N Main Street #3556Lexington
North CarolinaPete’s Burgers747 S Scales StreetReidsville
OhioAnn’s Place1604 S Hawkins AveAkron
Oklahoma**Vacant824 N 8th StreetCache
OklahomaTacos La Tia604 Eastside BoulevardMuskogee
OklahomaCaspian Auto Sales4600 NW 39th StreetOklahoma City
OregonKenny’s Noodle House8305 SE Powell BoulevardPortland
OregonMak’s Mini Mart626 SW College StreetPortland
OregonPacific Gold Cannabis2367 SE 122nd AvenuePortland
PennsylvaniaVacant2807 College AvenueBeaver Falls
South CarolinaLot Two Auto Sales417 Wright BoulevardConway
TennesseeThe Chef126 Keith Street SWCleveland
TexasVacant2509 E Amarillo BoulevardAmarillo
TexasP. Terry’s Burger Stand3303 N Lamar BoulevardAustin
Texas$25 Optical545 S 11th StreetBeaumont
TexasBenno’s Cajun Seafood1200 Seawall BoulevardGalveston
TexasVacant3818 TX-35Houston
TexasLas Morenitas2728 S Richey StreetHouston
TexasVacant701 Highland AvenueKilleen
TexasFish Place925 Texas AvenueLa Marque
TexasChen’s302 S Timberland DriveLufkin
VirginiaLong River Restaurant2835 Riverside Drive Danville
VirginiaBoost Mobile1654 Virginia AvenueMartinsville
VirginiaWrap Pack and Mail806 Memorial Boulevard NMartinsville
VirginiaSal’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant2017 S Sycamore StreetPetersburg
WashingtonNew Harbour1830 N Division StreetSpokane
West VirginiaStewarts Original Hot Dog1025 Oak StreetKenova
West VirginiaSuzi’s Hamburgers239 Maccorkle Ave SWSouth Charleston
West VirginiaMartinsburg Tobacco & Vape Outlet305 N Queen StreetMartinsburg
WisconsinAmelia’s724 E Layton AvenueMilwaukee

*Where the Mad Men episode was filmed.
**Not 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.


There is more Burger Chef information if you dig a little, I’d suggest you check out the links below.

https://www.freewebs.com/burgerchef/

http://jsfburgerchef.homestead.com/

https://www.roadarch.com/eateries/bchef.html

https://www.waymarking.com/cat/details.aspx?f=1&guid=65766bda-9049-4276-9ee6-1fe3ed9e6d1f

http://web.archive.org/web/20030425145203/http://www.burgerchef.com/

https://jsfburgerchef.homestead.com/BurgerChefBuildingDesign.html

15 Comments

  1. Mission Burrito at 2161 Tapo St, Simi Valley, CA. 93063 was a Burger Chef Location. It became Taco Tree with the original building structure then when it became Mission Burrito, they remodeled it and it would be hard to tell now, but it is the same original building. When I moved to Simi in 1977, it was already Taco Tree.

  2. There was a Burger Chef at the corner of Pine avenue and Layton avenue, in Milwaukee, WI. After that it became a couple of casual fast food type restaurants. Today the building, with its original kite design, is a bar restaurant called Amelia’s.

  3. there is a former Burger Chef in Reidsville NC .Now Petes burgers and more.Still Burger Chef menu with different names ex Big Shef now Big Burger exc. Even still has the works bar. . Is in a kite building that was remodeled. There is also an ex Burger Chef in Lexington NC called Chars.Burger Chef was not strong in NC most likely because of Hardees

  4. Hello! When my Dad was stationed at Scott AFB we used to eat at the Burger Chef next to the Community Park on 110 E Hwy 50 in O’Fallon, IL. My Mom liked it because they had a 70’s-style salad bar (think Wendy’s stole that idea like McDonald’s stole the Fun Meal). Looks like the building is now a Hardee’s. Don’t think there was a McDonald’s across the street back then. There’s a reference to it on the O’Fallon Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/groups/171453042927313/

  5. I heard that the reason General Foods sold Burger Chef was that they were not getting a big enough cut of the profits from the francise owners, and that forced them to sell out to Hardies.

  6. Was there ever a Burger Chef located on Bainbridge Blvd in Chesapeake, Va in around the 1960s?
    Did it become Jackson’s after that?

  7. There was a Burger Chef at Nichol’s Plaza in Maple Shade, NJ and also in the Tilton Shopping Center in Northfield, NJ

  8. I worked at the Burger Chef in Gainesville while attending U of F, in the early 60s. At the time, we were the second largest chain of fast-food restaurants in the country, second only to McDonalds. My main take-away is my ability to run the ’15 times’ multiplication tables quicker than anyone in town. When everything being sold is 15¢, that tends to happen! I worked both the front windows and the back line.

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