For a long time, the Jack In The Box Sourdough Jack was the fast-food holy grail for me. I was just seven years old during my first visit to Jack in the Box in California.
My sister and I were visiting my grandmother (my dad’s mom). We hadn’t seen her in about five years at that point, not that I would have remembered.
My memories from that trip are hazy, but I remember the visit to Jack in the Box.
Over the subsequent 16 years till her passing, I would probably visit another six or seven times. The last few visits, I went by myself, and it was around this time I first tried a Sourdough Jack.
Jack in the Box Burgers and History
It’s a 1/4 pound patty with two slices of Swiss cheese, tomatoes, bacon, and their onion-mayo sauce on toasted sourdough bread. I may have tried some of their other items years ago, but this particular item is my only reason for going to Jack in the Box.
Will my sourdough sickness ever end? Probably not, since I don’t have a Jack in the Box locally, and I only run into them on road trips. I’d regret eating anything else.
History of Jack in the Box Restaurants
Jack in the Box
Founded: August 1950
City Founded: San Diego, California
Founder: Robert Oscar Peterson
Number of Locations at the chain’s peak: currently over 2,200
Signature Burger: Jumbo Jack
Slogan: “The food is better at the Box.”
Before we can jump into Jack in the Box, we need to go back about ten years before it started. In 1941, Robert Oscar Peterson founded a chain of restaurants called Topsy’s Drive-In in San Diego, California.
A few years later, he renamed those restaurants and the Coronado and National City, California, locations, Oscar’s Drive Inn (his middle name). They also underwent a thematic overhaul featuring a circus decor complete with clown drawings.
The rights to an intercom ordering concept that had been pioneered at the Chatterbox in Anchorage, Alaska, were purchased from its founder, George Manos, in 1947.
In August 1950, the location in San Diego was renamed Jack in the Box. A good part of the restaurant’s initial popularity can be attributed to the intercom ordering and the drive-thru window combination.
Later on, a small clown head sat on the top of a large menu board in the drive-thru with the phrase “Pull forward, Jack will speak to you” on the side.
Some of the Oscar’s locations were redesigned and became Jack in the Box. A giant Jack in the Box clown on the buildings could be spotted from a distance as they looked down over their customers.
In 1960, Peterson created Foodmaker, Inc. as the parent company of Jack in the Box. Over the next three years, they were busily opening their first eateries outside of California in Arizona and Texas. By 1966, they had hit two hundred company-owned eateries.
Foodmaker became a subsidiary of the Ralston Purina Company in 1968. This marked a tremendous growth period for them, with more than a thousand Jack in the Box drive-thrus in the mid-1970s. I can’t leave this era without mentioning their popular series of commercials that featured child actor Rodney Allen Rippy in the early 1970s.
But their quick expansion ended up hurting them. To regroup, Jack in the Box sold off 232 locations in Florida and the Chicago, Detroit, and Kansas City markets.
Regroup and Rethink
They also rethought their marketing plan since they were looking to go after a more adult and affluent crowd with new menu items and redecorated eating establishments. They unleashed a series of commercials where the Jack in the Box clown was blown up. One memorable commercial featured a little old lady who shouted:
To focus on the adult specialty sandwich market, they added a popular Swiss and bacon burger. In 1989, a sourdough burger was added, which would be renamed in 1997. The Sourdough Jack, as it is now known, is my favorite Jack in the Box burger. A burger patty is served on toasted sourdough bread with tomatoes, Swiss cheese, bacon, ketchup, and mayo.
In early 1982, Jack in the Box finally began to franchise. All the changes made to the menu and decor started to pay dividends financially. Sales had risen to $61.4 million in 1984 from just $36 million only four years earlier.
In January of 1985, the Seattle, Washington, market was the first to test a name change to Monterey Jack’s. Employees wore “No more clownin’ around” shirts. Eventually, sixty locations would be renamed in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Beaumont, Texas; and St. Louis, Missouri. But the change did very little for them since most customers still referred to them as Jack in the Box, so the name returned to all of those spots on May 5, 1986.
In the midst of the name change, a group of investors and some of the management from Foodmaker completed a leveraged buyout of Jack in the Box from Ralston Purina in 1985. They returned the company’s focus to its core item, the hamburger, while still adding things like seasoned curly fries.
Nowadays, most folks associate Jack in the Box with their mascot, Jack Box. His head was patterned after the original clown that adorned their old drive-thru boxes. In December 1994, a new advertising campaign positioned him as the company’s fictional founder and CEO. In a nod to his likeness’ removal from the company in 1980, the first commercial had Jack retaliating by blowing up Jack in the Box’s board of directors.
- The Jack in the Box menu has always featured a hamburger. But it’s not the most popular item; the taco is. In 2017, there were 554 million tacos sold.
- The return of Jack Box ignited something entirely unintended, a craze for antenna balls. Jack in the Box has either sold or given away more than twenty-eight million antenna balls with their mascot’s likeness since his return.
- Several locations were converted to a new fast-casual concept called JBX Grill in March of 2004. It cut out most of Jack in the Box’s cheaper menu items and focused on higher-quality fare. The modern decor included a fireplace. But the idea was scrapped altogether in September 2005.
- Jack in The Box recently captured the Guinness World Record title for the largest coupon in 2015. They created a two thousand-square-foot “Buy One, Get One Free” voucher for the Buttery Jack burger. The coupon needed to be redeemed to actually set the record. Since it would not fit through the restaurant’s front door, twelve people helped carry it to the drive-thru to complete the transaction.