Jack in the Box from San Francisco, California
LHG Meals 468 x 60

I was just seven years old on my first visit to California. My parents wanted my sister and me to know 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 a visit to Jack in the Box.

I would probably visit her another six or seven times over the following 16 years till her passing. The last few visits, I went by myself, and it was around this time I first tried a Sourdough Jack. At that particular point in my burger timeline, I was on a Patty Melt kick. I could see the similarities to the griddled sandwich I was in love with, yet this one was different.

Since that day, I have never eaten anything other than a Sourdough Jack, fries, and a cola. Would I be open to the idea of switching up my order? Not likely 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 instead.

Jack in the Box Restaurant

Jack in the Box Food Pictures

Meal from Jack in the Box
Meal
Jack in the Box Sourdough Jack
Jack in the Box Sourdough Jack
Open Face Sourdough Jack
Open Faced Sourdough Jack

Original Post on BurgerBeast.com

January 7th, 2009 – For a long time, the Jack In The Box Sourdough Jack was the fast-food holy grail for me. Since they’re mostly located on the west coast, I’ve eaten there only while on vacation in Los Angeles or Las Vegas.

There was one time when I was in Dallas and saw a Jack in the Box while being shuttled to our hotel via buses hired by the company I worked for at the time. We were not allowed to leave the hotel due to insurance issues. On the morning we were going to be shuttled back to the airport, I, along with a couple of other guys, paid a taxi to take us to the Jack in the Box drive-thru at 5:30 a.m. to get some Sourdough Jacks.

What is a Sourdough Jack? It’s a 1/4 pound patty with 2 slices of Swiss cheese, tomatoes, bacon, 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. Last year, right after I arrived in Las Vegas and picked up my car rental, I went straight to a Jack in the Box and bought a Sourdough Jack to feed my addiction. Will my sourdough sickness ever end? Probably not.

History of Jack in the Box from All About the Burger

Jack in the Box
Founded: August 1950
City Founded: San Diego, California
Type: Regional
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.

Name Change

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 combination of the intercom ordering and the drive-thru window. 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.

Jack Expands

In 1960, Peterson created Foodmaker, Inc. as the parent company for 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.

Jack in the Box Grand Opening in St. Petersburg, Florida November 11th, 1976
Jack in the Box Grand Opening in St. Petersburg, Florida November 11th, 1976

Regroup & 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:

“Waste him!”

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 upon 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.

Name Change…Again?

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.

Jack in the Box name change
Jack in the Box – San Francisco Examiner January 23rd, 1985

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.

Quirky Facts

  • 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 Records 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. To actually set the record, the coupon needed to be redeemed. Since it would not fit through the restaurant’s front door, twelve people helped carry it to the drive-thru to complete the transaction.

Comment Away!