Fast Food Chains That Are Older Than You Realize

You would be wrong to think that McDonald’s, KFC, or Burger King are the oldest fast-food brands.

A lot of fast-food chains have been around for a lot longer than you think.

These chains have been around for a long time and have seen how the fast-food business has changed.

In this piece, we’ll look at some fast-food chains that have been around longer than you might think.

Fast Food Chains That Are Older Than You Realize

Fast food is a big part of life in the 21st century. It is easy, quick, and cheap. Fast food was first thought of in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.

Since then, it has spread to every part of the world. Some fast-food chains have come and gone, but others are still around.

This piece will talk about some fast-food chains that have been around longer than you might think.

Shakey’s Pizza (1954)

Shakey’s Pizza might not be as well-known as Pizza Hut or Domino’s, but it was around a few years before either of those brands.

In 1954, Shakey’s Pizza and Ye Public House opened in Sacramento, California, as a place to enjoy pizza, beer, and ragtime music.

The place was all about having a casual meal and listening to good live music. Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson, one of the restaurant’s founders, loved Dixieland jazz, so he filled the place with the sounds of player pianos and banjos.

In the Hall of Fame of the American Banjo Museum, you can still see a copy of the first Shakey’s restaurant’s inside.

The good times kept going, and in 1956, Shakey’s opened its second location in Portland.

It brought its music, thin-crust pizzas, fried chicken, and mojo potatoes with it. By 1967, the group had more than 270 stores.

In the years after that, it even opened stores in Japan and the Philippines, which are very far away.

The old-fashioned charm of Shakey’s restaurants wasn’t enough to keep the number of them growing in America, though.

Shakey’s is doing better in the Philippines than in the U.S. today. There are about 50 locations in the U.S. and 300 in the Philippines.

Burger King (1954)

In 1954, two businessmen named James W. McLamore and David Edgerton bought an Insta-Burger King franchise in Miami.

This was the beginning of Burger King as a fast food chain. In 1957, the Whopper, which is the chain’s most famous item, was made.

After the business ran into money problems in 1959, the partners ended up taking over the whole Insta-Burger King operation.

And they were able to turn the company’s luck around by switching from an Insta-Broiler to a gas grill and changing the name of the chain to Burger King.

Burger King

In 1967, McLamore and Edgerton sold Burger King for $18 million to the Pillsbury Company.

By the end of the 1970s, Burger King had become the second-largest burger chain in the U.S. under its new ownership.

Burger King has been sold many times over the years, going through its share of highs and lows. Still, the chain is a success.

There are about 20,000 sites around the world that serve 11 million customers every day.

Sonic (1953)

When it first opened in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1953, Sonic was called Top Hat Drive-In. It didn’t get its current name until 1959.

When Troy Smith and Charlie Pappe opened their first four Top Hat Drive-Ins between 1953 and 1959, they found out that the name was already protected by copyright law.

The two people changed the name of the Sonic restaurant chain because they liked its phrase, “Service at the Speed of Sound.”

From the beginning, Sonic used a sound system and a large number of carhops on roller skates to bring burgers, fries, and drinks right to customers’ cars.


And this kind of drive-in is still around, so people can enjoy a quick meal while remembering a different time.

The fast food chain even has a yearly skating competition where employees can show off their skills and win prizes.

By the time Pappe died in 1967, the chain had grown to 41 locations. In 1973, there were 124 of these sites in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Arkansas.

There are about 3,500 Sonic Drive-Ins in the United States right now.

Jack in the Box (1951)

Tacos, breakfast options, and salads weren’t always popular at Jack in the Box. When it opened in San Diego, California, in 1951, the fast food chain was known for its burgers, which cost 18 cents each at the small corner store.

The first Jack in Box was opened by Robert Oscar Peterson. It had a drive-through service and a communication system.

People stopped at the fast food place because it had a big clown on the roof. This clown later became the chain’s trademark sign.

And the source was useful because it was easy to get to. In 1956, there were 180 Jack in the Box stores that were owned by the company.

Jack in the Box

In 1968, the Ralston Purina Company bought Jack in the Box. The company then turned the business into a franchise.

Before the 1980s, Jack in the Box advertised to families. But in the 1980s, the chain started advertising to people who had more money.

Around this time, the chain’s mascot clown went away, and its stores were updated to appeal to a new, more professional customer base.

Today, Jack in the Box serves more than 500 million customers each year at more than 2,200 sites.

It is still known for its drive-through service, which 90% of customers choose to use.

Whataburger (1950)

The first Whataburger was a small stand on the side of the road in Corpus Christi, Texas. It opened in 1950. Harmon Dobson opened the burger place.

He wanted to make burgers that would make people say “What a burger!” when they ate them, which is how the chain got its name.

And it looks like he was successful. This could be because his burgers had a quarter pound of meat and a 5-inch bun, which made them much bigger than the typical two ounces of beef on a 212-inch bun at the time.


On the first day of business, each burger went for 25 cents, which brought in $50. Four days later, when the store sold 551 burgers, these numbers were much higher.

Even though the business was doing well, Dobson had to raise the price of his burgers the next year.

He put up a sign saying, “People, we priced our burgers too low and we lost our shirts. We have to raise the price to 30 cents, sorry.”

The first Whataburger opened in Alice, Texas, in 1953. There were 26 Whataburgers in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee by 1963.

At this point, the unique orange-and-white A-frame design of the chain was already a thing. Dobson had made it in 1961.

Dobson was a pilot, and he died in a plane crash in 1967. He never got to see how big his company would grow.

Today, Whataburger’s more than 900 locations bring in $3 billion every year.

Dunkin’ Donuts

The first Dunkin’ Donuts store is still open for business in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The shop, which opened in 1948 as Open Kettle and became Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950, has been fixed up to look like it did when it first opened.

People say that the chain’s founder, William Rosenberg, came up with the new name after noticing that many customers dipped their donuts in the coffee at the shop.

Five years later, a Dunkin’ Donuts store opened in Worcester. This was the start of the chain. After that, things moved along quickly.

Dunkin' Donuts

Before the end of 1963, the company had 100 stores, but by 1979, it had 1,000.

Dunkin’ Donuts also added new things to its menu over the years, like its famous Munchkins donut holes and a number of breakfast and snack items.

Today, there are more than 11,000 Dunkin’ Donuts shops in 36 countries. And this isn’t the only big number the chain has.

Every day, the company gives out more than 50 different kinds of donuts to more than 3 million people.

In-N-Out Burger

When the first In-N-Out Burger stand opened in 1948, it was different from other fast food places because it had a drive-through.

In Baldwin Park, Los Angeles, the 10-square-foot area also had a two-way speaker that customers used to order their hamburgers.

Up until this point, fast food restaurants had carhops bring food to people who didn’t want to get out of their cars.

Harry and Esther Snyder, a husband and wife team, came up with the idea for In-N-Out Burger.

At first, Harry went to the markets every morning to pick out the best food for the day, while Esther did the accounting for the business.

In-N-Out Burger

The restaurant’s first menu wasn’t very big. The famous Animal Style burger didn’t come out until 1961, and the Double-Double wasn’t added until 1963.

Harry and Esther put quality over making money, so they didn’t open a second In-N-Out Burger until 1951.

Even though they were successful, they only opened 18 more restaurants over the next 28 years.

Harry died of lung cancer in 1976, and his son Rich ran the business after that. During the 1980s and 1990s, the chain added more than 90 new stores while he was in charge.

There are now close to 400 In-N-Out Burger shops in the United States, and more than half of them are in California.

Dairy Queen (1940)

John Fremont McCullough and his son Alex McCullough came up with what is now known as Dairy Queen soft serve in 1938, two years before the first Dairy Queen opened.

The two then got together with their friend Sherb Noble, who decided to sell the product at his store in Kankakee, Illinois, as part of an “All You Can Eat” deal.

In the end, Noble served more than 1,600 soft-serve meals in just two hours. In 1939, the business partners got a freezer that could make ice cream come out slowly. The rest is history.

Dairy Queen

When the first Dairy Queen opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois, soft serve ice cream was still new.

Still, the cool treat became popular quickly because people liked how smooth and creamy it was.

In fact, the shop was so successful that by 1950, there were 3,000 Dairy Queens. In 1953, the first Dairy Queen outside of the United States started in Winnipeg, Canada.

Over time, the company added burgers, French fries, and hot dogs to its menu.

The fact that the popular brand has more than 7,000 locations around the world shows how popular it is.

McDonald’s (1940)

McDonald’s is the largest fast food chain in the world. It has about 38,000 locations in more than 100 countries. But the fast food giant didn’t always have it so good.

Richard and Maurice McDonald, brothers, opened the first McDonald’s in 1940. It was a small grill stand in San Bernardino, California.

The restaurant was successful, so the brothers only kept the most popular things on the menu, like hamburgers for 15 cents.

Using an assembly-line method, the two also improved their service so they could get food to people quickly and easily.


The first McDonald’s license was sold in 1954, but things didn’t really take off until Ray Kroc bought the company in 1961.

By spending $2.7 million, Kroc changed the business and set the stage for huge growth.

Kroc also started Hamburger University in the same year to teach people how to run their own franchises.

Soon after that, McDonald’s launched its two most powerful advertising tools: the golden arches logo and the Ronald McDonald figure.

In the years that followed, the business kept growing, and in 1984, Richard, one of the original founders, was given the chain’s 50 billionth hamburger.

KFC (1930)

Colonel Harland Sanders was the first person to start KFC. Sanders was born in 1890, and he had many problems in his life, such as a hard childhood and money problems.

Sanders had tried many jobs before he bought a country motel in Corbin, Kentucky, in 1930. There, he started serving food.

Sanders’ Southern-style fried chicken was a popular item on his menu.

And since it took about 30 minutes to cook, which was too long for how popular it was, Sanders thought of frying the chicken in a pressure cooker, which cut the cooking time to about 8 minutes.


The business owner came up with his popular secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices in 1939.

“I put two handfuls of it into the flour and mixed it with the other spices. Sanders wrote in his autobiography, “When I fried it up, it was the best chicken I had ever tasted in my life.”

Sanders’s business ideas and cooking skills were noticed. In 1936, the governor of Kentucky gave Sanders the honourable rank of Colonel.

Sanders, who was always a businessman, gave his secret recipe to a Kentucky Fried Chicken near Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1952.

By 1963, there were more than 600 KFC restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. In 1964, Sanders sold his beloved business to a group of investors for a cool $2 million.

One of the terms of the deal was that he had to remain the public face of the company.

White Castle (1921)

White Castle is well-known for its sliders, which are small square-shaped burgers. It has become an important part of American fast food culture.

Since it was started by a family in 1921, the chain has grown in size and popularity, and now there are more than 300 sites in the U.S.

Even though White Castle may have sped up the way it makes its food, the burgers it sells today are still very similar to the ones it sold for 5 cents each many years ago.

The chain’s menu has also grown to include a variety of snacks, such as shrimp nibblers and loaded fries, which is good news for us.

White Castle is often called the world’s first hamburger chain, and the idea of take-out food is said to have started there in 1927.

The White Castle website says that the fast food restaurant was also the first of its kind to use discounts from newspapers.

In 1933, the business ran a promotion where five hamburgers could be bought for just 10 cents.

White Castle had sold a billion burgers by 1961, and in 1996, it was the first fast food business to have a website.

White Castle is still coming up with new ideas today. In 2022, the chain said that it would put Flippy 2, a robot made to do repetitive jobs like frying french fries, in 100 of its restaurants.

A&W (1919)

Roy W. Allen opened his root beer stand in Lodi, California, in 1919. At the time, he had no idea that more than 100 years later, his business would be known as A&W and have almost 1,000 locations around the world.

It didn’t take long for Allen’s root beer to become a favourite in the area. In 1922, Allen teamed up with Frank Wright, and the brand name A&W came from their last names.

Together, they opened the first A&W root beer stands that were run as franchises in the United States. The business did very well, and by 1950, there were 450 franchises.

During Prohibition, when soda sales went up because of the temperance movement, A&W really started to do well.


In 1963, the chain began selling bacon cheeseburgers, which it says it came up with. Now, the company sells burgers, fries, coney dogs, and chicken meals, among other fast food items.

Even though Allan bought his root beer recipe more than 100 years ago, A&W still makes its own root beer every day.

After switching to using concentrates in 2000, the company went back to making root beer on-site in 2017 to get back to its roots.

Nathan’s Famous (1916)

In 1916, Nathan’s Famous opened for business on Coney Island.

And the famous first restaurant is still in the same place, right where Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant, started his hot dog business by borrowing $300 from a friend.

Nathan’s business plan was to sell hot dogs for 5 cents, and it worked. “When the Depression hit, the business took off because you could feed a family of four for less than 50 cents,” Lloyd Handwerker, Nathan’s grandson, told CBS News.

Nathan's Famous

Nathan’s Famous has stores all over the world now, even in places like Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, and the Philippines, which are very far away.

The chain has also changed its menu. It now specializes in burgers, sandwiches, fries, and premium shakes, as well as a variety of all-beef hotdogs.

Every year on July 4, the chain holds the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. About 35,000 fast food fans show up to see who can eat the most hot dogs in 10 minutes.

At the moment, Joey Chestnut holds the record for guys. He was able to eat 76 hot dogs in the time allowed.

Miki Sudo holds the record for women. She won by eating 48.5 hot dogs in the same amount of time.


Fast food companies are a common part of the American dining scene because they offer quick and easy meals for people who are in a hurry.

Even though many of these chains may seem new, some have been around for decades or even over 100 years.

These chains have changed and grown to meet new tastes and preferences, and their well-known menu items and brands still bring in customers.

Whether you want a classic roast beef sandwich from Arby’s or a Blizzard from Dairy Queen, these fast food chains that are older than you think to offer a taste of nostalgia and a look at the past of fast food in America.

FAQs – Fast Food Chains That Are Older Than You Realize

What is the oldest fast food chain in the world?

White Castle, which began in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, is the oldest fast food chain in the world.

What is the second oldest fast food chain?

A&W, which began in 1919 in Lodi, California, is the second-oldest fast food business.

What is the history of McDonald’s?

Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the first McDonald’s in 1940 in San Bernardino, California. Later, Ray Kroc bought the chain and turned it into a national phenomenon.

What is the history of KFC?

Harland Sanders started KFC, also known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, in 1930 in North Corbin, Kentucky. The company is famous for its fried chicken, and it now has more than 22,000 locations all over the world.

What is the history of Dairy Queen?

John Fremont McCullough opened the first Dairy Queen in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. The company is known for its soft-serve ice cream and now has more than 6,000 locations all over the world.

What is the history of Dunkin’ Donuts?

William Rosenberg opened the first Dunkin’ Donuts in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1950. The company is known for its coffee and donuts, and it now has more than 12,000 stores all over the world.

What is the history of Burger King?

Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns came up with the idea for Burger King in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida. The company is known for its burgers that are flame-grilled, and it now has more than 18,000 locations around the world.

What is the history of Jack in the Box?

Robert O. Peterson started Jack in the Box in 1951 in San Diego, California. Since then, the company, which is known for its hamburgers, has grown to more than 2,200 locations around the world.

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