Burger Chef’s History Brings a Smile to My Face, What About You?

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

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 5-24-57Ad 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 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.

Grand Opening Ad in the Indianapolis Star 8-28-58Grand Opening Ad in the Indianapolis Star 8-28-58Burger Chef Lawson Garbage CanBurger Chef Lawson Garbage CanGrand Opening ad in Journal & Courier 6-3-59Grand 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 6-16-82Journal & Courier 6-16-82Burger Chef becomes Hardee's in the Berkshire Eagle 5-22-84The Berkshire Eagle 5-22-84

Burger Chef Funmeal

Burger Chef in The Jackson Sun 06-11-74The 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 4-27-79St. Louis Post Dispatch 4-27-79St. Louis Post Dispatch 5-23-79St. Louis Post Dispatch 5-23-79

Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back Burger Chef Posters

Burger Chef Star Wars PostersBurger 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 AdBurger 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.

STATE

CURRENT BUSINESS

ADDRESS

CITY

AlabamaPlum’s Lounge1186 Montgomery HighwayDothanAlabamaVicki’s Lunch Van2520 Fairground RoaddMontgomeryArkansasCar Connection5404 S University AvenueLittle RockCaliforniaAngelo’s Hamburgers511 S State College BlvdAnaheimCaliforniaWienerschnitzel200 E 18th StreetAntiochCaliforniaSpeedy Zapatos Mexican Food5225 N Blackstone AvenueFresnoCaliforniaB&B Donuts925 Harbor BoulevardFullertonCaliforniaSamo’s Hamburgers1701 S Garey AvenuePomonaCaliforniaCL Auto Group619 El Camino RealRedwood CityCalifornia*Chris’s Burgers765 Foothill BlvdRialtoCaliforniaAntonio’s Quick Lunch716 Colusa AvenueYuba CityColoradoEl Fogon621 W 84th AvenueThorntonFloridaJack’s Old Fashion Hamburger House4201 N Federal HighwayFt. LauderdaleFloridaUmpa’s Diner1115 N Courtenay ParkwayMerritt IslandFloridaDarrell’s Diner1031 S Pine AvenueOcalaFloridaKingfisher Sandwiches1500 Barrancas AvenuePensacolaFloridaFray’s Donut House5236 16th St NSt. PetersburgIllinoisVacant433 N Gilbert StreetDanvilleIndianaMr and Mrs Tire1094 Sagamore Parkway WWest LafayetteMarylandVacant5281 Reisterstown RdBaltimoreMassachusettsKwik Pik590 Boston RoadSpringfieldMichiganA-1 Wyoming Outlet3261 Division Ave SGrand RapidsMichiganChina Cafe319 Broadway StreetSouth HavenNew JerseyNino’s Pizzarama182 N White Horse PikeHammontonNew MexicoCentral Grill and Coffee House2056 Central Avenue SWAlbuquerqueNew MexicoClovis Mower Repair501 W 7th StreetClovisNew MexicoAlanberto’s Mexican Food1495 S Solano DriveLas CrucesNorth CarolinaSan Luis Restaurant1503 W Gate City BoulevardGreensboroNorth CarolinaChar’s Hamburgers400 N Main Street #3556LexingtonNorth CarolinaPete’s Burgers747 S Scales StreetReidsvilleOhioAnn’s Place1604 S Hawkins AveAkronOklahoma**Vacant824 N 8th StreetCacheOklahomaTacos La Tia604 Eastside BoulevardMuskogeeOklahomaCaspian Auto Sales4600 NW 39th StreetOklahoma CityOregonKenny’s Noodle House8305 SE Powell BoulevardPortlandOregonMak’s Mini Mart626 SW College StreetPortlandOregonPacific Gold Cannabis2367 SE 122nd AvenuePortlandPennsylvaniaVacant2807 College AvenueBeaver FallsSouth CarolinaLot Two Auto Sales417 Wright BoulevardConwayTennesseeThe Chef126 Keith Street SWClevelandTexasVacant2509 E Amarillo BoulevardAmarilloTexasP. Terry’s Burger Stand3303 N Lamar BoulevardAustinTexas$25 Optical545 S 11th StreetBeaumontTexasBenno’s Cajun Seafood1200 Seawall BoulevardGalvestonTexasVacant3818 TX-35HoustonTexasLas Morenitas2728 S Richey StreetHoustonTexasVacant701 Highland AvenueKilleenTexasFish Place925 Texas AvenueLa MarqueTexasChen’s302 S Timberland DriveLufkinVirginiaLong River Restaurant2835 Riverside DriveDanvilleVirginiaBoost Mobile1654 Virginia AvenueMartinsvilleVirginiaWrap Pack and Mail806 Memorial Boulevard NMartinsvilleVirginiaSal’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant2017 S Sycamore StreetPetersburgWashingtonNew Harbour1830 N Division StreetSpokaneWest VirginiaStewarts Original Hot Dog1025 Oak StreetKenovaWest VirginiaSuzi’s Hamburgers239 Maccorkle Ave SWSouth CharlestonWest VirginiaMartinsburg Tobacco & Vape Outlet305 N Queen StreetMartinsburgWisconsinAmelia’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

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