It All Started With One Roadside Stand
Though many people credit White Castle as being America’s first fast food chain, the recognition actually belongs to A&W Restaurants. Founded in 1919 in Lodi, California; this chain is most known for its root beer floats.
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Roy Allen had created a root beer blend that combined 16 secret spices, herbs, barks, and berries, to create a creamy and thick beverage to honor returning WWI vets. Wanting to share his recipe with those celebrating at a parade, he opened a roadside stand to do so.
This American fast-food restaurant is known for its burgers, root beer floats, and of course, the draft root beer. In 1922, Allen partnered with Frank Wright to found their first official location in Sacramento, California. Hence, A&W was named by taking an initial for each of their last names – Allen and Wright.
It didn’t take long for the company to gain notoriety for its “frosty mugs” that were kept inside a freezer until they were filled with A&W for customers. By 1924, Allen had bought out Wright’s share of the business and turned it into a franchise in 1925. He would run the company until 1950 when he retired, but A&W Restaurants experienced a boom in expansion during the ‘50s and ‘60s, with many franchisees signing 20 or 25-year contracts.
By 1960, the company operated 2,000 locations and was beginning to gear up for international expansion. Eventually, A&W Restaurants were found in Okinawa, the Philippines, Malaysia, Malaya, and Singapore. In 1961, Dale Mulder opened a franchise in Lansing, Michigan, and is credited with inventing the bacon cheeseburger.
Through the years, the company has been owned by several individuals and companies, including Yum! Brands, which sold it to the current owner, A Great American Brand, LLC., in 2011.
A&W Restaurants have featured several mascots over the years, such as Chubby Chicken, who appeared on all Chubby burgers in the early 1960s.
Then, in 1963, the company introduced four new hamburger choices and a corresponding character to match: Mama Burger, Papa Burger, Teen Burger, and Baby Burger. Each of these sandwiches was sold in wrappers featuring the corresponding character.
And then there was Rooty, the Great American Root Beer that first appeared in 1974 in Canada. It was A&W’s response to Ronald McDonald and eventually appeared in America in 1976. Though Rooty was almost canceled before starting, he proved to be a popular success. He would remain the face of A&W’s advertising throughout the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. However, by the latter portion of the ‘90s, he had nearly disappeared. That is until he resurfaced in 2011 under new management. In 2013, Rooty became the first ever mascot to have an official LinkedIn profile, which was quickly removed because the authorities at LinkedIn said he was not a “real” person.
Today, A&W Restaurants operates nearly 1,000 locations within the U.S. and Southeast Asia. In 2019, the company celebrated its centennial by creating a book of photos and memories shared by fans and former employees. This is hailed as an amazing feat for any restaurant because A&W survived the Great Depression, recessions, wars, competition, sugar shortages, and 11 ownership changes. And it doesn’t seem like they’re going anywhere anytime soon. Executives recently said that the company is at its strongest point in decades due to the fact they went back to their roots – serving delicious A&W root beer in frosty mugs!
To find an existing A&W Restaurant, click the frosty mugs below: