Chain Restaurants: Where It All Began


Today, it may seem like there is a Dunkin' Donuts in every town, but that wasn't always the case. It all started with one mom-and-pop shop that opened in 1950. From that one establishment, a chain was born. But even so, the popular breakfast and donut stores only exploded worldwide within the past decade. Many of the most popular chain restaurants -- from Subway to Applebee's -- had similar humble beginnings.

We took a look at some of America's most popular chain restaurants to see where it all began. What we found were deeply rooted entrepreneurial histories, that remind us why we fell in love with them in the first place.


Original Location: Seattle, Wash.
Fun Facts: In 1971, Starbucks opened its first store in Seattle's Pike Place Market. In 1984, Howard Schultz convinced the founders of Starbucks to test the coffeehouse concept in downtown Seattle, similar to the popular espresso bars in Milan. By 1987, there were 17 stores. That number had jumped to 1,412 by 1997 and by the end of fiscal 2009, that total was up to 16,635.


Original Location: Columbus, Ohio
Fun Facts: Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurant in 1969. The second Wendy's featured the first modern-day pick-up window. In 1972, the first franchise sold and was located in Indianapolis, Ind. Thomas who had long been the company's pitchman, died in 2002. In 2007, Wendy's was forced to close the location that started it all due to sagging sales, but there are more than 10,000 remaining.


Original Location: Downey, Calif. (not pictured)
Fun Facts: Between 1954 and 1955, Glen Bell built three Taco Tia stands in San Bernadino, Redlands and Riverside, Calif. When Glen's partner was not in favor of expanding Taco Tia, Glen sold him his interest and began El Tacos which eventually had 100 units. He then sold those to his partners and built the first Taco Bell in 1962. In 1975, Bell sold his 868 units to PepsiCo, Inc. There are now more than 5,600 in the U.S. alone.


Original Location: Hartsdale, N.Y.
Fun Facts: After opening its doors 72 years ago, Carvel closed its original location in October 2008. Tom Carvel's chain became famous for its soft-serve swirls and ice cream cakes with such themes as Fudgie the Whale and Cookie Puss.


Original Location: Bridgeport, Ct.
Fun Facts:
What we know as "Subway" today was originally named Pete's Super Submarines. The name was eventually changed to Subway. Part of the reason was that when dropping the "Super" for a radio ad, the shortened version sounded too much like "Pizza Marines," and resulted in a number of customers calling to ask what types of pizza they served. The photo at left is an early location in the Bridgeport, Ct. area. This is one of the very first times that the name "Subway" was used.


Original Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Fun Facts: Although Harland Sanders opened his first restaurant, Sanders Court & Cafe in Corbin, Kentucky, the first actual KFC franchise was opened by Pete Harman in Salt Lake City in 1952. A handshake agreement stipulated a payment of a nickel to Sanders for each chicken sold. By 1964, there were more than 600 franchised outlets in the U.S., Canada and England. Today there are more than 15,000 restaurants around the world.


Original Location: Des Plaines, Ill.
Fun Facts: Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald's franchise in 1955. Today it's no longer a functioning restaurant, the Des Plaines building is now a museum. But don't despair -- there are still more than 31,000 other McD's restaurants serving 52 million people in more than 100 countries.


Original Location: Miami, Fla.
Fun Facts: In 1954, the first Burger King hamburger stand opened in Miami, Fla. Burgers and shakes were 18 cents each. The Whopper would be added in 1957 and sell for 37 cents. The 10,000th BK opened in Sydney, Australia in 1998 and today there are more than 12,100 worldwide. The largest BK is not in America, but in Budapest.


Original Location: Denver, Co. (Chicago, Ill. location is pictured)
Fun Facts: After a year of planning, during which Steve Ells arranged an $80,000 loan and persuaded his father to invest an additional $85,000, the then 27-year-old Ells returned to the Denver area, where he had lived during his junior/senior high years, to open the first Chipotle Mexican Grill. By 1997, the total number of restaurants was up to 14. In 1999, McDonald's purchased majority control of the company and by 2003, the store count had reached 300. Today, there are more than 1,000.


Original Location: Atlanta, Ga. (not pictured)

Fun Facts: Applebee's was founded by Bill and T. J. Palmer. Their first restaurant, T. J. Applebee's Edibles & Elixirs opened in November 1980. In 1982, they opened their second in Atlanta. After some changing of hands, in 1988 the chain was renamed Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar. In 1988, there were 54 restaurants. Today it's the largest casual-dining concept in the world with 1,990 restaurants.


Original Location: Quincy, Mass. (not pictured)
Fun Facts: In 1950, William Rosenberg founded Dunkin' Donuts. By 1954, Mr. Rosenberg had opened a total of five Dunkin' Donuts shops, and had been featured as a young entrepreneur in national publications such as 'The Saturday Evening Post' and 'Coronet' magazine. At the end of 2008, there were 8,835 Dunkin' Donuts stores worldwide.


Original Location: Toluca Lake, Calif. (not pictured)
Fun Facts: Founders Al and Jerry Lapin opened the first International House of Pancakes in the Los Angeles suburb of Toluca Lake, Calif. In 1960, the company began to expand through franchising. IHOP recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and as of March 31, 2010, has more than 1,461 locations coast to coast.


Original Location: San Luis Obispo, Calif. (not pictured)
Fun Facts: In 1990, Juice Club opened in San Luis Obispo. In 1995, the name changed to Jamba Juice. By 1996, 30 stores were in operation throughout California. As of Dec 29, 2009, there are over 739.

Originally published