The Humble Origins of 11 Chain Restaurants

They’re seemingly everywhere, yet they all started somewhere. Here are the stories of the humble beginnings of 11 chain restaurants.

1. Applebee’s

The world’s largest casual dining chain celebrated 30 years of eatin’ good in the neighborhood in 2010. The original Applebee’s, which was named T.J. Applebee's Rx for Edibles & Elixirs, opened in Atlanta in 1980. The founders of the original restaurant, including Bill and T.J. Palmer, wanted to name the restaurant Appleby’s, but that spelling had already been registered. Cinnamon’s and Peppers, two other names considered, were taken as well. The Palmers settled on T.J. Applebee’s, which was just different enough from their first choice. “Menu items ranging from munchies to steak and quail are served at round, high-topped tables on platforms,” read one newspaper review from 1981. A second location was opened in Atlanta before T.J. Palmer’s ownership group sold the restaurant concept in 1983. The name was changed to Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill in 1986 and became the first casual dining chain to hit 1,000 locations in 1998.

2. Bob’s Big Boy

In 1936, Robert Wian sold his Desoto roadster for $350 to purchase a hamburger stand he named Bob’s Pantry on Colorado Blvd. in Glendale, California. The double-decker burger Wian created for a hungry group of musicians that wandered into the restaurant late one night and asked for something different was an instant sensation. Wian, who named his creation the Big Boy after a chubby kid in overalls who frequented Bob’s Pantry, opened a second location in Los Angeles in 1939. In 1969, one year after McDonald’s introduced its Big Mac, Wian sold his chain of 600 Big Boy restaurants to the Marriott Corporation for $7 million. The oldest standing Bob’s Big Boy is in Toluca Lake, Calif.

3. Bob Evans

Bob Evans began producing sausage on his farm in 1948 for a 12-stool diner he owned in southeastern Ohio. His patrons raved about the sausage, prompting Evans to enter the sausage-making business on a larger scale. Bob Evans Farms was launched in 1953, and when the number of visitors to his farm began to increase, Evans saw an opportunity. Evans opened a small restaurant called the Sausage Shop in front of his brick farmhouse in Rio Grande, Ohio, in 1962. The Sausage Shop is considered the first of Bob Evans’ now-famous chain restaurants. Today, Evans’ farmhouse, known as the Homestead, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. California Pizza Kitchen

In 1985, federal prosecutors Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax opened the first California Pizza Kitchen in Beverly Hills. Rosenfield and Flax, who were inspired by Wolfgang Puck’s popular Spago restaurant in West Hollywood and hired Puck’s original pizza chef at CPK, read Ray Kroc’s autobiography prior to starting their business. Today, the chain has grown to more than 250 restaurants.

5. Cheesecake Factory

In 1972, Oscar and Evelyn Overton moved from Detroit to a suburb of Los Angeles to launch a wholesale bakery specializing in cheesecakes. Six years later, the Overton’s son, David, opened a salad and sandwich shop in Beverly Hills that featured 10 flavors of his mom’s cheesecake. One of the main purposes of the shop was to get local restaurateurs to carry the Overton’s cheesecake in their own establishments, but it turned into a booming business of its own. Overton opened a second restaurant in Marina Del Rey in 1983. The rest was history.

6. Cracker Barrel

In 1969, Dan Evins, who worked in his family’s gasoline business, opened the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store off Highway 109 in Lebanon, Tennessee. By 1977, 13 additional Cracker Barrel stores had opened. The goal of the original Cracker Barrel was to provide a place for motorists to fill their tanks and their stomachs, and the inspiration for the concept came from the general stores that Evins frequented as a child. According to the Cracker Barrel website, goods such as crackers were shipped to these stores in barrels, and when the barrels were empty, the base was often used for a checkerboard. The gift shop remains a staple of Cracker Barrels today.

7. Denny’s

Harold Butler founded Denny’s in Lakewood, Calif., in 1953 as Danny’s Donuts. First-year earnings totaled $120,000. Butler opened 20 additional shops and expanded the menu to include sandwiches and other entrees over the next six years before renaming his restaurants Denny’s. Butler began franchising Denny’s in 1963 and introduced its signature Grand Slam breakfast in Atlanta in 1977. In 2000, Denny’s opened a restaurant in Rhode Island, which was the only state without one.

8. IHOP

The first IHOP was opened by brothers Al and Jerry Lapin on July 7, 1958, in Toluca Lake, California. Part of the reason the Lapins chose Toluca Lake was to capitalize on the overflow crowd from Bob’s Big Boy. Al Lapin had operated a series of coffee carts in Los Angeles when fast-food chains started to take off and saw the potential for a fast-food restaurant that specialized in breakfast. Today, IHOP boasts more than 1,500 restaurants in all 50 states. IHOP purchased Applebee’s in 2007.

9. Red Lobster

Bill Darden opened the first Red Lobster in Lakeland, Fla., in 1968. The restaurant, which offered seafood at reasonable prices, was popular from the start and Darden soon opened four additional locations throughout Florida. In 1970, General Mills purchased Darden’s chain. The original restaurant was closed in 1997 after Darden determined that Lakeland would be better served by only one location.

10. TGI Friday’s

Alan Stillman opened the first T.G.I. Friday’s at First Avenue and 63rd St. in New York City in 1965—partially as a means of meeting airline stewardesses. “The other thing is that my timing was exquisite, because I opened T.G.I. Friday’s the exact year the pill was invented,” Stillman told the New City Reader last year. “I happened to hit the sexual revolution on the head, and the result was that, without really intending it, I became the founder of the first singles bar.” The first Friday’s featured Tiffany lamps, sawdust on the floor, and distinctive red and white striped awnings. First year revenues at the original Friday’s were $1 million. A second location opened in Memphis in 1970, and within 10 years, eight other T.G.I. Friday’s had opened. Stillman eventually sold Friday’s and launched Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse in 1977.

11. Waffle House

The original Waffle House opened on Labor Day 1955 on East College Avenue in Decatur, Georgia. In 2008, the 13-stool diner that launched more than 1,500 Waffle Houses reopened as a Waffle House museum, with vintage equipment and memorabilia displays of old uniforms and place settings. “That was the year McDonald’s and all the hamburger chains started doing takeout,” Waffle House co-founder Joe Rogers told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008 of his idea to open a restaurant with his neighbor, Tom Forkner. “We wanted to do sit-down, and we knew you couldn’t take out a waffle or it’d become flimsy.” 

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

More Than 38,000 Pounds of Ground Beef Has Been Recalled

Beef-ware.
Beef-ware.
Angele J, Pexels

Your lettuce-based summer salads are safe for the moment, but there are other products you should be careful about using these days: Certain brands of hand sanitizer, for example, have been recalled for containing methanol. And as Real Simple reports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) recently recalled 38,406 pounds of ground beef.

When JBS Food Canada ULC shipped the beef over the border from its plant in Alberta, Canada, it somehow skirted the import reinspection process, so FSIS never verified that it met U.S. food safety standards. In other words, we don’t know if there’s anything wrong with it—and no reports of illness have been tied to it so far—but eating unapproved beef is simply not worth the risk.

The beef entered the country on July 13 as raw, frozen, boneless head meat products, and Balter Meat Company processed it into 80-pound boxes of ground beef. It was sent to holding locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina before heading to retailers that may not be specific to those four states. According to a press release, FSIS will post the list of retailers on its website after it confirms them.

In the meantime, it’s up to consumers to toss any ground beef with labels that match those here [PDF]. Keep an eye out for lot codes 2020A and 2030A, establishment number 11126, and use-or-freeze-by dates August 9 and August 10.

[h/t Real Simple]