The Tennessee chain where you buy burgers by the sackful has had a devoted following since the '30s. Even the King himself—Elvis Presley—couldn't resist the tiny square treats.
1. THE “KRYSTAL KREED” HAS ALWAYS MEANT QUICK, CLEAN, CHEAP SERVICE.
Rody Davenport Jr. and J. Glenn Sherrill founded Krystal in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1932, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Their plan for a recession-proof restaurant followed four tenets:
—To Operate A Spotlessly Clean Establishment—To Serve The Best Foods Obtainable, Properly Cooked—To Render Quick, Efficient, And Courteous Service—To Offer All These At The Lowest Price Possible
Because their small burgers (also called “Krystals”) have always been priced to move, the company has had fairly steady success for over 80 years.
2. THEY SAW THE NAME IN A CRYSTAL BALL.
Metaphorically speaking, at least. It’s company legend that Davenport and his wife were driving "down a mountain road" when Mrs. Davenport saw a crystal ball lawn ornament. Remembering that cleanliness was key to the new restaurant’s foundation, she suggested that her husband "should name the restaurant Crystal for ‘clean as a crystal,’ with a ‘K’ to add a little twist.” Future restaurants were adorned with silvery crystal ball ornaments on their sides in honor of this chance encounter.
3. THE FIRST-EVER KRYSTAL RESTAURANT WAS A PREFAB JOB.
When it came to housing the new kind of quick, clean eatery, its founders wanted Krystal’s outside to mirror its insides. They ordered a mostly prefabricated 25’ by 10’ building with stainless steel interior and a white porcelain enamel exterior from Chicago and had it sent to Chattanooga.
4. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE OLDEST U.S. BURGER CHAIN OF ALL.
If you’re a tiny burger fan, you may have noticed that the minute, almost-fit-in-your-mouth burgers with square patties sold by Krystal are a lot like the signature burgers you’ll find at White Castle. That’s no accident. Davenport and Sherrill, both of whom were experienced businessmen, had visited White Castle restaurants and been impressed with their efficiency. So, after inquiring about the behind-the-scenes model and procedures, the two decided to try out the premise for themselves.
5. THE COMPANY’S DONE PLENTY OF ITS OWN PIONEERING, THOUGH.
Krystal might have started out with a borrowed recipe for a successful restaurant, but they came up with other ways to stand out. Krystal’s Breakfast Scramblers line, for example, takes traditional Southern plate breakfasts like grits with eggs and sausage, and "stacks them smartly in bowls" for a meal-to-go that isn't a tired old breakfast burrito. And, after launching Krystal HotSpot in 2003, the company also reportedly held the first-place spot among fast-food chains across the country for the most free WiFi in 2005.
6. ELVIS PRESLEY AND DEWEY PHILLIPS WERE BIG-TIME FANS
Hardcore Elvis Presley fans might know that it was renowned DJ “Daddy-O” Dewey Phillips who first gave the future King radio air time in 1954. They might not know, however, that both Presley and Phillips were enormous fans of buying Krystal burgers en masse after hanging out at the studio from which Phillips’ “Red, Hot and Blue” show was broadcast.
The DJ’s widow Dot Phillips recalled that it “wasn't anything for Dewey to call at twelve midnight and say that there was a bunch coming out to the house," but that he didn’t expect his wife to feed the whole gang; rather, he and Presley would order a hundred or so burgers from the Krystal restaurant downtown for pickup after the broadcast, and “maybe an hour later [the two men and] the crowd would arrive. They'd come walking in the front door both of 'em carrying just sacks full of those durn things."
7. "KRYSTAL BOB" WASN’T A HIT, BUT HIS DOG WAS.
As far as advertising campaigns go, Krystal's disembodied head named Bob was definitely an odd one. Krystal officials themselves noted that they got parental complaints that the ads were scaring some children, and Advertising Age wrote that the campaign was "very bizarre and ... marginally offensive." The mostly unpopular mascot got the swift boot after just three years. "While Bob was highly effective in building awareness and sales, we wanted to enhance the Krystal concept by focusing on our primary point of interest—unique, great-tasting food that people crave," Krystal VP of marketing Tom Whitley told the Associated Press in 1994.
After giving customers the option to take home free "Boot Bob" or "Keep Bob" bumper stickers in order to gauge Bob's popularity, the company found that 70% of patrons "were in favor of booting Bob," and despite the fact that most customers did want the company to keep Bob's dog George around, "it was an all or nothing deal," Whitley said.
8. A COUNTRY SINGER TOOK HER PSEUDONYM FROM THE RESTAURANT.
The story goes that country/crossover singer Crystal Gayle, born Brenda Gail Webb, based her stage name on Krystal. Supposedly, her sister—country star Loretta Lynn—suggested the first name Crystal because of the burger chain, and Brenda, who dug the idea, rounded out the new moniker by making a version of her own middle name into her surname. It served her well—Crystal won a Grammy and was named the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in both 1977 and '78.
9. PRO EATER JOEY CHESTNUT HOLDS THE KRYSTAL SQUARE OFF TITLE.
For six years, Krystal hosted the World Hamburger Eating Championship with its Krystal Square Off, and in 2007, Joey Chestnut—of Nathan's Hot Dog championship fame—downed an impressive 103 Krystal burgers in eight minutes. Even if they're little, that's a lot of sackfuls.