With its retro take on classic American diners of the 1950s and 1960s, Johnny Rockets offers up more than just hamburgers, fries, and shakes. While diners wait for their food, they can play music on jukeboxes and watch their servers sing and dance. Read on for 10 facts about Johnny Rockets, which has locations in 32 states and 26 countries.
1. IT'S NAMED AFTER JOHNNY APPLESEED AND THE OLDSMOBILE ROCKET 88.
Ronn Teitelbaum, the founder of Johnny Rockets, wanted the name of his restaurant to evoke a sense of classic Americana. Although the first Johnny Rockets opened in 1986 in Los Angeles, Teitelbaum was nostalgic for the simpler, less hectic times of the 1950s. He chose the name “Johnny” from the early American story about Johnny Appleseed, and he added the word “Rocket” in a nod to the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, an American car that Oldsmobile began producing in 1949.
2. BEFORE STARTING JOHNNY ROCKETS, ITS FOUNDER SOLD DESIGNER CLOTHING TO MEN.
Ronn Teitelbaum had an entirely different career before he founded Johnny Rockets. In 1967, he opened Eric Ross & Co., a retail clothing store in Beverly Hills. Teitelbaum sold European designer clothing to wealthy men, including Hugh Hefner and Rock Hudson. In the 1970s, as fashion styles shifted from more formal to more casual, he also sold expensive designer jeans to his customers. Eric Ross & Co. was successful enough for Teitelbaum to open more stores in Palm Beach, Fla. and in Japan.
3. BUT HE HAPPILY SWITCHED CAREERS TO RECREATE AUTHENTICALLY RETRO DINER FOOD.
In 1984, Teitelbaum sold his Eric Ross & Co. clothing stores and just two years later, in his late forties, fulfilled his childhood dream of opening an old-fashioned diner. As a child during World War II, Teitelbaum had loved a Santa Monica malt shop that sold hamburgers, and he set out to recreate the feeling of an American diner. The first Johnny Rockets, on Melrose Avenue, featured classically American food and beverages like apple pie, hamburgers, malts and shakes, and sodas. The ambience also reflected that Americana theme: small nickel jukeboxes lined the tables, and servers used old spindle mixers to make the malts and milkshakes.
4. ITS ALL-AMERICAN THEME HAS A SURPRISINGLY LARGE INTERNATIONAL (AND MIDDLE EASTERN) APPEAL.
Despite (or perhaps because) of its distinctly American vibe, Johnny Rockets has a surprisingly large international presence, with locations in 26 countries outside the United States. Its first international location opened in Tokyo, Japan in 1989, and besides expanding to countries like Canada, Mexico, and Germany, Johnny Rockets is popular all over the Middle East. Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia all have the retro restaurants, with the United Arab Emirates hosting the most with 15 locations (eight of which are in Dubai).
5. CHINA IS GEARING UP TO WELCOME 100 NEW JOHNNY ROCKETS RESTAURANTS, STARTING IN 2016.
Johnny Rockets is preparing to become an even bigger international presence, with its major growth in the near future focused on China. As part of the company’s goal to double its number of restaurants outside the U.S. by 2017, the first Johnny Rockets in China is scheduled to open in early 2016. Over the next 10 years, the chain will open 100 restaurants in China, mostly in malls and retail spaces in Shanghai and Beijing.
6. TO WORK AT JOHNNY ROCKETS, YOU MUST ENJOY SINGING AND DANCING.
To be a server, singing and dancing are necessary job requirements. To apply for employment, potential servers must have a “Gotta Dance attitude” to deliver the Johnny Rockets experience. Smiling, singing into ketchup bottles, twirling straws, and learning dances to classic songs are all important parts of the job. In the Philippines, servers set an alarm clock to remind them to dance every 15 minutes, and they even have a choreographer on staff.
7. THE CEO WENT ON A TELEVISED MISSION FOR UNDERCOVER BOSS.
In 2010, the CBS television show Undercover Boss had an episode about Johnny Rockets. Then-CEO John Fuller donned a disguise and visited different Johnny Rockets locations to get an unfiltered sense of the day-to-day operations of his company. He tried cooking a hamburger (which was thrown out by the cook because it wasn’t up to standards), he learned how to properly clean tables and counters, and he spent hours learning a Johnny Rockets dance that servers perform. After his experience on the show, he implemented a mandatory training program for new corporate managers to learn how to cook, clean, and wait on diners.
8. NFL LEGEND JOE THEISMANN IS SUCH A FAN THAT HE'S ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS.
In October 2008, former Super Bowl champion quarterback and sports commentator Joe Theismann became a member of the Johnny Rockets Board of Directors. Theismann said that he loved Johnny Rockets’ delicious food, “all-American wholesome goodness," and fun atmosphere. As American as burgers and football!
9. JOHNNY ROCKETS IS ON LAND ... AND ON SEA.
You can find Johnny Rockets at the expected places like malls, airports, amusement parks, sports stadiums, and casinos, but you can also eat their hamburgers and drink their shakes in the middle of the ocean. In 1999, the first mobile, maritime Johnny Rockets opened on Voyager of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship. Today, 12 Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines feature Johnny Rockets onboard, offering a familiar all-American retro feeling even far from home…and from land.
10. JOHNNY ROCKETS LOVES TO PLAY WITH KETCHUP SO MUCH, IT EMPLOYS KETCHUP ARTISTS.
Johnny Rockets is known for serving their ketchup as smiley faces on small plates, but for bigger events, they bring in some extra talent. Artist Cynthia Kostylo has created elaborate portraits and paintings using only ketchup for various restaurant openings and corporate events, and other artists have also created masterpieces using only the condiment. "It's like working in thick oil paint," Kostylo has said.