25 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Fast Food Chains from 25 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Fast Food Chains

25 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Fast Food Chains

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Kentucky Fried Chicken

25 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Fast Food Chains

It may be a little difficult to comprehend, but even the largest companies in the world started out small. All of the biggest fast food chains got their start as one stand-alone restaurant founded by a small team of entrepreneurs, and they all have fascinating histories and secrets we bet you didn’t know about. 

McDonald's

McDonald’s: It Started as a Barbecue Restaurant

The original McDonald’s featured a hickory pit and served barbecued beef, ham, and pork, along with chili, tamales, and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  

McDonald's

McDonald’s: More People Recognize the Golden Arches than the Cross

Now that’s what we call brand awareness.

McDonald's

McDonald’s: It’s the World’s Largest Toy Distributor

About 20 percent of all purchases at McDonald’s are Happy Meals, which includes a toy. With 68 million meals sold on a daily basis, if you do the math… that’s a lot of toys. 

McDonald's

McDonald’s: It Pioneered Fast-Food Breakfasts

After market research showed that consumers were looking for a quick breakfast, they added the Egg McMuffin to the permanent countrywide menu in 1972, making it the first nationally available fast-food breakfast sandwich. By 1987, a quarter of all breakfasts eaten outside the home in the U.S. came from McDonald’s. 

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McDonald’s: The Queen of England Owns One

Back in the ‘60s, Queen Elizabeth decided to diversify her royal portfolio and get into the restaurant franchise business. She purchased a McDonald’s in suburban Detroit, which she occasionally visits when in town.

Just kidding, but wouldn’t that be great? The Crown Estate owns a shopping center — which contains a McDonald’s — near Windsor Castle.

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Scott/ CCBY-SA4.0

Wendy’s: It Was Inspired by a Kalamazoo Burger Joint

Founder Dave Thomas spent his early childhood in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where one of the most popular burger joints was a restaurant named Kewpee Burger. Wendy’s “old-fashioned” hamburgers are old-fashioned because they’re prepared in the same style as Kewpee's, which opened in 1923 and sold burgers in a particular way: they were square. 

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Wendy’s: Its First Commercials Featured an Animated Wendy and Dancing Hamburgers

They were only broadcast locally in Ohio.

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Wendy’s: The Chain Stopped Advertising on ‘Ellen’ After She Came Out of the Closet

The chain pulled all of its advertising from the sitcom Ellen in 1997 after star Ellen DeGeneres’ character came out of the closet on the air. The move resulted in a boycott from the gay and lesbian community. 

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Wendy’s: Dave Thomas Came Out of Retirement to Appear in Wendy’s Commercials

Dave Thomas, who had resigned from the company in 1982, was coaxed back into the limelight in 1985 after the “Where’s the Beef?” campaign ended. He began to visit franchises and once again became the face of the company. He became the official spokesperson in 1989, and throughout the 1990s he appeared in more than 800 commercials for the brand. 

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Joe Ross/ CCBY-SA 4.0

Wendy’s: The Original Location in Columbus, Ohio, Closed in 2007

Believe it or not, the very first Wendy’s closed for business after 38 years on March 2, 2007, due to flagging sales several years after deciding to share its space with a Tim Hortons. The building underwent a $1.7 million renovation after its closure, and is today the headquarters of the city’s Catholic Foundation. 

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Burger King: It Was Inspired by McDonald’s

Burger King’s first incarnation was founded in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1953, after a man named Keith Kramer and his wife’s uncle Matthew Burns visited a little burger shop in San Bernardino called McDonald’s that turned out burgers, fries, and shakes in record time. They purchased the rights to a newfangled broiler that could cook 12 patties simultaneously and opened a burger shop of their own. 

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Michael Brown/ CC4.0

Burger King: It Pioneered the Product Tie-In

The product tie-in is ubiquitous now, with just about every big-budget film lending its name to some food product to help with promotion. But no fast food company thought to team up with Hollywood before 1977, when Burger King decided to partner with a little indie film called "Star Wars" to sell glasses featuring the main characters from the movie.  

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Burger King: There’s a Burger King in Mattoon, Illinois, That Has Nothing to Do with the Chain

Burger King wasn’t exactly an uncommon name for a burger joint when the chain was attempting to expand, which landed them in some serious pickles. For example, when Burger King opened 50 locations in Illinois in the 1960s, the owners of an existing restaurant in the small town of Mattoon (who had trademarked the name Burger King in the state) sued them in what turned out to be a landmark case that’s still studied in law schools. The case ended up going all the way to federal court, where it was decided that, because the corporation had a national trademark but the family-owned Burger King was just trademarked in the state, Burger King was allowed to open anywhere it pleased as long as it wasn’t within 20 miles of the Mattoon restaurant. To this day, there’s a Burger King in Mattoon that has no affiliation with the chain. 

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Burger King: It’s Called Hungry Jack’s in Australia

When Burger King was angling to get into the Australian market, it faced a similar situation: An existing restaurant in Adelaide had already trademarked the name and wasn’t budging. So then-parent company Pillsbury provided franchisee Jack Cowin with a list of names that the company had already trademarked, and he chose Hungry Jack, the name of Pillsbury’s pancake mix. To this day, all Australian Burger Kings are called Hungry Jack’s. 

Photo Modified: FlickrMike MozartCC4.0

Burger King: The Whopper Was Stymied in San Antonio

When Burger King began an expansion into the San Antonio area, it was prevented from using the word “Whopper” in any advertising or restaurants because an of existing chain in the region called Whopper Burger. This Texas-sized stalemate raged on until Whopper Burger owner Frank Bates passed away in 1983 and his wife Barbara sold the chain to Burger King's then-parent company, Pillsbury. 

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KFC: It Introduced Chicken to the Fast Food Industry

Before KFC came along, fast food was synonymous with hamburgers and fries, and chicken was traditionally home-cooked or eaten at family-style restaurants. Fried chicken, in particular, wasn’t thought of as “fast food” because it wasn’t fast: Making pan-fried chicken is a slow and careful process, and even deep-fried chicken can take upwards of 15 minutes to prepare. 

Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFC: Colonel Sanders Traveled the Country Franchising His Fried Chicken Recipe

Sanders knew that he had something special on his hands, and for many years his Sanders Court and Café was a local institution. But he understood that the construction of a highway nearby would deal his business a major blow as the flow of travelers was rerouted, so he sold it all and took his show on the road. For the next several years, Sanders traveled around the country selling small-town restaurant owners the rights to use his recipe in return for a four cent fee on every chicken sold. This franchise model was revolutionary for the time, and by allowing franchise owners to use his name and likeness, it also increased Sanders’ personal cachet immeasurably.  

Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFC: The Name ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ Was Coined by a Sign Painter

Original franchisee Pete Harman decided to change the name of his original restaurant, the Do Drop Inn, to highlight the new fried chicken, but was unsure of what to call it right until the sign painter arrived. Luckily, that painter, Don Anderson, had an idea for a name that would invoke something “exotic” as well as Southern hospitality: Kentucky Fried Chicken. 

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KFC: The Company Takes Great Pains to Guard the ‘Original Recipe’

The blend of 11 herbs and spices that went into Sanders’ original fried chicken recipe is still in use today, and its components remain a mystery, even though many have tried to decipher it (some claim to have reverse-engineered the recipe, while writer William Poundstone famously asserted that it’s only flour, salt, pepper, and MSG). A Sanders-signed copy of the recipe is inside a vault in KFC’s Louisville headquarters, and even the manufacturers don’t know what goes into it: Half of the mix is made by Griffith Laboratories, and then it’s sent to McCormick, where the rest is added. 

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KFC: Eating at KFC Is a Christmas Tradition in Japan

Even though a very small percentage of Japan is Christian, it’s adopted Christmas as, basically, the holiday when you eat KFC. Seriously: In Japan, KFC and Christmas are synonymous, and the chain’s Christmas dinner, which includes cake and Champagne, sells for about $40. The chain records its highest volume of sales in Japan on Christmas Eve, and Japan Airlines even serves KFC on select flights during the Christmas season. This correlation is the result of a smart marketing campaign that started in 1974 and continues to this day. 

Subway

Subway: It was Founded by a 17-Year-Old

Late founder Fred DeLuca created Subway in 1965, when he was 17 years old, with a $1,000 loan from a family friend named Peter Buck.

Photo Modified: flickr/ Earl What I Saw/CC4.0

Subway: “That Smell” is Something of a Mystery

All Subways smell the same. Apparently, this is because all Subways use the same bread. They are sent to all franchises frozen and the shops thaw them out before baking them behind the counter. It is hinted that the caramelization smell of the sugar has something to do with the distinct smell, but it’s still a mystery what makes this particular bread smell so unique. 

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Marcin Wichary/CC4.0

Subway: The BMT Was Named After the New York Subway

In keeping with the "subway" theme, the BMT sandwich was named after the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit system, one of the original New York subway lines. Today, we know it as "Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest," with pepperoni, salami, and ham.

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Hajime NAKANO/CC4.0

Subway: There’s a “Rainy Day Special” in Southern California

In Southern California, Subway has a Rainy Deal Special, where customers receive a free 6-inch sub and hot soup with the purchase of a sub and 32-ounce drink if it's raining out.

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Daniel Ng/CC4.0

Subway: You Can Specify How You Want Your Bread Cut

You can customize the way your sandwich is cut and prepared. If you say "old cut," the sandwich maker digs into the sandwich as opposed to slicing it. You could also ask for the "wing effect," which means part of the meat will hang out from the sandwich, creating a "wing."

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25 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Fast Food Chains