Where Your 14 Favorite Fast Food Chains Began

You won’t believe how some of these chains got started


In 1940, brothers Mac and Dick McDonald opened McDonald’s Bar-B-Que in San Bernardino, Calif.; eight years later they decided to revamp the restaurant’s concept to specialize in their most profitable menu item, hamburgers, and shortened the name to McDonald’s. In 1954, Multimixer salesman Ray Kroc visited the restaurant and was blown away by the efficient system developed by the McDonald brothers; he started franchising the brand and bought the company one year later. 


Former KFC franchise owner Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s location on November 15, 1969, in Columbus, Ohio. The following year, Thomas opened a second location, this time adding a drive-thru pickup window. From the beginning, the chain served up its signature square burgers and milkshakes.

Burger King

Original Burger King

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Philip Pessar/ CC4.0

The predecessor of this burger mega-chain was originally founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Fla., by relatives Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns. They decided to call their first location Insta-Burger King due to the broilers they purchased to cook the burgers, called Insta-Broilers. The following year, James McLamore and David Edgerton began opening Insta-Burger franchises in Miami — they replaced the Insta-Broilers with the flame broiler system that Burger King is famous for. Due to financial hardships, Kramer and Burns sold the company to McLamore and Edgerton in 1959; they subsequently renamed the chain Burger King.

Taco Bell

Original Taco Bell

Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by the McDonald brothers, Glen Bell opened a burger place with a similar model. However, once others started catching onto the idea, Bell decided to come up with a fresh menu concept. He began selling crunchy tacos with a combination of Mexican ingredients designed to please the American palate at his new restaurant, Taco Tia, in Downey, Calif. in 1954. Bell decided to expand the brand to include a variety of menu items and called the new concept Taco Bell

White Castle

The first White Castle location opened in 1921 in Wichita, Kan., making it the original American fast-food burger chain. Founder Bill Ingram used $700 to open the starting location and started serving the chain’s signature sliders. The following year, the second White Castle opened in El Dorado, Kan., and by 1924, Ingram expanded the chain to Omaha, Neb. and Kansas City, Mo.


First KFC

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Brent Moore/ CC4.0

In 1930, during the Great Depression, Harlan Sanders opened his first restaurant in a gas station in Corbin, Ky., called Sanders’ Court & Café. By 1952, The Colonel began franchising his fried chicken business, which was a hit largely due to his use of pressure fryers, which greatly increased the production speed. 


Al Copeland opened a restaurant called Chicken on the Run outside of New Orleans in 1972, and after it got off to a slow start he decided to make the chicken spicier, which proved to be a winning recipe. He changed the name to Popeyes Mighty Good Fried Chicken and started selling franchises in 1976.


The idea for Subway was inspired by founder Fred DeLuca’s decision to open a sandwich shop to help pay for his medical school education. The idea to open the shop came from Dr. Peter Buck, who lent DeLuca $1,000 to open the original location of the sandwich shop in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1965 and became his business partner. The first shop was called Pete’s Super Submarines, and it was not until 1968 that the chain took on the name Subway. 

Dunkin’ Donuts

This chain was founded in 1950 in Quincy, Mass. by William Rosenberg. He had noticed that coffee and donuts were top sellers during his time selling food at factories and construction sites, and his formula took off; he started selling franchises in 1959. 

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut

Wikimedia Commons/ Sanjay ach

Brothers Dan and Frank Carney borrowed $600 from their mother to open a pizzeria – then a novel concept – in Wichita, Kansas in 1958. It was a huge hit (giving away free pizza on opening day didn’t hurt), and franchising began a year later. 

Sonic Drive-In

Sonic Drive-In

Wikimedia Commons/ Magnus Manske

Former bread salesman Troy N. Smith purchased a root beer stand with an attached log house in Shawnee, Okla. in 1953, and converted the log house into a steak restaurant called the Top Hat. After he and his business partner noticed that hot dogs and hamburgers were the top sellers they switched focus, and also installed an intercom system that allowed customers to order from their cars. Smith and new partner Charles Pappe opened the first franchise location in 1956, and upon learning that the name Top Hat was already trademarked, they changed the name to Sonic in 1959. 


Brothers Tom and James Monaghan bought a small pizzeria called DomiNick’s in Ypsilanti, Mich. in 1960 for $900, and eight months later James traded his half of the business to Tom for a used Volkswagen (bad idea). In 1965 Tom changed the name to Domino’s, and the first franchise opened in 1967. Tom retired in 1998, after selling 93 percent of the company to Bain Capital for about $1 billion. 


The Raffel brothers opened the first Arby’s (named after the initials of “Raffel brothers,” R and B) in Boardman, Ohio in 1964. The former restaurant equipment salesmen saw a gap in the market for fast food other than burgers, and the original location sold only roast beef sandwiches, potato chips, and soft drinks. They began to expand to other states in 1968, and throughout the 70s they opened about 50 stores per year. 


Chick Fil-A

Yelp/ Jenny M

The Dwarf House (originally The Dwarf Grill) started out in 1946 in Hapeville, Ga., when S. Truett Cathy opened it with a $10,000 investment. It had 10 counter stools and four tables. By the mid-1960s Cathy had opened a handful of other Dwarf House locations, and in 1967 he opened a restaurant devoted to selling pressure-fried chicken sandwiches, which he called Chick-fil-A. Additional locations opened in mall food courts throughout the 1970s and 80s, and the first freestanding location opened in 1986. Cathy is still alive today; his outspoken son Dan is now the owner.