Who Started America's 10 Biggest Fast Food Chains?

Even the biggest companies started small

Before founding Wendy's, Dave Thomas was one of KFC's most successful franchisees. 

We tend to think of fast food chains as having arrived in the world fully formed, with their extra value meals and experimental breakfast initiatives raring and ready to go, backed by a massive board of executives. But even the world’s largest companies got their start somewhere, usually with just one person (or a small group of people) and a great idea. These are the individuals responsible for unleashing the 10 biggest fast food chains upon America.

Who Started America's 10 Biggest Fast Food Chains? (Slideshow)

Everyone (and everything) has to start somewhere, and the founding of the biggest companies tend to closely resemble the founding of the smallest companies: with a group of highly dedicated people putting in long hours and late nights, working hard to make their dream a reality. Some of the biggest fast food chains were quickly bought by larger companies which then engineered their expansions, but other founders stayed on board to make their visions the household names they are today.

Some of these companies were founded by young entrepreneurs, others were started by lifelong businessmen who could afford the investment, and others were last-ditch efforts during desperate times. But their creations all ended up in the same place: firmly engrained into the American culinary scene. Some have strayed a bit from the original visions, but a surprisingly large number of these chains still adhere to their founding principles and concepts, albeit with slightly expanded menus.

So if you’re thinking about starting your own company, keep in mind that every mighty oak starts as an acorn, and even the biggest companies started small. Read on to learn about the people behind the 10 biggest fast food chains in American.

Burger King: James McLamore and David R. Edgerton

Burger King traces its roots to a burger joint called Insta-Burger King, founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida, by Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle, Matthew Burns. The duo built a moderately successful chain thanks to special cooking devices called Insta-Broilers, but after the company failed in 1959 it was bought by its Miami franchise owners, James McLamore and David Edgerton. They restructured the company, re-named it Burger King, and expanded it to 250 locations before selling it to Pillsbury in 1967.

Chick-fil-A: S. Truett Cathy


The story of Chick Fil-A began in 1946, when founder S. Truett Cathy, who passed away at age 93 in November 2014, opened a restaurant in the Atlanta suburbs called Dwarf House. This business turned into a chain (with a full menu); 11 Dwarf Houses, now called Chick-fil-A Dwarf House, are still in operation in the Metro Atlanta area. Several years later, Cathy purchased a pressure fryer that he discovered could fry up a piece of chicken for a sandwich in the same amount of time it took to cook a burger, and the proverbial light bulb went off. He trademarked the name Chick-fil-A (pronounced "fill-ay," not "fill-ah," of course), and in 1967 his first unit, specializing in chicken sandwiches and with a menu devoid of any beef products, opened in the food court of Atlanta’s Greenbriar Mall. Today the company is run by his son, Dan.