Burger and French Fries
What Was The First Restaurant Chain In America?
By Nico Danilovich
Restaurants have ancient roots predating the United States, but 20th-century self-serve “automats” and “smash-and-grabs,” along with the development of suburbia, spurred the popularization of fast food. Nowadays, fast food is so widespread that the first American restaurant chain, though not originally a fast food establishment, is now officially considered to be one.
A&W Restaurants started in 1919 as a roadside stand selling root beer, and while it didn’t sell food in those early days, it is technically the oldest restaurant chain in the United States. By 1922, founder Roy W. Allen and employee Frank Wright teamed up to open a brick-and mortar location, and food was eventually added to the menu, including the first bacon cheeseburger in 1963.
Today, the chain is totally owned by its franchises and is growing strong, with plans to invest in non-traditional growth venues like airports, convenience stores, grocers, stadiums, theme parks, and universities in the future. A&W Restaurants turned 100 in 2019, and after a century of being in business, the oldest restaurant chain in America is still reinventing itself.