Following is an article written by Mr. Smedley Lynn for his local historical society about the history of BC in Hagerstown, MD and fast food in general:
Hagerstown, Maryland & Burger Chef
Hagerstown, Maryland was the site of one of the first East Coast fast food hamburger outlets.
Ray Kroc, a salesman for a multimixer milk shake machine, had been enthralled by the successes of one of his customers in California. He took the concept he experienced at the McDonalds Hamburger outlet and opened his first "McDonalds" in Des Planes, IL, in 1955.
The new concept of "fast food" was an immediate success in the Chicago area. Other business people began to invent their own strategies for what seemed to be a soon to be popular eating concept.
The Thomas Brothers, inventors of soft serve ice cream and milk shake machines, developed a chain broiler machine to cook hamburgers for Burger King. They quickly understood the benefits of opening their own franchised (also a new business concept) hamburger outlets.
The first Burger Chef was opened in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1958. The initial franchised units were, like the McDonalds, all in the Midwest.
In 1959, Burger Chef decided to branch out. Franchisors at this time usually found a location, built and fully equipped the building, and then looked for a "franchisee" - a person or business that had the financial means to operate the new business.
Burger Chef came to Hagerstown and leased the corner of what was to be the intersection of Pennsylvania Ave (Rt 11) and Burhans Blvd. (which was still in the planning stages) from Garland Groh.
The 14th unit of the new Burger Chef franchised fast food hamburger chain was constructed and opened in March, 1960 in Hagerstown, MD. The chain eventually grew to over 1200 units, both in the United States and overseas, second in number only to McDonalds.
The first franchisee of the Hagerstown unit was a Mr & Mrs. Jack Gray. Mr. Gray was a 20 year service employee with the National Cash Register Co., living in Illinois. He and his wife and two children were enamored with the fast food concept after visiting one near where they lived.
The investigated further and were introduced to Burger Chef Systems' opportunities. The Grays sold their vacation land on the lake, their house and driving a Nash Rambler, they drove to Hagerstown, MD to begin operation of Burger Chef #14 in Hagerstown, MD.
The Grays originally had a partner in the Burger Chef operation; a Mr. Plant. Little is known about Mr. Plant, except that after about 6 months of partnership operation in Hagerstown, the Grays purchased the Richmond, VA area franchise for Mr. Plant, thus leaving the Hagerstown operation in the sole ownership of Mr. & Mrs. Gray.
The fast food hamburger concept exploded across the United States, including Hagerstown. A second franchise opportunity was offered the Grays in LaVale, Maryland in 1962, and he took it.
Fast food hamburger franchises continued to grow at phenomenal rates during the 1960's. The first McDonalds opened in Hagerstown in 1967. The grays opened their third Burger Chef (unit #767), second one in the Hagerstown area, in Halfway (corner of Virginia Ave. and Halfway Blvd., site of the current Advance Auto Store) also in 1967.
By 1970, the Grays had achieved a comfortable financial position and Mr. Gray, at age 50, wanted to sell the entire 3 unit operation and retire.
Mr & Mrs. Smedley Lynn, Philadelphia natives, who were living in the Boston, MA suburbs while working at Aetna Life & Casualty Insurance Company, learned of the opportunity and began negotiations with the Grays.
The Lynn's finally agreed on the purchase of the two Hagerstown Burger Chef units and a house across the street from the Pennsylvania Ave. unit.
The Lynn's began operation of the two Hagerstown Burger Chef units on June 1, 1970. Having no prior business or restaurant experience, the Lynn's spent the first 3 months basically watching and learning what to do.
The Pennsylvania Ave. unit was built as a "drive-up" (customer walked up to a window and placed the order, recieving it as a carry out). The unit in Halfway had been built with stools and booths. Realizing that customer service was critical, plans were drawn to add seating to the Pennsylvania Ave. unit. The counter area was enlarged at both units and multiple cash registers were put in place so that many more customers could be served at the same time.
Perini Construction Company's first job after their formation was the enlargement of the Pennsylvania Ave. Burger Chef in the Winter of 1971. A new radio station to the Hagerstown listening area, WEEO, broadcast live from the unit. Honda of Hagerstown (off-road vehicles, not the car) showcased their new products; several participants in the Miss Washington County Pageant mingled with the public; a wonderful day for all.
While McDonalds continued to expand at an amazing rate - under the strict guidance of Mr. Ray Kroc, Burger Chef Systems lost direction.
The entire company had been sold by the founders, the Thomases, to General Foods in 1968. Operated as a solely owned subsidiary by General Foods, the resulting leadership did not have the heart and soul of Mr. Kroc. The Burger Chef advertising concepts changed, the look of new buildings changed, sometimes yearly, logo's changed, and so forth.
In spite of this difference, the fast food concept, nationwide, continued to flourish during the early 1970's. Burger Chef introduced the Works Bar, then the Salad Bar. McDonalds introduced the breakfast concept. In spite of new fast food concepts being introduced, everyone prospered.
The Valley Mall was constructed between 1972 and 1974 and the Lynns and their staff worked hard to provide lunch to the workers in less than the 30 minutes they were given for lunch. Fast food still meant "food fast".
By 1975, with the Valley Mall in full operation, and other fast food concepts arriving in the area (Pizza Hut opened a unit on the other side of Halfway Blvd.), Mr. Lynn envisioned declining sales in the future. Customers did not have to stop at the intersection of Halfway Blvd. and Virginia Ave. to eat since there was a food court at the new Valley Mall.
Shoppers began to frequent the new mall rather than some of the traditional stores along Pennsylvania Ave.(such as Kings) so there were fewer customers at the Pennsylvania Ave. location.
The Lynn's sold the two store Burger Chef operation June 5, 1977. The new operators were the owners of the Dunkin Donuts located on Burhans Blvd. and Washington Street.
The lack of corporate direction continued its downward spiral and by 1980 the Pennsylvania Ave. unit closed. The Halfway Blvd. unit closed several years later. The Burger Chef name had been sold by General Foods to a Hardee's operation - when the last franchise expired, the name was gone forever.
I got a box of Burger Chef memorabilia today from Mr. Lynn, the franchisee who ran the Hagerstown, MD stores. The following are pictures of what it contained:
The first pic is a 16-oz shake cup, from the mid 70's. This is a shake cup, as opposed to a drink cup because of the red stripe around the bottom. We didn't have computers then, so that's how we tracked inventory.
The second pic is a hat, also from the mid 70's.
The next is a small sign which would have been used as POS material, for example at a register. This one advertises drinks.
Next is another small sign, promoting the fish sandwich.
The next is a small menu card. Sorry it didn't really come out too clearly.
The next four look like reprints from pages of a catalog you could order signs and advertising items from. The first two are of road signs, the next has pens and pencils, and a license plate (obviously for states where you had no front plate), and the next page shows pennants.
The next item is a complete puzzle to me. If anybody has any ideas, let us know! I'll have to ask Mr. Lynn, when he gets back from vacation.
I think this one's a rare find, as only franchisees would have had this and there are probably very few left anywhere. It's a 33 rpm recording of radio ads. I actually have a player to play it on, but haven't as of yet. It's only recorded on one side, and the other side is smooth. The second pic is a closeup of the label. Sorry it came out a little blurry.
I thought this would be a great addition to the Reliquary.
Talk to you later,
Thanks for sharing, lots of great info. It's very interesting and much appreciated.