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1970's Fast Food Restaurants
Those lost fast food joints of the seventies and where you can taste their junk food again.
by Billy Ingram

Ah, those long gone fast food chains we remember as a kid - with food both good and bad. I'm still upset about McDonald's fries today being nothing like the limp, greasy fries of my youth. You were lucky to make it home with any; so irresistible because they were deep fried in beef fat. That's a tasty treat not likely to return. (Darn all you obese people that ruined it for the rest of us!)

Where can you get that retro 1970's fast food taste experience today without programming the Time Tunnel? (A risky proposition considering the Tunnel exploded into a shower of sparks every time someone moved a dial.)

It's not easy but it's possible, depending on where you live, to travel back in time - gastronomically speaking.

Biff Burger / 1970's fast food

Biff Burger

Anyone remember Biff Burger? When I was a kid growing up in the seventies there were several around town, they were found all along the East Coast with a few outposts not much further west.

In the quality pecking order of burger chains of the 1960s-'70s there was McDonald's at the top, Burger King just below, Hardees, Burger Chef, and Biff Burger taking up the rear.

The burger itself was different from the rest, with their own tangy sauce that the burger was dipped in after cooking on a special rotating broiler.

In the days of 20 cent hamburgers at McDonald's and Burger King, Biff Burger (which stood for "Best in Fast Food") was a penny less, only 19 cents. I hardly ever ate at Biff Burger but I would when I was in high school if that penny made a difference in my getting a burger for lunch or not. Being less expensive than the other chains led to the impression (in my mind, anyway) that the burgers weren't as good - indeed, they had a slightly gamey taste.

The chain was founded in the 1950s but went under in the mid-1970s with a few profitable independent franchises holding on. Biff Burger disappeared almost completely by the mid-1980s but two stores still survive using the same burger recipes, with the same basic decor.

One is in St. Petersburg, Florida - the other Biff Burger was renamed Beef Burger (the owner changed the name in the 1980s in case the franchise was revived and he should get hit with back franchise fees).

1970's fast food places- Biff BurgerBeef Burger is a 50 year institution in Greensboro, NC with the 1970's chairs and tables (yellow and attached as one unit, naturally) and the 1980's arcade games. They still use the classic "Biff" character, one of the worst designed mascots in history!

The menu is not limited to the original, you'll find probably the widest variety of food anywhere, from zucchini sticks to fried shrimp and about a dozen or more flavors of soda. They also have milkshakes made from an old 1970's machine.

And the food is grease-liscious. I'm not crazy about the Biff Burger itself but they have the best steak sandwich I've had in a long while, I'm hooked. The Super Burger is tasty too.

UNC-G students have long flocked to this place to chow down on cheap but good quality eats that really soak up the alcohol - although the front door sports a sign on the door that says, "If you're drunk eat somewhere else."

By all means, if you're in Greensboro on business, stop by Beef Burger at 1040 West Lee Street. Sadly, expansion plans by UNC-G has put the restaurant in danger of being plowed under. You can read the entire history of Biff Burger at this wonderful site. Enjoy!

 
The Biff Burger in St. Petersburg, Florida

 

Burger Chef

Another lost burger chain that sold down-market burgers that I confess I liked just fine. This 1970 commercial was attempting to tap into the teen market with groovy hippy music and tender but occasionally offbeat family images. "Incrediburgable!"

This chain started disappearing in the mid-eighties after the big two - McDonald's and Burger King - pretty much locked up the nationwide fast food hamburger market with regionals like Jack In The Box, Carl's Jr, and Hardees continuing to thrive. At one time Burger Chef was second only to McDonald's in the number of locations nationwide. If I recall, they had a great dry but tasty Roast Beef sandwich that Hardees continued to sell for a few years.

Another death blow to Burger Chef - Wendy's went nationwide in the early-seventies and moved everything in the opposite direction with their innovative drive-thru window, salad bar and fresher meat. Places like Burger Chef and Biff Burger just couldn't compete.

Hardees took over Burger Chef in the mid-eighties and began slowly assimilating them until the last Burger Chef closed in 1996.

Want to taste it again? Schroeder's Drive-In in Danville, Illinois still serves the original Burger Chef menu items; fans in Jacksonville, Illinois can hop over to CR's Drive In where they still offer Burger Chef french fries.

 

Gino's Restaurants

Bob Huggins follows up: I enjoyed reading about "Biff Burger." I guess that there were probably a number of regional fast food restaurants in various parts of the country that are no longer around so I’m happy to see one that still exists.

Fast Food Chains of the seventies - Ginos BurgersGrowing up in the Philadelphia, Pa area we had “Gino’s” which had, for its time, the memorable slogan “Everybody goes to Gino’s, ‘cause Gino’s is the place to go.” As best as I can recall, Gino’s pretty much went head-to-head with McDonald’s. Anyhow, there’s a tribute site to the restaurant (complete with message board) which readers from the Middle Atlantic States might be interested in seeing.

The first of a chain of brand new Gino's Restaurants opened at 611 West DeKalb Pike in King of Prussia, Pa in 2010 with more coming to Baltimore (the chain started in Baltimore). Whether it compares to the original I have no idea - tell us your experience.


Soupy Sales for Gino's

 

Krystal Burger

Speaking of regional fast food chains, it was more than 10 years ago when the Krystal Burger joints were upgraded, reviving the slumbering fast food chain that began back in 1932. Those mini-burgers (they'd be called sliders today) were pretty tasty, as I remember.

Krystal Burgers were found down South whereas White Castle (the oldest hamburger chain in the United States) was more of a Northern, Midwest and West Coast thing. The Krystal burger was a straight up ripoff of White Castle's, if you liked one you'd probably enjoy the other. Now the chain is limited to one location in Georgia with about a dozen stores in Tennessee and some in Florida.

Did you see the scenes in the Borat movie shot at Krystals?

 

Celebrity Fried Chicken

television blog + Minnie Pearl Fried ChickenThat reminds me of the great Fried Chicken chain explosion of the early-1970s. With the incredible success of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Roy Rogers, Mahalia Jackson, Minnie Pearl, Tex Ritter, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and even Popeye opened chicken restaurants that (mostly) quietly passed away after a few years. I never ate at a single one of them back in the day, they never took off enough to spread very far from their point of origin.

Dinah's (that I assumed was named for Dinah Shore but wasn't) still exists in LA and Glendale CA (kinda sorta) and Popeye's continues to flourish on a worldwide scale - but what the heck did Popeye ever have to do with chicken, fried or otherwise?

I'm dying to know what Mahalia Jackson's "Glori-fried" chicken tastes like, there's still one store left in Nashville.

1970s fast food - Mahalia Jackson Fried Chicken

Johnny Carson and Al Hirt both had failed restaurant ventures named after them but I doubt they were known for their fried chicken.

 

Roy Rogers Roast Beef1970s fast food - Roy Rogers Roast Beef

I do miss Roy Rogers' restaurants, they were very popular in the 1970s; it was the mid-eighties when I ate my last one. The secret to the Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich was that it was made WITH ACTUAL ROAST BEEF that they cooked in the store, served on a lightly toasted bun. Today's roast beef standard, Arby's, slices up some kind of molded gelatinous meat concoction that doesn't fit my definition of roast beef at all.

television blog - roy rogersImagine my surprise in 2004 when I was traveling to New York City to do TV and found the New Jersey landscape dotted with Roy Rogers restaurants beckoning from the rest stops all along the highways. I couldn't resist trying their roast beef again and it was a faint echo of the terrific sandwich they used to serve, but not quite the real thing. Still, much better than Arby's.

 
1978 Roy Rogers Commercial

My life has been in the pursuit of fine tasting roast beef sandwiches and I will continue my journey - but I doubt if any fast food joints today will satisfy that craving.

 

Kenny Rogers Roasters

Well, it's not seventies fast food but Bob Huggins adds: Kenny Rogers Roasters is another celebrity restaurant that is pretty much gone from the U.S. landscape but is apparently doing well in the Philippines. Go figure. My recollection of the restaurant was that it was trying to compete along the lines of a Boston Market. It came and went pretty quickly in my area.

I ate at the Kenny Rogers in Hollywood before it closed and it was no big deal. After the fuss they made on Seinfeld I was expecting more. It was better than most fast food, though.

 

In the same vein you should head over to Groceteria, the online museum of former grocery stores from the early days.

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