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The Original Location of National Fast-Food Chains [MAP]

From multinational chains like McDonald’s to smaller, regionally beloved establishments like Del Taco and Zaxby’s, fast food is practically synonymous with the USA. Convenient, quick, and affordable, two out of every three Americans eat fast food at least once per week.

But before these convenient pit stops transformed into the famous chains we know them as today, most came from much more humble beginnings. Take Dunkin’, which started as a small Massachusetts coffee and donut haunt called Open Kettle, or Shake Shack, New York’s beloved burger chain that hit the scene as a small hot-dog stand.

Curious to learn more about the origins of your favorite fast-food chain? Check out our map below to discover the original location of every major American fast food restaurant.

Arby’s: Boardman, Ohio

Arby’s, the chain that “has the meats,” was founded in 1964 by brothers Forrest and Leroy Raffel. The two brothers — who established Raffel Brothers, Inc. in the 1950s — observed the growth of chains like McDonald’s and Burger King and figured there would be a market for roast beef sandwiches, too. They opened their flagship location in Boardman, Ohio, and originally intended to call it Big Tex, though the name was already taken. Instead, the co-founders decided on Arby’s, a reference to the R and B initials in Raffel Brothers. Today, there are over 3,400 Arby’s in the U.S., with approximately 100 additional locations across the globe.

Bojangles: Charlotte, North Carolina

Founded by Jack Fulk and Richard Thomas in 1977, Bojangles is known for its crispy Southern fried chicken and chicken biscuits, which take a whopping 49 steps to make. Since opening approximately half a century ago, the chicken hot spot has expanded to over 500 locations in 17 states along with one location in Honduras.

Burger King: Miami, Florida

Second only to McDonald’s, Burger King is one of the largest burger chains in the world and dates back to the 1950s. According to the brand, the first burger king was established by James W. McLamore and David Edgerton in Miami in 1954. But others argue that the real first location was founded by Keith Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville in 1953, though that establishment went by the name Insta-Burger King. Regardless of where the true Burger King originated, there’s no denying its popularity: There are almost 19,000 locations worldwide.

Carl’s Jr.: Anaheim, California

While Carl’s Jr. may have over 3,800 locations in over 40 countries now, the hamburger chain came from tiny beginnings, originally operating as a hot-dog cart in Anaheim, Calif. The stand was purchased by Carl and Margaret Karcher in 1941 and quickly outgrew itself. In 1945, Carl opened the first Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue, serving up charbroiled hamburgers and hot dogs. Eleven years later, the franchise was renamed Carl’s Jr. and is currently owned by CKE Restaurants Holdings, the same company that owns fellow fast food joint Hardee’s.

Chick-fil-A: Fayetteville, Georgia

Famous for its peanut oil-fried chicken and bovine mascot, Chick-fil-A was founded in Georgia in 1946 and has since expanded to over 3,000 locations. The original Fayetteville location was initially called The Dwarf Grill and later renamed The Dwarf House, and that’s where founder Truett Cathy perfected the recipe for her iconic chicken sandwich. Over 20 years later, Cathy opened the first official Chick-fil-A in Atlanta.

Chipotle: Denver, Colorado

As one of the first fast-casual dining chains in the nation, Chipotle has cemented itself in American consciousness since Steve Ells opened the first location in Denver in 1993. Fueled by investors like McDonald’s, the chain expanded rapidly in the early aughts, and now has over 2,400 locations nationwide.

Church’s Chicken: San Antonio, Texas

Church’s Chicken (or Church’s Texas Chicken in international markets) was founded in 1952 by George Church right across from the Alamo. Originally a to-go restaurant offering walk-up service only, Church’s strictly sold fried chicken for its first three years before adding french fries and jalapeños to the menu in 1955. Currently, there are over 1,500 locations of Church’s Chicken across the U.S. and abroad.

Culver’s: Sauk City, Wisconsin

Serving up cheese curds, ButterBurgers, and frozen custard made daily, the first Culver’s was opened in Sauk City, Wis., in 1984 by Craig and Lea Culver, along with Craig’s parents, Ruth and George. While smaller than other chains on this list with just over 800 locations in 26 states, Culver’s remains a beloved Midwestern gem.

Dairy Queen: Joliet, Illinois

Currently operating over 6,000 locations globally, Dairy Queen’s roots trace back to the late 1920s. In 1927, DQ founder John Fremont McCullough established The Homemade Ice Cream Company in Green River, Ill., where he and his son, Alex developed the soft-serve style. In 1939, the invention of Harry Oltz’s frozen custard dispenser revolutionized the soft-serve concept and the following year, the first DQ opened its doors in Joliet. Originally only serving the ice cream custard, DQ introduced meals in the early 1990s, and in 2001, the first DQ Grill & Chill opened in Chattanooga, Tenn., serving burgers and basket meals.

Del Taco: Yermo, California

When Ed Hackbarth and David Jameson opened the first Del Taco in 1964, its tacos, tostadas, and fries were all just 19 cents each. The affordable chain quickly became one of the most beloved taco chains in California and had reached 100 locations by the end of the 1970s. Currently with over 590 locations in 16 states, the chain was purchased by Jack in the Box in 2022.

Domino’s: Ipsilanti, Michigan

The world’s most popular pizza chain got its start when Tom and James Mongahan purchased DomiNick’s Pizza in 1960. Following their purchase, the brothers opened two more pizza restaurants under different names, though they were all renamed Domino’s Pizza in 1965 and changed again to simply Domino’s in 2012. Today, there are more than 14,400 Domino’s outposts in more than 85 countries — though Italy is not one of them.

Dunkin’: Quincy, Massachusetts

Beloved by Ben Affleck and most of the Northeast, the first Dunkin’ was opened by Bill Rosenberg in 1948, though at the time it was called Open Kettle. Providing customers with donuts and fresh coffee, the establishment was renamed Dunkin’ Donuts two years later after observing guests dunking their donuts in their cups of Joe. Pouring 60 cups of coffee every second, Dunkin’ is one of the most popular coffee chains in the world, with over 12,000 locations in 45 countries.

Five Guys: Arlington, Virginia

Founded by Janie and Jerry Murrell in 1986, Five Guys (named for Jerry and the couple’s four sons) remained a regional chain for the first 16 years of its existence. In 2003, the chain began franchising and sold over 300 locations. Five Guys currently operates over 1,700 franchises in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Hardee’s: Greenville, North Carolina

Most famous for its biscuits, which are made fresh in small batches every 15 minutes, Hardee’s first opened in 1960. The original location offered 15-cent hamburgers, 10-cent fries, and 20-cent milkshakes and didn’t introduce the now iconic baked goods until 1977.

In-N-Out: Baldwin Park, California

When In-N-Out opened in 1948, it was California’s first drive-through hamburger stand. Founded by Harry Snyder, who would visit local meat and produce markets every morning to shop for fresh ingredients, the chain is one of the most cult-followed fast food chains in America with over 400 locations, predominantly on the West Coast. In 2023, In-N-Out finally headed east and opened its first location in Franklin, Tenn.

Jack in the Box: San Diego, California

Whipping up chicken strips, French fries, and tacos at over 2,200 locations, Jack in the Box actually originated as a restaurant called Topsy’s Drive-In, which opened in 1951. Topsy’s, which had several locations across Southern California and was known for its clown imagery, was renamed Jack in the Box a few months after founding. The fast-food restaurant was actually the first to use a two-way intercom system in its drive-through, which rapidly expedited service.

Jersey Mike’s: Point Pleasant, New Jersey

Prior to becoming Jersey Mike’s, the chain was called Mike’s Subs, a small sandwich shop in Point Pleasant serving hungry summertime beachgoers. In 1971, a teenage Peter Cancro was working at Mike’s Subs when he got word that the owners would be selling. Cancro asked his football coach for a bit of financial assistance and became the sole owner and proprietor of the sub shop at just 17 years old. After hearing from customers that they would miss the sandwiches during the off-season, he opened more locations and changed the name to Jersey Mike’s as a nod to his home state. Now, there are over 2,700 locations nationwide.

Jimmy John’s: Charleston, Illinois

When the first Jimmy John’s was opened near Eastern Illinois University’s campus in 1983, the menu consisted of just four sandwiches: The Pepe, Totally Tuna, Turkey Tom, and Vito. Three years later, a second location opened in Macomb, Ill. Today, the chain has expanded its menu and serves it at 2,745 locations in the U.S., and announced an agreement to franchise in Canada and Latin America in January 2024.

KFC: Salt Lake City, Utah

After perfecting his recipe for crispy fried chicken at a gas station in Kentucky, Colonel Harland Sanders established the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in Salt Lake City in 1952. Five years later, the iconic bucket was introduced, which has become a brand staple. Currently owned by Yum! Brands, which also owns Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, KFC (renamed in 1991) boasts 25,000 locations in 147 countries.

Little Caesars: Garden City, Michigan

Famous for its “Pizza! Pizza!” catchphrase, Little Caesars made its debut in 1959. Founded by Mike and Marian Ilitch, the restaurant was originally called Little Caesar’s Pizza Treat, though the name was tightened when franchising began in 1962. Headquartered in Detroit, Little Caesars is the third-largest pizza chain in the world with over 4,000 locations in the U.S. and abroad.

Long John Silver’s: Lexington, Kentucky

When Jim Patterson opened the first Long John Silver’s in 1969, it was one of the first fast-serve seafood restaurants in the U.S. By the end of the 1970s, there were over 1,000 establishments. While the company nearly went out of business in the ‘90s, it was acquired by A&W and reinvigorated. Today, there are only 540 Long John Silver’s remaining.

McDonald’s: San Bernardino, California

McDonald’s was founded by brothers Maurice “Mac” and Richard McDonald in 1940 when the two opened the first drive-in, offering hamburger, fries, and milkshakes for just a few cents each. When franchising began in 1955, the brothers established Hamburger University, a training program that standardized operations across locations and is still in use today. The chain went international in 1967 with its first opening in British Columbia and has since expanded to over 40,000 restaurants worldwide, making it the world’s largest fast-food chain.

Panda Express: Glendale, California

Founded in 1987 by Andrew and Peggy Cherng and Andrew’s father, chef Ming Tsai Cherng, Panda Express is one of the only Chinese fast-food chains in the world. The chain remains controlled by the Cherng family, and with over 2,300 locations, it’s the largest family-owned and -operated Asian dining concept in the U.S..

Panera Bread: St. Louis, Missouri

Panera Bread got its start in 1987 when Ken Rosenthal and his wife opened the St. Louis Bread Company, which specialized in sourdough bread. By the early 1990s, there were 20 locations of the small bakery, and the local chain was acquired by Au Bon Pain in 1993. As the chain expanded, newly franchised locations opened under the name Panera Bread. Today, there are over 2,000 locations across the country.

Papa John’s: Jeffersonville, Indiana

The fourth-largest pizza chain in the nation got its start in 1984 when John Schnatter installed a pizza oven in a tavern owned by his father. Later that year, Schnatter (a.k.a. Papa John) opened his first brick-and-mortar in Jeffersonville, Ind. The chain exploded, and there are now over 5,700 locations worldwide.

Pizza Hut: Wichita, Kansas

Pizza Hut was founded in 1958 by Frank and Dan Carney, who borrowed $600 dollars from their mother to open their first restaurant. With only enough room for eight letters on their sign, the brothers decided to call their restaurant Pizza Hut, and 10 years later, the iconic red roof was added to each location. To date, Pizza Hut is operational in over 100 countries with more than 16,000 outposts.

Popeyes: Arabi, Louisiana

Alvin C. Copeland Sr. opened Chicken on the Run’ in 1972, offering more traditional Southern fried chicken. To boost business, Copeland Sr. spiced up his chicken recipe and reopened his restaurant under the name Popeyes. In 1976, the first Popeyes franchise opened, and seven years later, the chain’s iconic biscuits were introduced to menus. Popeyes currently has over 3,700 locations in the U.S. under its control.

Raising Cane’s: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

When Raising Cane’s founder Todd Graves was in college, he received the lowest grade in his business class after pitching a chicken finger restaurant, which was deemed a poor idea by his professor. Not to be stopped, Graves worked a number of odd jobs in his early 20s to save money to open his first restaurant, which he accomplished in 1996. Today, Todd is still the CEO of the company, and there are over 700 locations of his chain serving up chicken strips daily.

Shake Shack: New York, New York

Shake Shack first opened in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park in the early aughts as a way to revitalize the park, which had fallen into disrepair. Founded by Danny Meyer, owner of NYC institutions like Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern, Shake Shack was actually originally a hot- dog stand. The stand became so popular in the warmer months that in 2004, a kiosk-style restaurant was opened in the park to serve the burgers and shakes we know today.

Sonic Drive-In: Shawnee, Oklahoma

Sonic Drive-In originated as a restaurant called Top Hat, where customers could remain in their car and receive “Service at the Speed of Sound.” When Top Hat expanded to four locations, it was prevented from opening more restaurants under the same name due to a copyright issue. Taking inspiration from its catchphrase, the chain was renamed Sonic Drive-In and has since expanded to over 3,500 locations in the U.S.

Starbucks: Seattle, Washington

Undeniably the most popular coffee chain in the world, Starbucks first opened in Seattle’s Pike Place Market in 1971. The 1,000-square-foot coffee shop was operated by a single employee and featured over 30 styles of coffee. Now a popular tourist destination, there is a near-constant line outside Starbucks’ original location, and the company boasts 38,000 locations worldwide.

Subway: Bridgeport, Connecticut

In 1965 at the age of 17, Fred DeLuca was pondering how he would pay his college tuition. He consulted Dr. Peter Buck, a close family friend and nuclear physicist, and the two came up with the idea for a sandwich shop. Dr. Buck invested $1,000 into DeLuca’s endeavor and the two opened the first Subway restaurant in Bridgeport in August of that year. By 1974, there were 16 Subway locations, and the two made the decision to begin franchising to expand out of Connecticut. Now, Subway has over 37,000 locations in over 100 countries.

Taco Bell: Downey, California

The first Taco Bell was opened by Glen Bell 1962, though its roots trace back a decade earlier. In 1951, Bell was operating a hamburger and hot-dog stand in San Bernardino and was looking for a way to differentiate himself from competition — namely the McDonald’s just down the street. He started selling tacos to his patrons to entice them away from other establishments, and was massively successful. The first Taco Bell was in a tiny 20-foot-by-20-foot building in Downey, and there are now 15,000 locations in the U.S.

Wendy’s: Columbus, Ohio

Wendy’s was founded by Dave Thomas in 1969 and immediately grew popular for its square hamburger patties and signature Frosty desserts. Just a year after its founding, Wendy’s revolutionized the drive-through by introducing a successful pick-up window. Now, there are 6,500 Wendy’s locations spread across the U.S. and 29 countries abroad.

Whataburger: Corpus Christi, Texas

When Harmon Dobson came up with the idea for Whataburger, he wanted to serve guests burgers so large that they needed two hands to hold them, and he wanted them to taste so good that customers claimed, “What a burger!” The original location opened in 1950 and served burgers on a five-inch bun 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are approximately 950 Whataburger locations operational today, though most now close around midnight.

White Castle: Wichita, Kansas

With just 345 locations remaining, White Castle was the first known fast-food hamburger chain, opening the doors of its original location in 1921. Known for its sliders, White Castle kickstarted American’s affinity for burgers. The sliders became so popular that they began selling them in grocery stores in the ‘80s.

Wingstop: Garland, Texas

Founded by Antonio Swad in 1994, Wingstop originated as a tiny, Buffalo-style chicken wing eatery. By 1997, the now chain was franchising and by 2002, Wingstop had sold over 1 billion chicken wings. Rapper Rick Ross was even inspired to purchase 25 locations for himself after trying the brand’s signature wings.

Zaxby’s: Statesboro, Georgia

Beloved for its chicken and secret sauce, Zaxby’s was founded by childhood friends Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley in 1990. Originally called ZAX, the brand grew to become one of the most popular chicken chains in the South. Today, there are 972 Zaxby’s locations in 19 states.

*Image retrieved from dbvirago via

The article The Original Location of National Fast-Food Chains [MAP] appeared first on VinePair.

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