We predated fast food restaurants. In fact, our generation defined fast food restaurants. The first fast food chain I remember was McDonald's on University across from UALR. It was an original-style McDonald's with the two huge 60-foot yellow arches that could be seen from Meadowcliff. And McDonalds didn't have a big mac until 1968, and the quarter-pounder didn't show up until 1971. The McDonald's menu we had to choose from consisted of a small hamburger, a small order of French fries and a soda or shake. When I ate my first fifteen-cent McDonald's hamburger I discovered they put ketchup on them and they wouldn't leave it off whether you liked it or not so it was off to Roach's for me.
In case your memory is a little rusty, here's a timeline.
1928 - First Bubble Gum, Fleer's Dubble Bubble, goes on sale in the US.
1930 - Sliced bread (Wonder Bread).
1931 - First drive-through window, J.G. Kirby's Pig Stand, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.
1933 - Ruth Wakefield, of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Mass, invents the chocolate chip cookie.
1934 - Carl Kaelen introduces The cheeseburger at his burger bar in Louisville, Kentucky.
1937 - Spam. No, really, the meat kind. From Hormel Foods.
1938 - First instant coffee, Nescafe.
1940 - First fast food chain, Carl N. Karcher bought a hot dog cart, that became Carl's Jr.
M&Ms are introduced in military ration packs, York Peppermint Patties.
1941 - Cheerios.
1942 - Corn Dogs (At the Texas State Fair).
1945 - LeBaron Spencer invents the microwave oven.
1947 - Aluminum foil.
1948 - Frozen French fries.
1949 - First cake mixes, Sara Lee, first electric automatic dishwasher.
1950 - Minute Rice, Velveeta, first Dunkin' Donuts, first Whataburger, first credit card.
1951 - First Jack-In-The-Box, Tupperware, trading stamps, Swanson's pot pies.
1952 - Mrs. Paul's fish sticks, first airline meals, first KFC, Sugar Frosted Flakes, Pream.
1953 - Saran Wrap, Cheeze Whiz, Sugar Smacks (56% Sugar), Star Kist tuna.
1954 - First TV dinners, first Burger King, Peanut M&M's, first commercial microwave oven.
1955 - Instant oatmeal, frozen turkeys, first Ray Kroc McDonald's restaurant.
1955 - Pillsbury's Frozen Pie Crust, Package of two, 35 cents.
1956 - Busch beer, Certs, Special K, first electric can opener, individually wrapped cheese slices.
1957 - Tang, Hamburgers introduced at Dairy Queen, Flavor Straws, 37th McDonald's.
1957 - Pet-Ritz Fruit Pies, frozen, ready to bake.
1958 - Rice-A-Roni, Cocoa Krispies (46% sugar), Tater Tots, first Pizza Hut, first IHOP.
1959 - One billionth can of Spam, 100th McDonald's, first Sonic, first diet cola.
1960 - Instant mashed potatoes, Boiling bags, Teflon, first Domino's Pizza, first Hardee's.
1961 - Coffee Mate, Mrs. Butterworth's syrups, Sprite, Green Giant foods. Weight Watchers founded.
1962 - First Taco Bell, Diet-Rite cola, instant mashed potatoes.
1963 - One billionth McDonald's hamburger served by Ray Kroc on the Art Linkletter Show.
1964 - Pop Tarts, Buffalo wings (Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY).
1966 - Tunnel of fudge cake won first prize in the Pillsbury Bake Off.
1969 - Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy's.
1970 - Hamburger Helper, Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn.
1972 - Egg McMuffin.
1973 - First ballpark nachos (Arlingon, Texas), the first UPC bar codes (on Wrigley's Gum).
1975 - First McDonald's drive-through window, Sierra Vista, Arizona.
With that in mind, here are some of the places we frequented and things we ate.
November 28, 2014, Snappy Service System at 701 Broadway now has its own page. You'll find it HERE.
Before there were fast food restaurants there were lunch counters, which served the same purpose: a quick meal at a reasonable cost. Walgreen’s and Lane Drug Stores at 5th and Main both had lunch counters. Woolworth’s lunch counter on Main made the best club sandwich in town. Baseline Pharmacy on Baseline Road made the best malts. If you went to the lunch counter in the Village Drugstore in the Village Shopping Center at Asher & University the pharmacist, Eli Wolf, might personally make you a chocolate soda, but you had to watch that he didn’t drop cigar ashes in it. Lunch counters gained notoriety in the 1960s when they became the targets of sit-ins all across the south. The most famous lunch counter, from Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, sits in the Smithsonian.
Some people think integration closed lunch counters but that’s just not true. Lunch counters in Chicago were integrated in the mid-1940s, but they closed along with the ones in the south. We went to lunch counters because they were simple and fast. But they weren't very convenient if you weren't working or shopping because you had to feed a parking meter downtown or you had to park and walk at a mall, even in cold or rainy weather. Fast food restaurants came along and they were simpler and faster and had their own parking lots next to the building, really were fast, and eventually all had drive-through windows so we didn't even have to get out of our car. Lunch counters were doomed because of a simple formula: automobiles + fast food restaurants = convenience.
At a lunch counter you really could get a vanilla coke, or a cherry coke, or the nectar of the gods, a cherry lime. Or a shake or malted (just called a “malt”). Or a float (root beer or Coke). Or an ice cream soda, fizzed the old fashioned way, an art that is most likely now lost. Or a Coke freeze (blended Coke and vanilla ice cream). All served in glass glasses. With whipped cream. With a maraschino cherry. And chances are good that anything creamy was made with Fortune's Famous Ice Cream from the Fortune's factory on Asher.
When I went into the Navy I was stationed in Boston. I couldn't find shakes or malts, so I gave up. I was there over a year before I found out they have them there, but they call a shake a frappe (frah-pay). And if you ask them they'll add the malt. Stupid yankees.
Roach's Drive In at Geyer Springs Road and Mabelvale Pike. Foot long chili dog second only to Perciful's. A soft gummy bun, an oversized weiner, cabbage that was pre-mixed with a mustard/mayo combination, all topped with chili.
The original Perciful’s at 8th and Arch.
Perciful's next to the Fair Grounds. Best foot long chili dog in Arkansas, maybe the best anywhere.
Canton Tea Garden at 211 Main was the only Chinese restaurant in Little Rock.
Granoff's Restaurant at 10th and Main.
Peck's Drive Inn on Markham across from the state hospital, er, the UA med center.
Peck's Barbecue on Asher.
According to Sandra Mizumoto Posey, who holds a Ph.D. in Folklore from UCLA, the word "carhop" dates back to the early 1920s when servers at the Pig Stand Drive In in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas (on U.S. 80, before the DFW turnpike) would "hop" onto an automobile’s running board to deliver food. Running boards disappeared after WWII, but "carhop" lives on.
Howard Johnson's at Asher & University. 28 flavors of ice cream. Ever try the flavor called “Frozen Pudding”? It tasted like whiskey. Parents wouldn’t let their kids order it. If you were ever there in the summer of ‘58, I might have made you a banana split, or in the summer of ’59 Ernestine Bolliera might have served you a Juicy Steak dinner. Howard Johnson’s closed when the bypass opened and the buildings were razed to build the UA Cinema 150, which opened in 1968 but is now closed.
Old King Cole on Broadway at 5th.
Sandy's on Markham just west of University.
Hammon's Dairy Bar at Chicot Road and Mabelvale Cut-off.
Cloverdale Dairy Bar at 8025 New Benton Highway.
Frosty House on the New Benton Highway at the entrance to Meadowcliff.
Satellite Burger Barn on Asher.
Miller's Coffee Shop on Main.
Little Rock Inn at 14th and Main.
Sweden Creme at 15th and Main.
Beasley's Restaurant at the intersection of Stagecoach Road and Colonel Glenn.
Winkler's Drive In at 7th and Johnson across from Lamar Porter Field.
There were three Lidos in the early 1950s, owned by the same people. Lido Cafeteria at 615 Main, Lido Inn at 103 Roosevelt, and Lido Minute Man at 407 Broadway. Wes Hall bought the Broadway location and turned it into Wes Hall's Minute Man, the Main Street cafeteria closed, and by 1959 the Lido Inn at Main and Roosevelt, shown at the right, was the only one remaining.
Tom and Andrew's Restaurant on Capitol between Louisiana and Center.
Shakey's Pizza on Rebsamen Park Rd.
SOB on Markham at Stifft Station.
Wes Hall's Minute Man. First at 407 Broadway, and later the new one at 1608 South University. Had the first microwave, which they called a Radar Range. I always stopped for a number two (hickory smoke sauce) and a hot apple pie after the Tuesday night meeting at the Naval Reserve Center in Fair Park. At its peak, the Minute Man chain had 70 restaurants in five states. Wesley Torrence "Wes" Hall died in May of 2002 at the age of 87. The original Minute Man on Broadway is gone, but the site is commemorated by a plaque on the west wall of what is now the Region's Bank Building, about mid-block facing Broadway. See a picture of the plaque HERE. Note the phone numbers in the ad from the 1960 annual.
OKAY, Here's Minute Man's menu. (March, 2011)
#1 Relish Sauce
#2 Hickory Smoke Sauce (cheese and/or onion optional)
#3 Old-Fashioned with mustard, pickle and onion
#4 Old-Fashioned cheeseburger (#3 with grated Cheddar Cheese)
#5 Chili, Cheese and Onion
#6 Salad Burger with relish sauce, lettuce & tomato
#7 Ham Sandwich with relish sauce, lettuce & tomato
#8 American Cheese Sandwich with relish sauce, lettuce & tomato
#9 Western Omelette Sandwich with relish sauce, lettuce & tomato
#10 Steak Sandwich with mayo, lettuce and tomato
#11 Fish Sandwich with Relish Sauce (one version had Tartar Sauce)
#12 Big M -- two beef patties, a slice of American cheese in the middle, relish sauce, pickle, onion, tomato
1. "Relish Sauce" was a Thousand Island-type dressing similar to what is on a Big Mac today. Thousand Island was the de facto standard dressing in the 1950s for both salads and sandwiches.
2. The #12 preceeded the big mac by more than a year.
3. Minute Man first offered a specialty meal for children called a Magic Meal.
4. Burger King bought the rights to use the Magic Meal concept and name 1982-83.
5. Minute Man rights to the slogan "old-fashioned hamburgers" were later sold to Wendy's.
6. When Wes Hall died, six boxes of his memorabalia were donated to the UALR Library and are available for research.
Franke's Cafeteria on Capitol between Main and Louisiana. Waldorf salad ran a close second to my mother's. You can see Franke's at the bottom of the Downtown Little Rock page HERE.
Hank’s Dog House at two locations, 1714 Main in North Little Rock, and 3614 Roosevelt in Little Rock. For after-the-prom impressions. Despite the name, Hank's was upscale and featured steaks served by suited waiters on white tablecloths and fine china. For many years had the only oyster bar in Arkansas. You can read about the Roosevelt Road location HERE.
Harry's Fried Chicken at 3400 West Roosevelt, predated KFC by years. When Harry died, Bruno's Little Italy moved into the location.
Bruno's Little Italy. Started in the late 1940s in Levy, then moved to 3400 West Roosevelt in 1949, where it remained until 1978. Today, Bruno's is in the Colonnade Shopping Center. You can read about the Bruno's Roosevelt Road location. HERE.
Breier's at 124 West Markham, between the Grady Manning and Marion Hotels.
Victory Cafe, across from the Marion.
Ember’s Restaurant at Markham and University. For after-the-prom impressions.
Charlie Brown's Cow Shed. Six miles out Highway 10. (One and a half miles past the intersection of Cantrell and Hayes St.) Danged near to Perryville.
Browning’s on Kavanaugh just down the street from the Heights Theater. (Still there, still great.) After the movie, three steaming soft corn tortillas, a pat of butter, and hot sauce. Ten cents. When I get to heaven, I’ll know I’m there because that will be on the menu and I’ll have a pocket full of dimes.
The Shack. Started out on the Capitol grounds on 7th street. The state of Arkansas eminent-domained them, so they moved to 3rd & Victory. Find out how to make a Shack barbecue sandwich HERE.
Herb's Barbecue started out at Markham and Van Buren and later
moved to Fair Park
Boulevard on the first curve north of Asher. Not as good as
The Shack (Herb's sauce was less tomato, contained mustard, wasn't as spicy).
Herb's was closer than The Shack, though, and they had bulk takeout with a family pack
that included everything you needed to make your own sandwiches. So
lots of families, including mine, often went to Herb's after church
to buy the makings to take home.
UPDATE. July 2012, I received the following Email: "You mentioned that Herb's barbeque's sauce included mustard. Totally incorrect information. True it contained no tomatoes but there was not a drop of mustard. I know, Herb and Bea Meuwly were my second set of parents and I made the sauce for 20 years!"
Sounds like he knows what he's talking about. My source was this: Once when my father went by after church to pick up some barbecue, he talked to the fellow behind the counter -- don't know if it was Herb or not -- and he asked him what the secret ingredient in the sauce was and the guy told him, "it contains a tiny bit of mustard, but not the yellow kind." So there you have it. I don't remember enough about it to say either way.
The watermelon stand in the median on Fair Park Blvd on the south side of 12th street in the 1940s (the median is no longer there). You picked out a watermelon from a large cauldron of ice water and the vendor cut out a chunk to show you it was a good one. You could either take it home or you could sit at the white painted picnic tables and eat your watermelon and they'd clean up the mess.
El Patio on South University just past Meadowcliff. Two words: Cheese dip.
Cold root beer served in an icy glass mug in your car at Weber’s Root Beer on Markham. By the mid sixties they no longer served them outside because too many people drove off with them, and by the mid seventies the mugs were gone for good.
"Supper clubs" were located just beyond the city limits. Supper clubs were private clubs that existed to circumvent state laws and city ordinances against liquor by the drink.
Tia-wanna Supper Club out Markham Street all the way past the Little Rock city limits. If that sounds like a long way it wasn’t. It was before you got to Rodney Parham Road. There's a Tia-Wanna advertisement HERE.
Hilltop Supper Club. On 365 south towards Pine Bluff. Yes, it was on top of a large hill.
Coen's Supper Club, Rosedale Cafe & Club, Starlight Supper Club, and the Westwood Club, all on the Old Hot Springs Highway.
Red Gate Supper Club on the Old Hot Springs Highway at the county line.
Asher Dairy Bar at 7105 Asher.
Toddle House, and Ship Ahoy.
Blue Goose at 901 West 8th (8th and Izard across the street from KTHV.)
Donaghey Building Coffee Shop, where you could rub elbows at lunch with doctors and lawyers and corporate presidents and store clerks. When you were a kid, your mom may have treated you to a terrific BLT with a fountain Coke in the coffee shop after you got your new glasses at Precision Optical just across the hall on the first floor.
Cordell's Deli. The original gourmet grocery and delicatessen. Imported coffees, cheeses, condiments, and unrecognizable stuff in jars from Europe and points beyond. Originally on Kavanaugh at University, moved to 1500 Rebsamen Park Road. Cordell's taught us to actually like chicken salad.
Krystal Hamburger Palace at Capitol and Louisiana streets. Hamburger was 10 cents. After a football game, entire football teams showed up there for hamburger eating contests. I once saw a player down 17 Krystalburgers. He could have eaten more, but he ran out of money. But he couldn't touch Joey Chestnut, who won the 2008 Krystal hamburger eating contest by downing 93 Krystals.
Our Krystal wasn't red and white like the modern version. It was black and white and chrome, chrome, chrome. The floor tiles were black and white squares and are the basis for most modern-day retro diner designs.
The Razorback at 3100 Roosevelt Road. Chili was awesome. Thirty-five cents a bowl. There were two other locations: one on East Broadway in dogtown and another in Levy.
Band Box, 17th and Main. It's closed now, and there are bars on the windows. As late as 1980 it was a cool place to get a greasy burger, but in the fifties you could get your butt whipped there. Well, I could get my butt whipped there.
Island X Mexican Restaurant at 2601 Kavanaugh. In the era before electric refrigerators the building was an ice house. When demand for ice began to wane it became an appliance store, selling refrigerators. But it was a small building and couldn't compete with the big boys on West Seventh so it closed and eventually became a restaurant. We preceded Musak, and in fact we preceded any kind of piped-in-music, so Island X had a lady play a Hammond organ while you dined. All of that is the reason for the site's present incarnation, Ice House Center, although the current building is a replacement of the original which was destroyed by fire in 1996.
Hotel Marion Coffee Shop was open all night. Too expensive for me, though.
Owl Café at 1317 West Markham. Open all night.
Eagle Café at 101 Victory, across from the MoPac Train Station in the old Station House on the southeast corner of Markham and Victory. Open all night. A block from the Owl. A seedy place convenient to the railroad tracks so there were some equally seedy people there late at night. Upstairs Was an even seedier hotel. The Eagle shared space with the Whiteside-Hemby Drug Company.
To get to Mexico Chiquita, you had to cross the river, go all the way down East Broadway to Protho Junction, then turn north on 161. It was worth the trip.
Spudnuts appeared in the 1950s. Originating in Richland, Washington about 1948, they were made of potato flour. They had a brief franchise rebirth in the 1980s, but mostly lost out to Krispy Kreme. You can still get them in south Arkansas in El Dorado and Magnolia.
When I first started driving in 1958, I would drive out to Shipley Donuts at 7514 Cantrell Road. I went by there during a May, 2005 trip to Little Rock and it's still there. Might want to pass on any invitation to tour the kitchen. A lot of people pass on Shipley donuts anyway because the recipe includes unflavored gelatin.
But the best donuts of all have always been found at Community Bakery. Starting out at 1318 Main, they are now reincarnated at 1202 Main and have several more locations.
Black Angus Burgers at Markham and Van Buren.
Roy Fisher’s Steak House at 1919 East Broadway in North Little Rock had the best onion rings in the country. President Lyndon B. Johnson used to have onion rings flown to the White House from the Brass Rail in Dallas. Well, I’ve eaten onion rings at the Brass Rail in Dallas, and Roy Fisher’s had them beat hands down. Elvis Presley ate onion rings at Roy Fisher's when he was in town for concerts at Robinson Auditorium. On my visit in January, 2009, the place was closed, perhaps permanently, a victim of the East Broadway widening project.
Several miles out Stagecoach Road, way past the Colonel Glenn intersection, there was a candy shop. During the Christmas season you could go there and buy Christmas hard candy, the kind with a Christmas tree or a Santa Claus in the center. UPDATE, the candy store was The Better Mousetrap Candy Store, and you can read about it HERE.
If you've ever driven to Pine Bluff on the old highway 365, chances are you stopped at Redfield at the Mammoth Orange Cafe, an orange-shaped drink stand. The building is shaped like a giant Valencia orange and was modeled after one in Fresno, California. There are side buildings attached now, but it was much more unique before they were added and the big orange stood alone at the intersection of highways 365 and 46.
Swanson TV Dinners showed up in 1954. Shortly after that, TV trays to eat them on.
Vienna sausages, Spam sandwiches.
Finkbeiner Meat Packing Company of Little Rock invented those cheese-filled weiners in 1956, and followed them with chili-filled weiners. The chili-filled weiners didn't last, cheese-filled ones are still around.
In our youth, virtually all coffee made at home in the U.S. was brewed in percolators. Then in 1972 the Mr. Coffee drip coffeemaker was introduced and it wasn't long until drip coffee was the preference. Drip coffee was preferred in restaurants because it takes longer to percolate coffee than to drip it, so restaurants could turn around their coffee service faster. Homemakers embraced the Mr. Coffee for the same reason. In blind tastings, most people, even today, prefer percolated coffee (drip coffee tastes "raw"), but only a few die-hards left over from our generation have percolators.
Flavor Straws in chocolate, strawberry, and maybe other flavors. Suck plain white "sweet milk" through a Flavor Straw and the milk took on the flavor of the straw. There was even, no kidding, a Miss Flavor Straws. They didn't last long because they, well, sucked.
Speaking of straws, they were made of paper, not plastic. With the cheaper ones you had to work fast or they would collapse before you finished your soft drink, and some of them wouldn't hold up to a thick shake anyway. Today, some invironmentally-conscious restaurants like Ted Turner's Ted's Montana Grill are bringing paper straws back.
Jello did not come in boxes. It came in little envelopes and you added your own sugar. After (sometimes before) the stuff was dumped into a pitcher of water, we licked the inside of the package for a tart treat. From that humble beginning came Lick 'em Ade, slightly sweetened Jello powder in a smaller envelope, and from there the stuff in the big straws (Pixie Sticks), and from that, Sweet Tarts. Brain dump of useless stuff.
There were two bubble gums. Fleer's Dubble Bubble and Bazooka. You were loyal to one or the other. Each cost a penney a piece. Each piece came with a color cartoon wrapped around the gum. Bazooka's character was named Bazooka Joe. Fleer's character was named Pud. That's right. Pud. By the way, Dubble Bubble is back. Toronto, Ontario, based Concord Confections bought the Fleer Confections division from Marvel Entertainment Group in 1998 and re-introduced Dubble Bubble into limited markets. That's a shame, because I'm a Bazooka man.
Push-ups. A tube not unlike a toilet paper tube, only it was full of ice cream and as you ate the ice cream you pushed more up from the inside.
Cracker Jacks came in a box.
"What do you want when you gotta have something
And it's gotta be sweet
And it's gotta be a lot
And you only got a dime
What do you want? Lip-smacking, whip-cracking, paddy-whacking (oooooooo) Cracker Jack!"
Frito Lay bought the company in 1997 and changed to packages. No matter, today's Cracker Jacks aren't the same as ours. Our prizes were whistles, tops, little packages of red hots, miniature cars and police badges, clickers (squeeze the metal strip and it went "click"), alphabet dangles, lockets, and charms, charms and more charms. Most were made of metal. Today, all prizes are printed on paper. Tired tattoos and miniature baseball cards. And try to find a peanut in a bag of Cracker Jacks.
Fizz-Nik.A two-piece plastic ball with a tube in each end. The ball separated in the middle and you put a scoop of your favorite icecream inside, then put it back togeather. The tube on one end was inserted into a bottle of your favorite soda pop and you drank from the tube on the other end. The icecream always outlasted the soda pop but then you just opened the ball and finished the job.
Speaking of Cracker Jacks, what was Sailor Jack's dog's name? Nope wasn't Tige, that was Buster Brown's dog. Sailor Jack's was Bingo.
Jawbreakers. Aptly named.
Zagnut, Butternut, Caravelle, Cherry Hump, Hollywood, Mars Bars, chocolate covered Payday,
Seven-Up candy bar, Sugar Mama, Chewels, Mallo Cups, Pom Poms, Switzer's licorice,
Walnettos, Tootsie Pop Drops, A & W Rootbeer Gum,
Black Wax Moustaches, Wax Pan Pipes, Chunky (with and without raisins, "Open Wide For Chunky!")
Buttons: little candies stuck on paper (looked like adding machine tape) you pulled off with your teeth (remember adding machines?),
Slo-Poke and Black Cow suckers, Cho Chos,
Wax “Pop” Bottles made of crumbly wax filled with a sweet colored liquid,
Banana Flips, cake with banana cream filling folded over like an omelet,
Py-O-My pudding cake: mixed and baked right in the pan, and when it baked the cake would raise to the top, and there'd be warm chocolate pudding underneath,
all of these are gone.
Blackjack, Clove, and Teaberry chewing gum. They’re baaaaack.