Fast food origins are the stuff of myth and mythbusting. As last year's excellent The Founder illustrates, perhaps the mix of true history and corporate self-promotion that characterize fast food origin stories is best untangled by dramatization and the movies. As Roy Kroc, Michael Keaton plays the stumbling, then later ruthless entrepreneur who bought out the McDonald brothers' original store, then made it the namesake of his empire. While each chain has its own unique history, animated by colorful business personalities, corporate feuding, and the speed which goes along with the product, the McDonalds' story is typical in an industry which thrives on relocation. But for few others, the original location survives quietly in the outskirts of American suburbias or proudly as a part of a larger national marketing strategy. Here are the hold-outs, original stores of franchised cafes, vendors, and restaurants, where early history is often buried in corporate make-overs and buy-outs.
Surely the most touted first store, the "Original Starbucks" location is familiar as the name of its brewed coffee, "Pike Place Roast." As an anchor business within the Pike Place Market, the original is included within the U.S. Register of Historic Places and one of the most visited places in the world (with 10 million per annum, the 33rd most visited). But not much other than a line around the block distinguishes the original from the over 25,000 Starbucks in operation: here at the first, a standard Starbucks' menu remains unchanged. What you won't see is the original brown mermaid--not green--outside of the logo.
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Chipotle might have been heralding more than one change in eating when it opened its first location near the University of Denver campus. One might scarcely imagine today when the burrito wasn't a staple part of the college student diet. But Steve Ells also had another vision in mind when he sought to sell "food served fast [that] didn't have to be 'fast food'." While few changes have been made to the original restaurant, much has changed for Ells since he opened the fast-casual in a former Dolly Madison ice-cream store: from an $85,000 loan he obtained from his father, the company now trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange and boasts over 2,000 locations.
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The location was also home to Dunkin' Donuts' predecessor, "Open Kettle," started in 1948, which founder Bill Rosenberg renamed in 1950. Synonymous with Boston culture, the company now has a global reach with over 3,200 stores located internationally. But only at the Quincy shop will you see the original retro signage, reinstated after the store's recent renovation. Not on display are the 1950 prices: 10 cents for a coffee and 5 cents for a donut (originally in 52 varieties).
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An original location worthy of not just a postcard home, but the professional historian's attentions, most recently, a treatment in the book Famous Nathan's: A Family Saga of Coney Island, the American Dream and the Search for the Perfect Hot Dog. When Nathan Handwarker opened the stand in 1916, he sold the "Hot Dog" for a nickel. Later to counter the suspicion against the inexpensive price, Handwarker, a Polish immigrant, hired white-jacketed men in surgeon's smocks to serve them (now practically an industry standard) and the stand's place in the American culinary imagination has not moved since. Today, its best known as the site of the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest, first held in the summer of 1916 among immigrant contestants to prove "American-ness". Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of the state, agreed, declaring in 1966, "No man can be hoped to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan's Famous."
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