It all started in 1936 when Bob Wian bought a hamburger stand in Glendale, California. Back then it was called Bob’s Pantry. A few months after it opened, he took a bun and cut it into three pieces. Then he added burger patties between each slice, creating the double-decker sandwich aka the double cheeseburger.
According to one story, the new burger was called the Big Boy, which he named after the nickname of one of his fans. After that he changed Bob’s Pantry at Bob’s Big Boy. To accompany its brand, the iconic mascot was created. Wian was known for treating its employees like family. and he treated everyone the same.
Bob Wian set aside 20% of company profits for employee pensions, requiring no contributions from workers. A dishwasher retired with over $170,000, a waitress ended up with $600,000. (Source.)
The restaurant was popular too
Big Boy has been around for over 80 years. At one time, there were 240 locations across the country. I would say that makes it iconic.
Big Boy is a classic American burger joint, so much so that when the Beatles came to America in 1965 for a tour supporting their album Help!, they ended up eating at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant in Burbank, California. (Source.)
Wian was considered the burger franchise pioneer. When he designed his franchising program, however, he allowed for change. Franchisees could attach their own name to Big Boy instead of it being “Bob’s”. Some of them changed the structure of his original burger. It was difficult to market Bob’s nationwide brand when independent franchises had their respective names.
Due to economic loss, Wian sold his business with the franchise agreements in 1967 to Marriott Corp. for $7 million. Interestingly, Wian knew J. Willard Marriott before he started operating hotels.
In 1947 Shoney’s first drive-in restaurant opened in Charleston, West Virginia. Five years later the name was changed to Big Boy Restaurants – only to be renamed three years later to what is now known as Shoney’s. (Source.)
Shoney’s was founded by Alex Schoenbaum. In 1952, he was fired from Big Boy Restaurants. In 1954 the name was changed to Shoney’s and eventually dropped the affiliation with Big Boy.
In 1977, Shoney’s created its own mascot, leaving behind the iconic Big Boy statue. In 2007, the company was sold to David Davoudpour who is the chairman and managing director.
Today, Shoney’s has a new look and a new menu and offers franchise opportunities. Its headquarters are in Nashville, Tennessee.
Most Shoney’s locations in Missouri have closed. I remember those in Kansas City in the 1990s. The only still open is located in Branson, Missouri. Shoney’s has begun rebranding and operates in 17 states.
Coming soon to a Shoney’s near you: wine and beer, an initiative designed to make the brand more relevant to millennials, a demographic that didn’t necessarily grow up with Shoney’s, but is important to its coming, [Davoudpour] said. (Source.)
Bob Wian died on March 31, 1992 in Newport Beach, California. He was 77 years old. Click here for more information on Wian’s Burbank location, including photos.
Thanks for the reading.