Few industries touch our daily lives more than the restaurant business. Serving food to friends and neighbors is the most basic form of capitalism, found in every village on earth. Sharing food and dining experiences, from ballpark hotdogs to the finest eateries, leaves us with memories that last a lifetime.
Here we tell the story of one of America’s great restaurant chains, its rise and fall (and now rebirth). Bob’s Big Boy restaurants, born in Southern California before covering the nation under different names, led the way in restaurant architecture and gave us the double-decker hamburger.
We always urge our readers to “make history personal” – to connect our stories with your own experiences. Such connections bring history to life. Here is my own connection to this story.
It is the mid-1960s. Springtime in Indiana. The attention of every Hoosier turns to the annual state high school basketball tournament, Indiana’s most important sporting event beside the Indianapolis 500 auto race. At the time, the state does not use a high school “class” system – the big urban schools compete with the smallest rural towns. Sometimes the little schools win, as depicted in the film Hoosiers.
In Anderson, less than an hour northeast of Indianapolis, the local first round (the “sectional”) of the tournament takes place in one of the largest high school gymnasiums in the world, the Anderson High School Wigwam. Every one of the approximately 9,000 seats is full, as all the local teams try for the prize, the chance to go on to the “regionals.”
When the games end, with one victor and perhaps another dozen teams which “tried their best,” cars begin to stream out of the parking lot. Mile after mile of cars line up, heading toward the social center of the city on Saturday nights: the Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant a mile or two north of the Wigwam.
While indoor seating and dining are available, the basketball crowd is not headed there. The restaurant is surrounded by a U-shaped driveway, loaded with curb-service slots on both sides of the drive. On a normal day, all the cars would be parked head-in, but on Saturday night the cars carefully back into the angled slots. There, packed four to six people to a car, my high school friends and I watch the parade of cars that circle the lot, waving to friends, seeing who is dating who, celebrating victory or grappling with defeat. Most of the cars never pull into a stall, never eat; they just circle the drive over and over.
It seems that every kid with a driver’s license in the city of 60,000 people has descended on Frisch’s: the nerds, jocks, auto mechanics, and prom queens. In our local lingo, backing into any parking spot is called “Frisching it.”
Sixty years later, the memories are still vivid. Frisch’s and other drive-in restaurants played a similar role in communities from coast to coast. Few were as important as the Big Boys with their chubby little mascot and original double-deck burgers.
This story begins in 1936 in Los Angeles.
In 1936, veteran lunch counter worker Bob Wian, twenty-one years old, sold his prized 1932 DeSoto roadster car for $300 in order to finance the purchase of a ten-stool Los Angeles lunch counter called “The Pantry.” Soon after taking over, Wian experimented with different approaches to the hamburger. Slicing a normal sized hamburger bun into three parts rather than the normal two, he put two hamburger patties inside, along with his own special sauce and condiments. Customers called the burger “the big boy” and the name stuck.
Those who knew Bob Wian describe him as “a force of nature.” Tall, handsome, energetic, and ambitious, Wian lived life to the fullest. He was renowned for his pranks on his friends, his gambling, his drinking parties, his sense of humor, his optimism, and his generosity. Everyone loved the man. Yet at the restaurant, he was in complete control, demanding the best and friendliest service, the most efficient systems for making and delivering food, and a great setting for the diner. Every waitress was in uniform and carefully trained, every cook knew their role in the kitchen. A team of three cooks could turn out 300 Big Boys an hour.
In 1949, Wian opened his fabulous Bob’s Big Boy Drive-In in Burbank (now considered a historical landmark). Top architect Wayne McAllister designed the restaurant using the streamlined shapes of the era. As more Big Boys were built, McAllister and the company led the way in developing the “1950s Modern Coffee Shop” or “Googie” look, with tall “blade” signs, soaring roof lines, and clean interiors. Inspiration often came from the space age and from the fins on cars. McAllister and others developed the same look for other coffee shop and drive-in chains, starting in California: Carrows, Coco’s, Jojo’s, Norm’s, Ship’s, Sambo’s, and Tiny Naylor’s. Ultimately the biggest coffee shop chain of them all, Denny’s, covered America with the Big Boy style of architecture.
Bob Wian and his restaurants were soon an integral part of Southern California culture and society. Everyone from Presidents to the Beatles stopped at the Burbank Big Boy. Regular customers included many movie stars, who liked avoiding crowds by dining in their cars. Bob Hope, Burt Lancaster, and other stars became regular customers and close friends of Bob Wian. Building more California Big Boy locations, Wian became wealthy, with a big house on a lake. His neighbors included members of the Disney family as well as stars of stage and screen. He had a sailing ship for company parties and flew around the states in his private plane, often visiting fellow restaurateurs, looking for new ideas and methods.
Wian developed the reputation of treating his employees better than most restaurateurs. He considered them family, and always treated every person, no matter their color or rank, the same. Unlike many other restaurant operators, he let the servers keep all their tips, allowed flexible hours, and provided benefits. Bob Wian set aside 20% of company profits for employee pensions, requiring no contribution from the workers. One dishwasher retired with over $170,000, a waitress ended up with $600,000.
As Bob’s Big Boy became a larger chain and its reputation spread through the industry, Wian saw a national opportunity. In 1952 he sold his first territorial franchise, to the Elias Brothers, Detroit area restaurateurs. As more franchisees were lined up, they got rights to certain territories and states, including the freedom to “subfranchise” individual units to independent, single-location entrepreneurs. Most were experienced restaurant operators who knew of Bob’s west coast success and the power of the Big Boy idea (McDonald’s did not get around to its own double-decker, the Big Mac, until 1967).
Also in the 1950s, Bob Wian started an employee franchising program, allowing his best people to own their own Bob’s Big Boy restaurants, starting in Phoenix. Everywhere Wian turned, he made others wealthy.
In developing his national system, Bob Wian violated some of the principles of franchise success. He gave the franchisees far more than normal leeway. All of them kept their own names in addition to “Big Boy.” Big franchisees included Frisch’s of Cincinnati, Shoney’s in the Southeast, and Elias Brothers in Michigan. Other popular operators were Eat‘n Park in Western Pennsylvania, Kip’s in Texas, and Azar’s of Fort Wayne, Indiana. In addition to the right to use their own name, these companies had the freedom to change the menu, add their own items, and otherwise divert from a McDonald’s-like “cookie cutter” policy. Marc’s Big Boys in Wisconsin even carried Kentucky Fried Chicken alongside the Big Boys.
Perhaps of most concern, the franchisees even changed the recipe of the Big Boy, so the sandwiches were not consistent from coast to coast.
In addition to these departures from standard franchising methods, Wian charged only a small or zero franchise fee to the other firms. More focused on service and food quality than making every possible penny, Wian only charged the franchisees 1-2% of sales for branding and marketing support, less than most of his competitors. The franchisees often got rich. So did Wian, but not to the degree of the other big franchisors.
This collection of the names of the franchisees indicates how big the Big Boy system became (details on each of these operators is shown at the end of this article):
Over time, the little Big Boy mascot became a national icon. The company distributed millions of Big Boy comic books, originally written by future Marvel comics leader Stan Lee.
Despite the popularity of the Big Boy sandwich and strong marketing, the national system became extremely difficult to manage. Each operator went their own way, often rejecting the ideas coming from the parent company in California. Despite national campaigns on television and magazines, it was difficult to advertise a national brand when your customers first thought of the units as a Frisch’s or a Shoney’s.
Big Boy after Bob Wian
Bob Wian also had other enterprises tied to Bob’s, including a shrimp fishing operation that supplied quality shrimp to the chain. In 1966-67, this operation lost $3 million, causing Bob’s board of directors to seek his resignation or the sale of the company.
After discussions with other restaurant chains, the company was sold to America’s then-largest restaurant company, Marriott. Bob Wian had known J. Willard Marriott for years, as Marriott started out with an A&W root beer stand in Washington, D.C., in 1927. Marriott evolved this start into the highly successful Hot Shoppes chain of coffee shops. (Only in the late 1950s did Marriott begin to experiment with operating hotels).
In 1967, Marriott paid $7 million to acquire the parent Bob’s Big Boy company, including the franchise agreements with all those other firms.
By 1979, the Big Boy name was on display at over 1000 locations, led by Michigan, Ohio, and California, with over 100 restaurants apiece. Yet the low franchise fees and disparate names and menus prevented the chain from having the success of competitors. (Former Bob’s employees also believe that Marriott lowered the quality standards in its pursuit of higher profits).
Marriott, gradually evolving from a restaurant company to a hotel chain (now the world’s largest lodging company), got out of the troubled business. In 1987 they sold the Big Boy operations and rights to the Elias brothers, longtime Michigan franchisees and friends of Bob Wian’s.
Ultimately, that did not work out, with Big Boy shrinking to under 100 locations and declaring bankruptcy in 2000. Today, a few more owners later, and a private equity firm is in control of Big Boy and again signing up new franchises and adding new restaurants. Frisch’s of Cincinnati continues to operate Big Boys, whereas longtime franchisee Shoney’s abandoning the brand in the 1980s. Pittsburgh’s Eat’n Park also continues to prosper, without the Big Boy brand. Perhaps in the future, more people can again try the original double-deck burger, the Big Boy.
Bob Wian died in 1992 at the age of 77. He and his colleagues touched the lives of many Americans. Some of us can still taste that special sauce!
For more on the Big Boy franchisee that served your area, see the list below, copied from Wikipedia.
American Business History Center
Big Boy restaurants were cobranded with at least 34 different names representing various franchisees. These franchisees are listed below with territories, time span, founders, comic book code (in brackets) and additional notes, as known:
- Abdow’s (Western and Central Massachusetts, Connecticut, 1963–1994, founded by George and Ron Abdow and their sister Phyllis Abdow-LaVallee) Abdow’s opened as a Hi-Boy franchisee in 1959, bought a Big Boy franchisee in 1963 and changed the corporate name to Abdow’s Big Boy in 1965. Abdow’s left Big Boy in 1994 over menu conflicts with Elias Brothers and value served for the franchise fees, removing 18 restaurants from the national chain. Now defunct, many converted to Elxsi Corporations’s Bickfords Family Restaurants or remain vacant. [N]
- Adler’s (Lynchburg, Virginia, 1958–1960, founded by Abe Adler) Became a Lendy’s Big Boy, when Adler sold the business to Leonard Goldstein of Lendy’s.
- Arnold’s (Folsom, Pennsylvania, 1955–?, founders unknown) Arnold’s and Tune’s operated in the Philadelphia area.
- Azar’s (Northern Indiana, Colorado, 1953-2020,[note 14] founded by brothers Alex, David and George Azar) Opened in Ft. Wayne, Indiana as a Frisch’s subfranchise and in 1967 expanded to the Denver, Colorado market. Operated 26 units in 1984. Alex Azar’s son, George Azar, became CEO. After closing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the last Azar’s Big Boy closed permanently. Alex Azar became a member of the Big Boy Board of Directors. [T]
- Becker’s (Rochester and Buffalo, New York, 1956–1965, founded by Abe Becker) Shoney’s opened a restaurant in Rochester in the mid 1950s which may have become Becker’s Big Boy. By 1957, Becker’s was operating four Big Boy restaurants in Greater Rochester. Trying to expand too quickly created a financial crisis and the end of the franchise.
- Bob’s (California, Arizona, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Vermont; and Indiana, Ohio, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania toll roads and airport locations operated in several states by the Marriott Corp. or others, 1936+, founded by Robert C. “Bob” Wian) The original Big Boy chain, which in Wian’s time was confined to Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. Because Marriott developed and acquired Big Boy restaurants elsewhere, principally the northeastern U.S., Bob’s developed a more diverse territory and identity. Bob’s in Nevada and Arizona were purchased by JB’s Big Boy. Currently, Bob’s operates only five restaurants – all in Southern California. Bob’s units are the only operators under the domain of the Big Boy Restaurant Group now permitted to use a franchise name for public identity. Wian was the original chairman of the Big Boy Board of Directors. [A]
- Bud’s (Montana, Wyoming, 1966–197?) Operated two units. Acquired by JBs in the 1970s.
- Chez Chap (Westmount, a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, 1978–?, founded by Chapman Baehler) Baehler was Bob Wian’s stepson.
- Don’s (Burlington, Vermont, 1984, founded by Donald Allard) One of several chain restaurants operated by Allard. Restaurant was rebranded as Bob’s Big Boy about 1986, and closed, with plans to construct a Red Lobster Restaurant on the site in 1991. As of 2020, there has been an Olive Garden on that site for some years.
- Eat’n Park (metro Pittsburgh, 1949–1975, founded by Larry Hatch and William Peters) Hatch and Peters were supervisors at Isaly’s in Pittsburgh. On Isaly’s business in Cincinnati, Hatch saw the success of the Frisch’s Big Boy Drive-In prompting contact with founder Bob Wian, who needed national exposure to gain national trademark protection. Within a year Eat’n Park opened as the second Big Boy franchisee. When the 25 year franchise agreement expired Eat’n Park dropped Big Boy, attributed to the loss of drive-in popularity but primarily motivated by the end of the $1 per year license fee the franchise had enjoyed. Pittsburgh area Big Boy rights were reassigned to Elby’s in 1977. [D]
- Elby’s (Northern West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Maryland, 1956–1984, 1988–2000, founded by brothers George, Ellis and Michael Boury) Named after a brand of flavoring syrup sold by the Bourys’ restaurant supply business.[note 15] Originally acquired the Big Boy rights to northern West Virginia through Shoney’s. In 1960 Elby’s expanded into Ohio, licensed through Frisch’s. Six years later, Bob Wian awarded Elby’s franchisor rights to Pennsylvania, excluding the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas; Pittsburgh was awarded Elby’s in 1977. When Frisch’s refused existing terms on a fourth Ohio unit in 1971, Elby’s withdrew from Big Boy affiliation in Ohio, leading to a long running trademark battle by Frisch’s. In August 1984 Elby’s paid $500 thousand to buy out it’s Big Boy franchise, four months after Shoney’s—franchisor for Elby’s West Virginia stores—broke affiliation.[note 16] Opened units in Maryland after leaving Big Boy. The Elby’s name and most company restaurants were sold to Elias Brothers in 1988 becoming Big Boys again. (George and Michael Boury retained nine Ohio units that could not become Big Boys because of nearby Frisch’s operations; they were rebranded as Shoney’s restaurants until placed for sale in 1993.) Although officially stripped of the Elby’s name, identity was so strong that the Elby’s name continued in print advertisements. The last remaining Elby’s closed in 2000 in response to the Elias Brothers financial crisis. [E]
- Elias Brothers (Michigan, Northeastern Ohio, Ontario, Canada, 1952–2000, founded by Fred, John and Louis Elias) In 1938 the brothers opened Fred’s Chili Bowl in Detroit and later the Dixie Drive-In in Hazel Park, which would become the first Elias Brothers Big Boy. Considered the “first official franchisee” because they were the first to formally apply to Bob Wian.: 111 Worked with Wian, Schoenbaum and Manfred Bernhard to create the 1956 Big Boy character design and launch the comic book. Owned the Big Boy system from 1987 through 2000 when the bankrupt company was sold to Robert Liggett. Many Michigan units continue operations stripped of the Elias Brothers name and these are the vast majority (90%) of Big Boy Restaurant Group’s Big Boy stores. Fred Elias became a member of the Big Boy Board of Directors. [F]
- Franklin’s (Eastern Pennsylvania, 1966–1976, founded by Marvin and Joseph Franklin) Subfranchised by and originally operated as Elby’s. Sued Elby’s in 1975 for receiving commissions from approved vendors. inflating prices of supplies, and using continued franchising as an incentive. Elby’s denied the charges, which were settled out of court in 1978. Franklin discontinued use of the Elby’s name in 1976, but initially continued to operate as Big Boy Restaurants.[note 17] Elby’s sued Franklin’s. In August 1978, a federal court cancelled Franklin’s contracts with Elby’s, awarded Elby’s an undisclosed cash settlement and enjoined Franklin’s from use of the “Elby’s” and “Big Boy” names, food items, recipes and other materials. Nonetheless, Franklin’s renamed the “Big Boy” the “Big Ben” and adopted a Benjamin Franklin theme. Elby’s subsequently built new restaurants adjacent to several Franklin’s units. The 12 unit chain was sold to Hershey’s Foods and Friendly’s Restaurants in 1985.
- Frejlach’s (Illinois, 1954–196?, founded by Irvin Frejlach) Added Big Boy to their established chain of ice cream shops. Unlike other franchisees, the stores did not directly use the Big Boy name; they remained Frejlach’s Ice Cream Shoppes not Frejlach’s Big Boy. The company also owned rights to McDonald’s restaurants in Cook County (Chicago), Illinois which were sold back to Ray Kroc in 1956. Irvin’s brother Lucian “Lou” Frejlach became a member of the Big Boy Board of Directors.
- Frisch’s (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee; Florida until the early 1990s, 1947+, founded by David Frisch) The Cincinnati restaurant chain and first franchisee, began serving Big Boy hamburgers in 1946, but opened their first Big Boy Drive-In restaurant in 1948; Frisch’s now operates 96 Big Boys and franchises 25 Big Boys to others. Frisch’s subfranchised to Azar’s and Manners, which used the Frisch’s styled Big Boy, to Milton and David Bennett in 1955, who operate as Frisch’s in northwest Ohio and also licensed Elby’s to operate three Big Boy units in the upper Ohio Valley until 1971. In 2001 Frisch’s became the perpetual owner of the Big Boy trademark in most of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, and received $1.2 million to relinquish all other Big Boy territories to Big Boy Restaurants International, to whom Frisch’s is no longer a franchisee or licensee. On August 24, 2015, Frisch’s was sold to an Atlanta-based private equity fund, ending family ownership and control of the chain. [X]
- JB’s (Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, Kansas, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut; 1961–1988, founded by Jack M. Broberg.) The first JB’s Big Boy opened in 1961 in Provo, Utah. In the 1970s JB’s expanded by acquiring neighboring Big Boy franchisees: Vip’s, Leo’s, Kebo’s and Bud’s. After Marriott refused granting additional territory, in 1984, JB’s sued to leave Big Boy. The parties settled, JB’s paying $7 million in exchange for additional territory, including central and northern California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona where it operated as Bob’s Big Boy; JB’s also purchased 29 existing Bob’s Big Boy restaurants from Marriott. Citing a lack of benefit except use of the Big Boy symbol for its over $1 million annual franchise fees, in 1988 JB’s allowed its Big Boy franchise to expire, removing 110 units from the Big Boy system. As of December 2016, fifteen JB’s Restaurants operate in five states. [H]
- JB’s (Canada – Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, 1969–1979, founded by John Bitove, Sr.) Bitove, a well known Canadian businessman, was the franchisee for Canada generally, along with Roy Rogers Restaurants, both Marriott owned brands. JB’s of Canada grew to 32 Big Boy restaurants before selling to Elias Brothers.
- Kebo’s (Seattle and Tacoma, Washington area before JB’s dba Bob’s, ?–1974, founded by W. Keith Grant.) “Kebo” came from the owners, Keith, Ed and Bob. Two units were sold to JB’s in 1974.
- Ken’s (Maryland, Washington DC, 1963–?, founded by Bill Bemis) named in honor of Bill Bemis’ father Ken Bemis, who founded the White Log Coffee Shop chain. Three Maryland Ken’s Big Boys operated in 1969. “Ken’s” became “Bob’s” in the early 1970s. [K]
- Kip’s (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, 1958–1991, founded Fred Bell, Thomas W. Holman and James Reed) Bell owned and operated Kip’s of Texas, while Holman and Reed owned and operated Kip’s of Oklahoma and Kansas. Acquired by Frisch’s in 1972. Kip’s territory was transferred to Big Boy Restaurants International in 2001. Bell became an original member of the Big Boy Board of Directors. [B]
- Lendy’s (Western Virginia, 1955–1964, founded by Leonard Goldstein) Owned by Goldstein but operated as Shoney’s 1955–1959. Territory proximity to Yoda’s angered Goldstein and concurrent franchise with Kentucky Fried Chicken antagonized franchisor Alex Schoenbaum, prompting Lendy’s to leave Big Boy. Renamed the “Big Boy” hamburger as the “Buddy Boy” and created a Buddy Boy mascot similar to Frisch’s Big Boy character. Goldstein replaced the Big Boy statues with statues of Buddie Boy.
- Leo’s (Spokane, Washington, Montana, 1966–1971, founded by Leo A. Hansen, Jr.) The first Leo’s Big Boy opened in Great Falls, Montana in 1966. Grew to four units before being acquired by and renamed JB’s in 1971, Hansen becoming a vice-president of JB’s Big Boy.
- Manners (Northeastern Ohio (Cleveland TV market), 1954–1979, founded by Robert L. and Ramona Manners) Franchisee through Frisch’s, used the Frisch styled mascot design. Like Frisch’s, Manners was already established having opened Manners Drive-In in 1939, 15 years before becoming a Big Boy franchisee. Paid Frisch’s $10 per month for each location. In 1968 Manners Big Boy was sold to Consolidated Foods (now known as Sara Lee Corporation). Marriott purchased the 39 units in 1974 and five years later dropped the name “Manners”. Marriott sold 26 remaining restaurants to Elias Brothers in 1985. [W]
- Marc’s (Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, 1958–1995, founded by Ben Marcus and Gene Kilburg) Owned by the Marcus Corporation, Marc’s Big Boy debuted in Milwaukee in November 1958. The chain grew to 4 units by 1962, 22 units by 1970, doubling this number within 4 years and eventually operated as many as 64 Big Boys over a 4 state territory. Among these, acquiring Illinois Top’s Big Boy restaurants by 1974—rebranding those in Chicago suburbs Marc’s. In 1989, Marc’s Big Boy Corporation was renamed Marc’s Restaurants and a two-year experiment launched completely removing Big Boy at two of its stores, the test demonstrating no effect on business. In 1992, the Marc’s format was upscaled and renamed Marc’s Big Boy Cafes; in 1993 13 Big Boy Cafes were converted to Marc’s Cafe and Coffee Mills, and the company launched 2 Big Boy Express drive-thru stores.[note 18] The following year, the 13 Cafe and Coffee Mill restaurants were sold to a group of employees, with 3 remaining Big Boys and 2 Big Boy Express units offered for sale. In 1995, the company closed its last Big Boy operation. Some former units later operated as Annie’s American Cafe and as Perkins Restaurants. However, in 2017 the Marcus Corporation sold Big Boy hamburgers at the Kil@wat restaurant in its downtown Milwaukee hotel; in March 2017, the sandwich is priced at $11 on the lunch menu and $12 on the dinner menu both served with fries. [J] Now known as Aria Café and Bar at Saint Kate hotel, as of 2019 the Big Boy goes for $15. [J]
- Mark’s (Hyattsville, Maryland, 1960–1962?) A single unit existed at 3050 East-West Parkway, Hyattsville, which was a Ken’s Big Boy in 1964.
- McDowell’s (North Dakota, 1954–1960 independently as “Big Boy Drive-Inn”, 1960+ as franchise, founded by Harley McDowell) A trademark infringement suit against McDowell was filed by Wian in 1959 ultimately resulting in a franchise agreement. Operates exclusively as a drive through. McDowell’s name was dropped and the remaining store is now called the Bismarck Big Boy. Along with Big Boy hamburgers, the single restaurant sells flying pizza-burgers and french fries by the pound with chicken gravy. [L]
- Mr. B’s (New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, 1963–1969, founded by Manfred Bernhard): 75  Operated a restaurant in Keene, New Hampshire and Brattleboro, Vermont.
- Shap’s (Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1959–1964?, founded by I. Shapiro, Pem Cooley, and E. D. Latimer) Franchised by Shoney’s. Shap’s was abbreviated for Shapiro’s. Operated two small units in Chattanooga. Latimer bought out the other partners and changed the name to its franchisor’s, Shoney’s.
- Shoney’s/Parkette (Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Philadelphia, PA, 1952–1984,[note 19] founded by Alex Schoenbaum), Originally called the Parkette, in 1952 it became Parkette Big Boy Shoppes. An unrelated “Parkette Drive-In” had opened in Kentucky so in 1954, a public contest for a new name resulted in Parkette becoming Shoney’s, which was also a reference to founder Alex “Shoney” Schoenbaum. Shoney’s also subfranchised to Arnold’s, Becker’s, Elby’s, Lendy’s, Shap’s, Tune’s, and Yoda’s., and many using the Shoney’s name. Ray Danner, the Nashville Shoney’s franchisee purchased the company in 1971 and five years later dropped Big Boy from the company name.[note 20] In April 1984 Shoney’s—by then the largest Big Boy franchisee with 392 units—paid $13 million to break its contract with Big Boy, allowing expansion into Frisch’s and other franchisees’ Big Boy territories. Schoenbaum became a member of the Big Boy Board of Directors. [M][P]
- Ted’s (Rhode Island, 1964–?, founded by Edmund D. Fuller III)
- TJ’s (Rochester, Batavia and Syracuse, New York, 1972–?, founded by Anthony T. Kolinski, John Gazda and John Giamartino) Grew to 9 stores by 1986. TJ’s was purchased by Big Boy (Elias Brothers). Elias closed 4 stores in 1992 and sold one Syracuse store to a local investor. It closed 3 more Syracuse restaurants in 1994.
- Tops (Illinois, 1956–1993, founded by Lucian Frejlach) Operated primarily in the suburbs of Chicago. By 1974, the Chicago area stores became Marc’s Big Boys, while the central Illinois units remained Tops. [Q]
- Tote’s (Missouri, 1964–197?, founded by Edward R. Todtenbier) Todtenbier was a Frisch’s franchisee in Anderson, Indiana, and planned to open 33 Tote’s Big Boys in Missouri, 9 in the St. Louis area. In 1972 the Missouri Big Boy territory was reassigned to Shoney’s. [U]
- Tune’s (Philadelphia and Levittown, Pennsylvania, 1956–1963, founded by Jack Engel) In the mid to late 1950s Alex Schoenbaum seeded various franchises including Tune’s. Two drive-in restaurants opened. By the early 1960s, the Levittown unit closed and the other was rebranded as Shoney’s.
- Vip’s (New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, 1962–1982. founded by Daniel T. Hogan and James O’Conner) Vip’s refers to two distinct restaurant chains. The Big Boy franchisee relevant here, Vip’s Big Boy of New Mexico, was acquired by JB’s Big Boy in 1972 but continued using the Vip’s name until rebranded in 1982. The other, Vip’s Restaurants of Salem, Oregon, was not a Big Boy franchisee but sold units to JB’s Big Boy, which operated them as Bob’s Big Boy. The non-Big Boy, Salem-based chain had 53 locations at its peak, all sold and rebranded, including 35 to Denny’s in 1982 and 16 to JB’s in 1984. [R]
- Yoda’s (Western Virginia, founded by Jack Young and Bill Schroeder) Young was Leonard Goldstein’s (Lendy’s) brother-in-law. Merged with Lendy’s.
Outside the United States
Mady’s Big Boy of Windsor, Ontario, was not a franchisee, though sometimes identified as one and using a similar looking mascot. In 1965 Bob Wian sued Mady’s for trademark infringement but failed because (his) Big Boy was judged not widely known in Canada. The case is considered important in Canadian and international trademark law. In 1973 Elias Brothers bought Mady’s and established an Elias Big Boy on Mady’s original site.John Bitove, Sr. owned the rights to Big Boy for the remainder of Canada, which he sold to Elias Brothers in 1979. During the mid to late 1980’s there was one in Nassau, Bahamas.
Big Boy also operated (or planned to open) restaurants in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Brazil, the Philippines and Thailand.
Outside of North America, Big Boy Japan owns and operates 274 Big Boy Hamburger Steak & Grill Restaurants in Japan. Founded in 1977, Big Boy Japan now also operates 45 Victoria Station restaurants in Japan and is a subsidiary of Zénsho Holdings Co., Ltd. The Japanese Big Boy Restaurants do not offer the Big Boy hamburger or most other American Big Boy menu items, offering a distinct menu instead. They also offer beer and wine. Zensho had purchased Big Boy Japan from the ailing Daiei in 2002 for 8.65 billion yen. Like Frisch, Big Boy Japan operates independently of the Big Boy Restaurant Group.
Southeast Asia and Western Pacific
In 2019, Singapore-based Destination Eats signed a franchise agreement with the Big Boy Restaurant Group to initially open restaurants in Thailand, and later in Australia, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and the Philippines. In May 2020, the first Thai Big Boy restaurant opened in Bangkok, operated as a delivery only service due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A second restaurant was opened in Pattaya in October 2020. The company is obligated to open 70 restaurants in its overall territory.
A previous franchise briefly operated at the beginning of the 21st century with three Big Boy restaurants in Bangkok and one in the southern beach town of Pattaya, but the business ultimately failed because the native Thai customers did not understand nor appreciate American-style food at that time. The restaurants adapted the menu to local tastes. Some Thai customers regarded the Big Boy statues as religious icons or had superstitions about them.
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