Burger Chef

Burger Chef

Infobox Defunct company
company_name = Burger Chef
slogan =
company_type =
fate = Bankruptcy
successor = Hardee's
foundation = 1954
defunct = ca. 1996
location = Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
industry = Restaurant
products = Hamburgers
French fries
Soft drinks
key_people =
num_employees =
parent =
subsid =

Burger Chef was an American fast-food restaurant chain founded in 1954 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The chain expanded throughout the United States, and at its peak, it was second only to McDonald's in the number of locations nationwide. The chain featured several signature items such as the Big Shef and Super Shef burgers.

Due to financial troubles in the 1980s, the chain was gradually sold off to Hardee's. The final Burger Chef closed in 1996, but many of the chain's restaurants survive as Hardee's or various other fast-food establishments.


In 1954, Frank and Donald Thomas patented the Flame Broiler and started their own restaurant in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1956, they changed the name of their restaurant to "Burger Chef". In the late 1950s, they created the first "value combo" as a burger, fries, and soft drink for 45¢ (50¢ with a milkshake).

Burger Chef was enormously popular and spread across both the West Coast and the East Coast, eventually becoming second only to McDonald's in terms of number of locations. They offered a signature double-burger called the Big Shef, and later the quarter pound burger Super Shef. Later on, they pioneered the "Works Bar", where customers could dress their burgers with condiments and vegetables exactly as they wanted.

In 1968, the chain was purchased by the General Foods Corporation, which continued its rapid expansion. By 1970, they had nearly 2,400 locations and a re-designed building and logo. The chain's mascots were called Burger Chef and Jeff (the latter a juvenile sidekick to the former). The Chef character was voiced by Paul Winchell. In the early 1970s, the chain introduced first the Funburger, then the Funmeal, with specially-printed packaging that included stories about Burger Chef and Jeff's adventures and friends (including the magician Burgerini, vampire Count Fangburger, talking ape Burgerilla, and Cackleburger the witch), with riddles, puzzles, and small toys. Other premiums included flexi-disc recordings, with more stories. When McDonald's introduced their similarly-themed Happy Meal in 1978, the chain sued McDonald's, but ultimately lost.

General Foods soon proved unable to support the company's growth. In 1982, the corporation sold Burger Chef to the Canadian company Imasco, which also owned Hardee's. Many locations were converted into Hardee's restaurants, except for ones that were located near existing Hardee's.

The franchisees of those locations were allowed extra time to convert to other brands; one Burger Chef in Cookeville, Tennessee, through the courts, was able to keep its original name until 1996, when it finally changed its name to Pleaser's. Several Burger Chefs in southern Indiana had converted to the Pleaser's name after the initial buyout. The Pleaser's in Cookeville remained open until 2002 and one in Bedford, Indiana lasted until 2004. Many Burger Chef locations located in Louisiana and Mississippi became the fast-food restaurant chain called Mr. Cook, but financial troubles caused that chain to close many of its restaurants between 1993 and 1997. The Burger Chef in Jacksonville, Illinois was converted to "CR's Drive In", which has remained successful and open today. It continues to offer Burger Chef french fries.

Hardee's brought back the Big Shef burger on a limited-time basis in 2001 at select Midwestern locations, and has done so again as of April 2007. [http://money.aol.com/news/articles/_a/hardeesr-brings-back-burger-chefr-big/n20070423125109990012]

Trademark controversy

The "limited" return of Hardee's version of the Big Shef has brought with it a suit filed against Hardee's Food Systems in the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office by River West Brands, LLC, of Chicago, Illinois. The suit cites the "abandonment" of the Burger Chef trademark.

Not long after the January 2007 challenge was filed, Hardee's did a "test run" of the Big Shef in Terre Haute, Indiana. After a strong response to the product, Hardee's expanded its Big Shef offering to other Indiana, Ohio and Missouri stores. The Big Shef reissue was accompanied with advertisements using the Burger Chef name and logo. While Hardee's claimed that re-releasing the Big Shef was to provide Burger Chef fans with a nostalgic "fix", it has been claimed that the move was little more than an attempt to prevent the revival of Burger Chef restaurants by trying to protect itself from the trademark dispute. The case is still pending.


In the mid-1970s, Burger Chef toasted the buns for its Super Shef, Big Shef, cheeseburger and hamburger on a hot-plate conveyor mechanism that used coconut oil. This was accomplished in less than 60 seconds using a temperature of about 400° Fahrenheit. The open flame broiler was used to cook frozen meat patties from frozen to fully cooked in less than a minute. The broiler ran at a temperature of about 700° Fahrenheit.

Regular fries were to weigh approximately 2.25 ounces and were packaged in a small white paper sack. Large fries weighed approximately 3.5 ounces, and were packaged in a red collapsible paperboard carton. Beverages on the menu included coffee, non-carbonated orange and lemonade, a type of Coca-Cola, Sprite and root beer. Milkshake flavors were vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Strawberry shakes were made by adding flavoring syrup to the vanilla shake.

Other offerings included the Skipper's Treat (fish) and apple & cherry turnovers, which were deep fried. Some Burger Chefs offered hot "ham & cheese" or roast beef sandwiches in a Styrofoam container. They came pre-assembled and were kept refrigerated, to be heated in a microwave oven before being served.

In the mid-1970s, Super Shefs sold for 89¢, Big Shefs for 79¢, cheeseburgers for 25¢, hamburgers for 20¢, and large & small soft drinks for 25¢ and 20¢, respectively. The restaurant chain switched from animal-based shortening to vegetable-based shortening during this period. Tuesdays at Burger Chef were called "Family Fun Nites" where Funmeals were offered for a special price. Usually, an employee costumed as a pirate, ape, or clown would wave at passing traffic to attract business.

One of Burger Chef's later offerings was "The Rancher". This consisted of an over-sized hamburger patty without a bun or condiments, with Texas Toast and fries, served table-side, which was a concept adopted by Hardee's and Carl's Jr.

Other innovations

In the mid 1970s, Burger Chef fryers were fitted with temperature-compensated French fry timers. If one basket of frozen fries was dropped into a fryer, a lesser time was required to complete the cooking than if two baskets were dropped at the same time. By measuring oil temperature, the timing cycle was altered so that the alarm would always signal perfectly cooked French fries.

At a condiment station, ketchup and mustard were applied in exact amounts by pumps that were operated by electrically-powered solenoids. The bun heel was put under nozzles that were surrounded by a trigger ring. As the bun heel was raised against the ring, two dime-sized spots, each of ketchup and mustard, were applied to the hamburger. Since the Super Shef required only ketchup, the same station was used, but a button needed to be pressed to dispense ketchup only. The mustard and ketchup had to have exactly the proper consistency for this machine to work. If too thick, the machine would quickly clog; if too thin, the mustard and ketchup would "splat" past the bun when the ring was engaged.

Electric Bun Toaster

Another innovative device was the electric bun toaster. The two bun pieces were placed on a chain conveyor, inside section down. The small entrance conveyor pushed the bun onto a stainless roller that applied a mixture of coconut or palm oil to the bun. After leaving the roller, the bun was dragged over a Teflon-coated hot plate by an overhead chain conveyor that drooped upon the top of the bun. The process took less than one minute. On the assembly line, corresponding meat patties were cooked in the broiler from frozen to final in about the same length of time.

Plastic Sandwich Bag

For a while, Burger Chef experimented with a plastic sandwich bag. The problem with plastic bags was that they captured too much condensation given off by the hot sandwiches. They thus made part of the bun soggy, and customers reported disliking the moisture droplets that collected in the bag. Burger Chef soon switched back to sandwich paper.

Many of the earlier-designed Burger Chefs had the feature of glass windows on both sides of the area where the sandwiches were assembled. Customers dining inside the Burger Chef could watch their sandwiches being made. This encouraged the employees to keep the assembly area generally neat and clean, and convinced the customer that the premises was basically sanitary.


Burger Chef frequently ran promotions for special products during holidays like Halloween and Christmas. Burger Chef also ran one of the earliest television tie-ins in the early 1970s, when it periodically offered a "Batburger" based on the original Batman television show. The "Batburger" was a regular small hamburger that came in a paper wrapper with Batman's "bat shadow" logo printed on it.

Fun Meal

Burger Chef was also notable for pioneering the children's meal with toy combination, called the "Funmeal". This was later adopted by McDonald's as the Happy Meal. Burger Chef was also among the first companies to offer Star Wars-related premiums when the was released in 1977. The Burger Chef Funmeal consisted of a paperboard tray that kept a burger, fries, soft drink and toy in cut-outs designated for each. A pop-up background completed the tray. Also offered as a Funmeal in the 1980s was a thin, plastic, two- piece boat that separated in the middle. Food was placed inside this plastic boat when Funmeals were ordered. Other Fun Meal premiums offered thin plastic "records", which played an episode of the adventures of Burger Chef and Jeff, as well as a plastic token that could be redeemed at the end of the meal for a frozen treat similar to a Popsicle.

Burger Chef also introduced the "Works Bar" to enable buyers to put condiments on their burgers as they saw fit, followed by the first national Salad Bar. In "CR'S Drive In" of Jacksonville, Illinois, a former Burger Chef location, the Works Bar continued to be offered for years.


ee also

*Burger Chef murders

External links

* [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pno=92046880&pty=CAN&eno=4/ Hardee's is being challenged for the Burger Chef Trademark in 2007]
* [http://www.allbusiness.com/north-america/united-states-indiana/358297-1.html] Frank Thomas

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