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How Fast Food Chains Got Their Names

Updated on July 31, 2018
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Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She researches and shares remedies for using certain products for illnesses.

When you are eating food from your favorite fast-food chain, do you wonder how the restaurant got its name? Did the chain come up with the name on the spot, or did someone put a lot of thought into it? You will be surprised to know how some of the restaurants got their names.

It is interesting that some of the names you know today might not have been the original name of the restaurant.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A was founded by S. Truett Cathy in 1946 that originally sold hamburgers. In 1961, Cathy found a pressure-fryer that could cook chicken in the same amount of time it took to cook a hamburger.

Cathy renamed his restaurant from The Dwarf House to Chick-fil-A, which is a play on the word fillet. Today, the chain specializes in chicken sandwiches in more than 2,200 restaurants.

The Dwarf House might not have been successful because the name didn't give a clue about what the restaurant was selling.

Chipotle

Founder Steve Ells came up with the name Chipotle on July 13, 1993. He said it was just like a light bulb went off in his head. Others did not like the name. They said it was too hard to pronounce. Besides, no one knew what the name meant, but Ells stuck with it.

Today, Chipotle is a popular Mexican grill headquartered in Denver, Colorado specializing in burritos and other Mexican foods in about 2,250 locations.

For your information, chipotle is a Spanish word that means a smoked and usually a dried jalapeño pepper. The pepper is clearly seen on the restaurant's logo.

Domino’s

On December 9, 1960, brothers Jim and Tom Monaghan bought a Ypsilanti, Michigan pizza shop called DomiNick’s. The original owner didn't allow the brothers to use the same name. Rushing to come up with a name for an ad deadline for the telephone directory, a delivery driver named Jim Kennedy helped the brothers out and came up with Domino’s Pizza.

Domino's is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In February 2018, the chain became the largest pizza seller worldwide in terms of sales. It has 13,811 locations worldwide.

Hardee's

Hardee's was named after its owner, Wilber Hardee, who opened his first restaurant in Greenville, North Carolina on September 3, 1960. At that time, prices were extremely low. Here are some examples:

  • hamburgers: 15 cents
  • cheeseburgers: 20 cents
  • fries: 10 cents
  • apple turnovers: 15 cents
  • milk: 12 cents
  • coffee: 10 cents
  • sodas: 10 and 15 cents
  • milkshakes: 20 cents.

With those prices, customers could eat a complete meal for less than a dollar. Needless to say, prices today in Hardee's 5,812 locations are a lot more.

KFC

KFC, formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken, was founded on March 20, 1930 by Harland Sanders based in Louisville, Kentucky. He started out selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant during the Great Depression.

The name was changed in 1991 because health conscious people didn't like the word "fried" in the title even though that was what they were eating. KFC is the world's second-largest restaurant chain by sales after McDonald's with over 20,952 locations worldwide.

Most people think Colonel Sanders was a real military official. Because of his community service and accomplishments, the official title was bestowed on him by the governor of Kentucky in 1950. After then, he was never seen in public without his colonel's attire.

Long John Silver's

Long John Silver's was formerly known as Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppe. It specializes in seafood. The restaurant is named after Long John Silver, a main character in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island.

The chain was founded on August 18, 1969, and is headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky.

McDonald's

Dick and Maurice McDonald opened a small hamburger place in San Bernardino, California on May 15, 1940. Businessman Ray Kroc bought a McDonald's franchise in Chicago, Illinois in 1955. He later bought the entire company. Kroc kept the brothers' name and made McDonald's what it is today.

Needless to say, it was a wise investment. Today, there are more than 37,000 locations worldwide. It is the world's largest restaurant chain by sales. The chain serves over 69 million customers daily in over 100 countries.

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut was founded by Dan and Frank Carney in Wichita, Kansas on June 15, 1958 when the brothers were college students. They wanted a name that was short enough to keep the price of the sign low.

Today, Pizza Hut is headquartered in Plano, Texas and has over 16,796 restaurants worldwide making it the world's largest pizza chain in terms of locations.

Popeyes

Many people might think Popeyes is named after the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor, but that's not true. The chicken restaurant was named after the fictional detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle in the movie The French Connection. The chain later was allowed to use Popeye the Sailor for marketing purposes since so many people knew about the character.

The fried chicken fast food restaurant was founded on June 12, 1972 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Its original names were Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits and Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken & Biscuits. The full name today is Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. However, people call it just Popeyes.

Unlike McDonald's and Hardee's, Popeyes does not have an apostrophe in its name. The owner joked that he didn't have enough money to pay for an apostrophe.

With over 2,600 locations in more than 40 states and 30 countries, Popeyes is the second-largest quick-service chicken chain after KFC.

Starbucks

Among the millions of people who visit Starbucks, perhaps not many of them know that the coffee shop was named after Starbuck, a character in the novel Moby Dick. When the store first opened in Seattle, Washington on March 31, 1971, three partners added an "s" to the character's name.

The threesome considered other names from Moby Dick. Aren't you glad they did not settle on Cargo House or Pequod? Today, Starbucks has about 28,218 locations nationwide.

Subway

On August 28, 1965, Frank DeLuca and his friend Peter Buck opened Pete’s Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The pair changed the name to “Pete’s Subway” a few years later. They shortened the name again and settled on just Subway.

Today, Subway is one of the fastest-growing franchises in the world with about 45,000 stores in more than 100 countries.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell is a fast food chain based in Irvine, California. It is one of a few restaurants that is named after the founder. Glen Bell first opened a hot dog stand called Bell's. A bell is part of the restaurant's logo.

On March 21, 1962, he launched Taco Bell that serves tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and other Mexican foods. As of 2018, Taco Bell serves more than 2 billion customers annually at restaurants in about 7,000 locations.

Wendy’s

Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. Wendy was the nickname of his fourth child, Melinda. He had five children, but none of the other names had a ring to it for a restaurant. Even though Wendy is an adult now, the redhead little girl is pictured in stores in over 6,500 locations worldwide.

Dave had three other daughters, Pam, Lori and Molly, and a son, Kenny. After Dave's death, his daughters own and run some of Wendy's locations. Before his death, Dave founded the chain Sisters Chicken and Biscuits in 1978 in honor of his other three daughters.

Whataburger

Whataburger is a privately held regional fast food restaurant chain, based in San Antonio, Texas that specializes in hamburgers. Whataburger should not be confused with What-A-Burger (with hyphens) chain of family-operated restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Whataburger, founded by Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton, opened its first restaurant on August 8, 1950. There are currently 824 Whataburger stores in the Southeastern and Southwestern states.

Dobson wanted to sell a square hamburger that was five inches. His desire was to hear customers exclaim, “What a burger!” That's why his chain is named Whataburger. Other sandwiches available include the following:

  • Whataburger Jr.
  • Justaburger
  • a fish sandwich named Watchacatch
  • a chicken sandwich named Whatachick'n

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