A&W Restaurants

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A&W Restaurants, Inc.
IndustryFast food
Founded1919; 102 years ago (1919)[1] in Lodi, California
United States[2]
Number of locations
Area served
United States and Asia
Key people
Kevin Bazner (CEO)
Dale Mulder (Chairman)[3]
ProductsHot dogs, root beer, cheese curds, hamburgers, chicken
RevenueIncrease $330 million[3] (2020)
OwnerA Great American Brand, LLC

A&W Restaurants is an American chain of fast-food restaurants distinguished by its burgers, draft root beer and root beer floats.[4][5] Its origins date back to 1919 when Roy W. Allen set up a roadside drink stand to offer a new thick and creamy drink, root beer, at a parade honoring returning World War I veterans in Lodi, California.[6][4] Allen's employee Frank Wright partnered with him in 1922 and they founded their first restaurant in Sacramento, California, in 1923.[1] The company name was taken respectively from the initials of their last names—Allen and Wright. The company became famous in the United States for its "frosty mugs," where the mugs would be kept in the freezer and eventually get filled with A&W Root Beer before they were served to customers.

Evolving into a franchise in 1926, the company today has locations in the United States, Canada, Australia and certain South-East Asian countries, serving a typical fast-food menu of hamburgers, French fries, and hot dogs.[7] A number of outlets serve as drive-in restaurants that have carhops.[8] Previously owned by Yum! Brands, the chain was sold in December 2011 to a consortium of A&W franchisees through A Great American Brand, LLC.[5][9] A&W restaurants in Canada have been part of a separate and unaffiliated chain since 1972.


An American A&W restaurant in Page, Arizona

On June 20, 1919, Roy W. Allen opened his first root beer stand in Lodi, California. Four years later, A&W began when Allen and Frank Wright opened their drive-in restaurant in Sacramento, California, combining both of their initials for the name, and selling the root beer from Allen's stand. Curbside service was provided by tray boys and tray girls. In 1924, Allen purchased Frank Wright's stake in the business. In 1925, Allen began franchising the root beer, while the franchisee added the other menu items and operated at their discretion. This may have arguably been the first successful food-franchising operation. Allen sold the company in 1950 and retired.[6]


A 1950s A&W Burger Family display in Hillsboro, Oregon[10]

In the expansion years of the 1950s and 1960s, franchisees were signing 20- or 25-year contracts under the older model.[6] The chain expanded into Canada in 1956, opening restaurants in Winnipeg and Montreal. By 1960, A&W had 2,000 restaurants.[4][11] In 1963, the chain opened its first store on Okinawa.[12] In the following years, the chain branched into other foreign markets, including the Philippines and Malaysia.[4]

Dale Mulder opened up a Lansing, Michigan, A&W franchise in 1961.[6] Mulder added to his menu in 1963 the bacon cheeseburger after a customer made repeated orders for bacon to be added to his cheeseburger. Thus A&W is credited with inventing the bacon cheeseburger.[13]

United Fruit Co. and United Brands Company subsidiary[edit]

In 1963, the company was sold again, followed by another sale in 1967 to United Fruit Co. conglomerate. AMK Corporation purchased United Fruit in 1970. Then AMK formed United Brands Company to hold A&W.[6][4]

In 1971, A&W Beverages Inc.—a beverage subsidiary—began supplying bottled A&W products to grocery stores. The bottled products would become available nationally.[6] In 1972, A&W's Canadian division was sold to Unilever.

In the 1970s, A&W had more stores than McDonald's,[14] with a peak in 1974 of 2,400 units.[6] Oshkosh, Wisconsin, franchise manager Jim Brajdic said: "Problems back then, including a lawsuit, franchisee discontent and inconsistencies in the operation, caused the chain to flounder and branches to close."[14] A&W moved to a modern style franchise agreement which introduced royalty payments and new standards. However, as their 20- or 25-year original agreements expired, many franchisees refused the revised terms.

A&W in the 1980s began offering the Third Pounder to compete with McDonald's Quarter Pounder. The Third beat the Quarter in taste test and was less expensive. All of this was cited in the marketing of the burger. Possibly customers assumed that the Third Pounder had less meat than the Quarter Pounder, thus refusing to buy it.[15]

Taubman Investment Co. subsidiary[edit]

In 1982, A. Alfred Taubman purchased A&W[16] and placed under Taubman Investment Co.[6] Taubman only purchased the restaurant company and not A&W Beverages. The chain dropped to fewer than 500 locations in the mid-1980s. A freeze on issuing franchises was put in place.[6]

A&W Great Food Restaurants[edit]

A new format concept, A&W Great Food Restaurants, was developed. Ten corporate-owned locations were opened to test the concept, which was a sit-down, upscale, family-theme restaurant with a large salad bar and homemade ice cream.[6]

In 1987, the company was headquartered in Livonia, Michigan and Mulder became CEO and president. The freeze was lifted and a push occurred in 1986 that added 60 franchise units.[6] In 1989, A&W made an agreement with Minnesota-based Carousel Snack Bars to convert that chain's 200 stores (mostly kiosks in shopping malls) to A&W Hot Dogs & More.[17][18] Some A&W Hot Dogs & More are still operating.[14]

Yorkshire Global Restaurants subsidiary[edit]

In 1995, Taubman sold A&W to Sidney Feltenstein.[16] A&W merged with Long John Silver's to form Yorkshire Global Restaurants based in Lexington, Kentucky. Yorkshire in 2000 agreed to test multi-branded locations with Tricon Global Restaurants. By March 2002, the Yorkshire-Tricon multi-branding test consisted of 83 KFC/A&Ws, six KFC/Long John Silver's and three Taco Bell/Long John Silver's and was considered successful by the companies.[19]

In the late 2000s, A&W added franchises with a nostalgic look and modern technology. They have a carhop design with drive-thrus and some have picnic tables.[14]

Yum! Brands subsidiary[edit]

A co-branded A&W and Long John Silver's in Gillette, Wyoming

Yorkshire in March 2002 merged with Tricon Global Restaurants to form Yum! Brands.[19][20]

A&W opened its first outlet in Bangladesh on 15 December 2010. There are currently two outlets; one in Dhanmondi and another in Gulshan.[21]

Most A&W stores that opened in the U.S. during Yum!'s ownership were co-branded with another of Yum!'s chains—Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, or KFC.[7]

A Great American Brand subsidiary[edit]

In January 2011, Yum! Brands announced its intention to sell A&W along with Long John Silver's. Citing poor sales for both divisions, Yum! planned to focus on international expansion for its remaining brands, with particular emphasis on growth in China.[22] In September 2011, Yum! announced that it would sell the chain to A Great American Brand, a consortium of various A&W franchisees in the United States and overseas.[20] The sale was finalized on December 19, 2011, under the leadership of returning CEO Kevin M. Bazner.[9]

In early 2013, A&W introduced its first new product in several years: a six-ounce version of its soft-serve blended dessert treat. Mini Polar Swirls were the first product to be launched on Vine.[23] The following summer, 250 of A&W's restaurants began hand-breading their chicken tenders, moving towards higher-quality menu items and expanding their chicken category. In April 2014, the Hand-Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich was added to the menu as a limited time offering, along with a campaign to create the world's longest branded hashtag.[24] In June 2014, A&W launched two new flavors of its Polar Swirl dessert treat: Sour Patch Kids and Nutter Butter.[citation needed]

In October 2013, A&W opened its first new concept restaurant, A&W Burgers Chicken Floats.[25] The new concept focuses on fresh made-to-order food and heavily emphasizes customer service. The menu features burgers made with fresh beef and a choice of toppings, hand-breaded chicken tenders, all beef hot dogs and several sides.

In April 2019, A&W returned to Singapore after a 16-year absence.[26]

In June 2019, A&W became the first franchise restaurant chain to turn 100.[27]

There are nearly 1,000 A&W Restaurants worldwide with approximately 600 in the U.S.[27]


The roadside sign in front of the Middlebury, Vermont, location

In the 1960s, a character named Chubby Chicken appeared on all Chubby burgers.[28]

In 1963, A&W introduced four choices of hamburgers and their corresponding Burger Family members: Papa Burger, Mama Burger, Teen Burger, and Baby Burger.[28][29][10] Each burger had a wrapper featuring a cartoon image of the corresponding character.

Rooty, the Great American Root Bear, originated in Canada in 1974 as a counter to the competition to Ronald McDonald of McDonald's[4][7] and first appeared in the United States in 1976. However, the character's introduction was almost aborted when marketing received focus group research results that reported a poor reaction to him[citation needed]. In reaction, the Marketing Director, acting on instinct about the appeal of the character, ordered the researcher to return to Toronto with the cover story that he never presented that report. The researcher complied and Rooty was presented to the franchisees as is. As such, Rooty proved a popular marketing success.[30]

Throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, Rooty was the face of A&W, both the bottled drinks and the restaurant chain, on television and print advertising. His presence all but disappeared in the late 1990s, but in 2011, under new ownership, Rooty has come out of retirement. He has since been featured in print ads, on A&W's website, as the voice of their official Twitter account, and in a variety of YouTube and Vine videos.[31] In 2013, Rooty became the first mascot to have an official LinkedIn profile,[32] which was quickly shut down as Rooty was not considered "real" by the authorities at Linkedin.[31]

In 1998, the characters from the comic strip "Blondie", including Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, were licensed for use at A&W franchisees as part of an "All American Food" campaign.[33]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jakle, John A.; Sculle, Keith A. (1999). Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9780801869204. Retrieved 2013-08-25 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Sloan, Scott (9 December 2011). "A&W returning headquarters to Lexington". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  3. ^ a b c "May 2021 A&W Fact Sheet" (PDF). May 26, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Smith, A.F. (2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford Companions. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-19-530796-2. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Patton, Janet (August 4, 2017). "After Yum, A&W returned to its roots: Real root beer, burgers". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Deck, Cecilia (November 19, 1989). "Fast-food Pioneer A&w Survives To Map Comeback". Chicago Tribune. Tribune Publishing. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Smith, A.F. (2012). Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We Love to Eat. Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of what We Love to Eat. ABC-CLIO. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-313-39393-8. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  8. ^ Restaurant Business. Restaurant Business. 1995. p. 182. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  9. ^ a b "It's Final! Franchisees Buy Out Franchisor A&W". Blue Maumau. 23 December 2011. Archived from the original on 22 April 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  10. ^ a b Baskas, H. (2010). Oregon Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, and Other Offbeat Stuff. Curiosities Series. Globe Pequot Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-7627-6201-9. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  11. ^ "A&W Restaurant History". A & W Root Beer Stand. November 1, 1994. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  12. ^ Fackler, Martin (February 20, 2012). "Where the Songs Linger, but the Tune Is Different". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Jason, Jason (June 22, 2015). "14 Things You Didn't Know About A&W Restaurants". Thrillist. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d Wallenfang, Maureen (24 September 2008). "A&W chain banks on state for its rebirth". Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent. pp. A-10.
  15. ^ Green, Elizabeth (July 23, 2014). "Why Do Americans Stink at Math?". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Burke, Heather (April 18, 2015). "Alfred Taubman, Mall Developer, Ex-Sotheby's Chair, Dies at 91". Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  17. ^ Knight, Peter & Annette (2009). "A&W Root Beer - Our History". awrootbeer.com. Archived from the original on 11 August 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  18. ^ Michel, George (1991). "A&W prexy sets pace for growth in the '90s - A&W Restaurants". Nation's Restaurant News. Archived from the original on 2012-06-29.
  19. ^ a b "Tricon Global Restaurants announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Long John Silver's and A&W All American Food Restaurants, owned by Yorkshire Global Restaurants" (Press release). Tricon Global Restaurants. Bison.com. March 2002. Archived from the original on 2008-02-22. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  20. ^ a b "Yum Sells 2 Fast-Food Chains". The New York Times. 2011-09-22.
  21. ^ "A & W: All American Food". hottdhaka.com. Archived from the original on 31 January 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  22. ^ Patton, Leslie (22 September 2011). "Yum Sells A&W, Long John Silver's Chains to Focus on Expansion in China". Bloomberg. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  23. ^ Corr, Amy (29 April 2013). "A&W Restaurant's Social Media Moves: Locked Out Of LinkedIn, Rebounds With Vine". MediaPost Publications. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  24. ^ Newmann, Andrew Adam (22 April 2014). "With a Mouthful, A&W Hopes to Draw Baby Boomers' Offspring". The New York Times.
  25. ^ "Lexington Burger Week Ratings 2016". Kentucky Sports Radio. July 17, 2016. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  26. ^ "Rooting for you: A&W returns to Singapore after 16 years with Jewel Changi Airport outlet". CNA Lifestyle. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  27. ^ a b "A&W Becomes First Franchise Restaurant Chain to Turn 100". www.businesswire.com. 2019-06-17. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  28. ^ a b Beck, P.; Romano, S. (2009). Canadian Income Funds: Your Complete Guide to Income Trusts, Royalty Trusts and Real Estate Investment Trusts. Wiley. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-470-73903-7. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  29. ^ Dotz, W.; Husain, M. (2009). Ad Boy: Vintage Advertising with Character. Ad Boy: Vintage Advertising with Character. Ten Speed Press. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-1-58008-984-5. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  30. ^ O'Reilly, Terry (18 January 2018). "How The A&W Root Bear Died Then Came Back to Life". Under the Influence. CBC Radio One. Pirate Radio. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  31. ^ a b Koh, Fabian (July 7, 2017). "A&W returning to Singapore: 5 things about the old-time fast food chain". The Straits Times. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  32. ^ Corr, Amy. "A&W Root Beer Mascot Gets Own LinkedIn Page". MediaPost. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  33. ^ "'Blondie,' 'Dagwood' to pitch for A&W". Advertising Age. March 4, 1998.

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