Big Boy Restaurants

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Big Boy Restaurants
Big Boy Restaurant Group, LLC
Big Boy
Company typePrivate
IndustryCasual dining restaurant
PredecessorsBig Boy Restaurants International, LLC
Bob's Pantry
Elias Brothers Restaurants, Inc.
Marriott Corporation
Robert C. Wian Enterprises
FoundedAugust 6, 1936; 87 years ago (1936-08-06) (as Bob's Pantry)
Glendale, California, U.S.[1]
FounderBob Wian
HeadquartersSouthfield, Michigan, United States
Number of locations
Area served
    • Michigan (56 stores)
    • California (4 stores as Bob's Big Boy)
    • Ohio (2 stores)
    • Nevada (2 stores)
    • North Dakota (1 store)
    • Wisconsin (1 store)
    • Outside of US
    • Thailand (2 stores)[4]
Key people
  • Tamer Afr (CEO, 2020–present)
  • David B. Crawford (CEO, 2018–2020)[5]
  • Bruce Ferguson (CFO)
  • Robert Liggett, Jr. (Chairman, 2000–2018)[6][2]
  • Big Boy hamburger
  • Brawny Lad sandwich
  • Hot Fudge Cake
  • Slim Jim sandwich
  • Strawberry pie
  • Fish and Chips

Big Boy Restaurant Group, LLC is an American casual dining restaurant chain headquartered in Southfield, Michigan.[7] The Big Boy name, design aesthetic, and menu were previously licensed to a number of regional franchisees.

Big Boy began as Bob's Pantry in 1936 by Bob Wian in Glendale, California.[8]: 11  The restaurants became known as "Bob's", "Bob's Drive-Ins",[9][10][note 1] "Bob's, Home of the Big Boy Hamburger",[10] and (commonly as) Bob's Big Boy. It became a local chain under that name and nationally under the Big Boy name, franchised by Robert C. Wian Enterprises; Wian only required franchisees to use "Big Boy" and not include his name "Bob's". Marriott Corporation bought Big Boy in 1967. One of the larger franchise operators, Elias Brothers, purchased the chain from Marriott in 1987, moved the headquarters of the company to Warren, Michigan, and operated it until bankruptcy was declared in 2000. During the bankruptcy, the chain was sold to investor Robert Liggett, Jr., who took over as chairman, renamed the company Big Boy Restaurants International and maintained the headquarters in Warren. In 2018, Big Boy was sold to a group of Michigan investors and renamed Big Boy Restaurant Group, with David Crawford as chairman, CEO, and co-owner of the new company.[6][2] The company is the operator or franchisor for 66 Big Boy restaurants in the United States[12] and two in Thailand. In January 2020, Tamer Afr replaced Crawford as chairman, CEO, and co-owner.[13]

Immediately after Liggett's purchase, Big Boy Restaurants International—then known as Liggett Restaurant Enterprises—negotiated an agreement with the other large franchise operator, Frisch's Restaurants. The Big Boy trademarks in Kentucky, Indiana, and most of Ohio and Tennessee transferred to Frisch's ownership; all other Frisch's territories transferred to Liggett.[14][15][note 2] Thus Frisch's is no longer a franchisee, but Big Boy Restaurant Group and Frisch's are now independent co-registrants of the Big Boy name and trademark.[16] Frisch's operates 90 Big Boy restaurants in the United States, which 10 are franchised.[17][18]

Big Boy Japan, also independent of Big Boy Restaurant Group, operates 274 restaurants in Japan.[2][3][19]


Big Boy statue
A Big Boy statue common to many restaurants in the chain.

Creation by Bob Wian[edit]

In 1936, Bob Wian opened his first hamburger stand in Glendale, California called Bob's Pantry. There, he assembled his special double-decker hamburger. Created as a joke for a customer wanting something different, the novel hamburger began drawing business. The "snappy" name given to the popular sandwich provided a new name for his restaurant: Bob's Big Boy.[20]

In the late 1940s, Wian licensed two operators in the East to sell his Big Boy hamburger, Frisch's Big Boy in Cincinnati and Eat'n Park Big Boy in Pittsburgh; this served Wian's goal to procure and maintain a national trademark.[21] In 1951, the third licensee Alex Schoenbaum of Shoney's Big Boy sold Wian on a formal franchising system, and with the popularity of the drive-in restaurant, a series of franchising and subfranchising Big Boy followed in the 1950s.[22] The franchisees were required to sell the Big Boy hamburger and use their own name with Big Boy, not Bob's.[23]

The Big Boy mascot[edit]

Big Boy logo used from 1988 to 2020, featuring the Big Boy mascot and still seen at many locations

The chain is best known for its trademark chubby boy with a pompadour hairstyle wearing red-and-white checkered overalls holding a Big Boy sandwich (double-decker cheeseburger). The inspiration for Big Boy's name, as well as the model for its mascot, was Richard Woodruff of Glendale, California.[24] When he was six years old, Woodruff walked into the diner Bob's Pantry as Bob Wian was attempting to name his new hamburger. Wian said, "Hello, Big Boy" to Woodruff, and the name stuck. Warner Bros. animation artist Ben Washam sketched Richard's caricature, which became the character seen on the company trademark.[note 3]

In 1955, Bob Wian hired Manfred Bernhard, son of graphic designer Lucian Bernhard,[8]: 12  to create a new public image for Big Boy.[25] Bernhard was not impressed with Washam's mascot, saying it was sloppy and had a moronic expression.[25] The "West Coast Big Boy" mascot was revised, fiberglass statues molded, schemes created for menus and building designs, and a comic book for children launched.

In 1951, Bob Wian's original franchisee Dave Frisch developed a slightly different Big Boy character. He was slimmer, wore a side cap, saddle shoes and striped overalls. Having reddish or blonde hair, he was portrayed in a running pose.[note 4] Known as the "East Coast Big Boy", he was copyrighted by Frisch's and used for statues and comic books for Frisch's, and its subfranchisees Manners and Azar's. Before 1954, Parkette (Shoney's) used both versions, though never together.[26][27] Since 1956, the Wian "West Coast Big Boy" design was used exclusively by all franchisees other than Frisch's, Manners and Azar's. In the late 1960s, both characters were redrawn to appear similar, incorporating the checkered outfit, pompadour and hamburger above the raised arm from the West Coast design, and the running pose and direction of the East Coast design. In the 1980s, the hamburger was removed from the West Coast design; representing a de-emphasis of the hamburger in North American Big Boy restaurants, it also accommodated the Japanese Big Boy restaurants, which do not serve hamburgers on a bun.

Big Boy statues[edit]

Changing Big Boy logos
The evolution of the Big Boy mascot
A.   1937. The first Big Boy (left) was derived from a sketch by Warner Brothers animation artist Bennie Washam in 1937. A frequent customer, Washam doodled the character on a napkin for Bob Wian for a free lunch.[28] The logo, redrawn holding a hamburger (right), was typically used by Wian and several early franchisees: Parkette (Shoney's),[26] Elias Brothers[29] and Frejlach's.[30] The orientation was also reversed.
B. 1952. Wian's first franchisee, David Frisch, developed his own Big Boy character. Dated 1952, the design was copyrighted in 1951 and became known as the East Coast Big Boy. He was the model for fiberglass statues used by Frisch's, and subfranchises Azar's and Manners. This Big Boy varied between blond and reddish blond hair. Unlike West Coast designs (A) and (C), he held the hamburger in both hands and was always running to his left.
C. 1956. This scheme introduced the modern Big Boy character and is the model for the iconic fiberglass statues. It replaced Wian's original figure (A), and was actually seen in 1955 Shoney's advertisements. Typically drawn with the hamburger atop his right arm, occasionally the hamburger was raised atop his left arm.[31] Shown is a common version of the several renderings used. By 2009, a new styled version is sometimes being used again.[32][33]
D. 1969. Revised East Coast Big Boy.[34]
E. 1969. Revised West Coast Big Boy.
Differences between the East and West Coast designs, including the statues, created confusion along the Ohio-Michigan border where Frisch's and Elias Brothers operated. This motivated a common Big Boy mark, derived with elements of both predecessors, (B) and (C). He retained the look of the West Coast figure (C) but assumed the running pose and orientation of the East Coast figure (B). Nonetheless, similar West and East Coast versions were realized, maintaining the facial style of the previous marks, respectively. Frisch's continued to use (D) through 2016.
F. 1981. To emphasize a full menu the hamburger was removed from the West Coast design.
G. 1988. After buying Big Boy, Elias Brothers lowered the left arm completely.

Early versions of the West Coast Big Boy statues were gigantic, measuring up to 16 feet tall[35][36] with later versions as short as 4 feet.[37] The early statues always included the Big Boy hamburger above the mascot's raised right arm; much later versions eliminated the hamburger with both arms clutching the suspenders instead. The hamburger remained a part of the Frisch's East Coast statues, though the slingshot was eliminated from the figure's back pocket. Although still used by that chain, some Frisch's restaurants currently display the West Coast statue instead.

Occasionally Big Boy statues have come into conflict with local zoning ordinances. In 2002, Tony Matar, a Big Boy franchisee in Canton, Michigan, was cited in violation of local sign ordinances. The town claimed the statue was a prohibited second sign; Matar asserted that the 7 foot statue was a sculpture, not a sign.[38] A 2004 compromise allows the existing statue to remain with the words "Big Boy" removed from the figure's bib.[39] When a Brighton, Michigan, franchise closed in early 2015 for financial reasons, zoning codes caused the entire sign – topped with a rotating Big Boy statue – to be taken down before the restaurant could be reopened.[40] In contrast, the planning commission in Norco, California — known as Horsetown USA — was concerned that the statue was not western enough. In response, the restaurant's Big Boy statue is now outfitted wearing a cowboy hat and boots.[41]

A few other modified statues are in official use. In Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, a Frisch's statue is painted wearing a 1970s Reds baseball uniform with a Reds ballcap added. Frisch's Big Boy hamburgers are sold at two of the park's concession booths.[42] Rather than modifying a typical statue, the Big Boy restaurants in Manistique[43][44] and St. Ignace,[45] Michigan, display full scale moose statues dressed in checkered overalls with "Big Boy" printed across the chest. To conform with Gaylord, Michigan's, Alpine theme, the local restaurant's statue previously wore a green Tyrolean hat.[46] (The restaurant was rebuilt in 2016, and no longer displays the modified statue.)

In March 2017, Frisch's unveiled a restyled statue. The new statue resembles the West Coast design but wears striped overalls like the original East Coast Big Boy.[47] The debut statue wearing a Reds uniform is placed near the existing statue at Great American Ball Park; another is planned for an unnamed Frisch's restaurant.[48] Frisch's will gradually swap the new statues for existing restaurant statues in need of repair.[47]

Because of the closing or separation of former Big Boy restaurants, many West Coast statues were acquired by private individuals, often traded through eBay.[49][50] Smaller versions of the statues are sold as coin banks and bobblehead figures.[51] The three dimensional Big Boy figure was also used on early ash trays,[52] salt and pepper shakers,[53] wooden counter displays and as small unpainted pewter models.[54]

Gigantic air inflatable Big Boy figures are available and typically used for restaurant openings and special promotions.[55]

Adventures of the Big Boy comic book[edit]

Notable Big Boy comic book cover pages
The Adventures of the Big Boy comic book
  • Top row (left to right): No. 1, July 1956, West Coast and East Coast versions; No. 13, July 1957, West Coast and East Coast versions.
  • Bottom row: No. 155, June 1969, West Coast and East Coast versions; No. 156, July 1969, combined version; No. 1, Shoney's version, 1976 (month unknown).

Adventures of the Big Boy (initially The Adventures of Big Boy) was a promotional comic book given free to children visiting the restaurants. Intended to "give the kids something to do while they waited for their food",[56] the book involves the escapades of Big Boy, his girlfriend Dolly and dog Nugget. From the comic books, children could also join the Big Boy Club, a kids' club offering them free Big Boy hamburgers,[57] decoder cards,[57] pin-back buttons[58] and other premiums. The serial – sometimes called "King of the Giveaways"[25][56] – once had distribution estimated at three million copies.[59]

Manfred Bernhard commissioned Timely Comics to produce the book. In the first year, Adventures of the Big Boy was managed by Sol Brodsky, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Bill Everett, Brodsky, and Dan DeCarlo.[60][56][61][note 5] DeCarlo continued drawing in the second year and Lee writing the series through 1961.[62][note 6] For 17 years, starting in the mid-1970s, Manny Stallman drew the (Marriott) series,[63] followed by Bob Bindig who drew the series until 1995.[56][64][note 7]


Because of the distinct East and West Coast Big Boy mascots, dual versions of Adventures were produced, identical except for the detail of the Big Boy figure.[66] In July 1969, the versions merged, and a fluffy brown haired Big Boy appeared.[66] In 1976, Shoney's began publishing their own series instead.[note 8] Contracted to Paragon Products, this version featured an older, leaner Big Boy, with his siblings Katie and Tripp replacing Dolly and Nugget,[56] and was adopted by the JB's and Azar's Big Boy franchises.[68] After 75 issues, it became Shoney's Fun and Adventure Magazine introducing a Shoney's mascot ("Uncle Ed" bear) in place of Big Boy, allowing it to serve Shoney's non-Big Boy restaurants.[56][note 9]


In 1996, after 39 years and 466 issues,[68] Big Boy cancelled the comic book and hired Craig Yoe's Yoe! Studio to revamp the characters and produce a magazine styled replacement.[69][70] After 63 issues, the Big Boy Magazine was itself cancelled in 2008.[71]


The Big Boy hamburger[edit]

Frisch's Big Boy hamburger and other versions
An illustration showing how Big Boy hamburgers are assembled. The original version developed by Bob Wian (left) has mayonnaise and red relish (a combination of pickle relish, ketchup and chili sauce). Frisch's version (right) replaces them with tartar sauce and dill pickles, and applies them in a different order. The worldwide Big Boy system version (center) instead uses a thousand island-type dressing advertised as "Big Boy special sauce".

The signature Big Boy hamburger is the original double deck hamburger.[72]

The novel hamburger started as a joke. In February 1937, some local big band musicians, who were regular customers of Bob's Pantry, visited the restaurant. When ordering, bass player Stewie Strange asked, "How about something different, something special?"[73] [emphasis added].[note 10] Bob Wian improvised, creating the first (then unnamed) Big Boy, intending the thing "look ridiculous, like a leaning tower".[73] Demand for "the special" soared but Wian sought a "snappy" name, which became Big Boy.[73][note 11] In 1938, the Big Boy hamburger cost 15¢[8]: 156 [77] (equivalent to $2.68 in 2018).[78] In 2018, the Big Boy cost $6.49 in Michigan.[79] Several slogans were used from the 1950s through the 1970s to promote the Big Boy hamburger, such as, "A Meal in One on a Double–Deck Bun" and "Twice as Big, Twice as Good". On menus from that period, it was called, "...the Nationally Famous, Original Double–Deck Hamburger...".

The Big Boy hamburger inspired and was the model for other double deck hamburgers. This includes McDonald's Big Mac,[80] Burger Chef's Big Shef[81] and Burger King's Big King.[82][83]

The Big Boy consists of two thin beef patties placed on a three-layer bun with lettuce, a single slice of American cheese, and either mayonnaise and red relish (a combination of sweet pickle relish, ketchup and chili sauce),[75]: D4  Big Boy special sauce (often called thousand island dressing) or (at Frisch's, Manners and Azar's) tartar sauce on one or each slice of bun. (Regardless, the Big Boy condiment used was often simply referred to as "special sauce" on menus chainwide.) Wian used a sesame seed bun while Frisch's used a plain bun and included pickles.[note 12] The Big Boy hamburger originally called for a quarter pound (4 ounces) of fresh ground beef, but later, franchisees were permitted to use frozen beef patties, and the minimum content reduced to a fifth of a pound to offset increasing food costs. Other specifications were exacting, such as the bun's bottom section being 1½  inches high and the center section ¾ inches, and 1½  ounces of shredded lettuce used.[84]

Originally, the Big Boy hamburger was the only common menu item required of all Big Boy franchisees.[84]

Other core menu items[edit]

Just as Bob Wian's Big Boy hamburger was served by all franchises, the early franchises also contributed signature menu items. Frisch's provided the "Brawny Lad" and "Swiss Miss" hamburgers, Shoney's contributed the "Slim Jim" sandwich and Hot Fudge Ice Cream Cake, while Strawberry Pie was introduced by Eat'n Park. Hot Fudge Cake and Strawberry Pie remain popular dessert items chainwide but other items were not necessarily offered by all franchises, and franchises would sometimes change the item's name: The "Slim Jim" became the "Buddie Boy" at Frisch's, and Elby's renamed the "Swiss Miss" as the "Brawny Swiss".[85][86] Similarly, when franchisees left Big Boy, they would typically rebrand the Big Boy hamburger: it became the "Superburger" (Eat'n Park),[87] the "Buddy Boy" (Lendy's),[88] the "Big Ben" (Franklin's),[89] and the "Elby Double Deck hamburger" (Elby's).[90] Shoney's reintroduced the "Classic Double Decker", somewhat different than the Big Boy, about a decade after leaving.[91]

Big Boy offers breakfast, burgers and sandwiches, salads, dinner combinations, and various desserts.[85][92]

Philosophy and practices[edit]

Bob Wian, founder of Big Boy, c. 1948

Bob Wian developed rules and philosophies about how Big Boy should operate. Besides the Big Boy hamburger and its construction, he attributed most of his success and that of his franchisees to following these rules.[73] His fundamental restaurant principles were: "serve the best quality food, at moderate prices, in spotless surroundings, with courtesy and hospitality."[93][84] He believed "the customer is always right" and instructed employees that, "if any food item is not satisfactory, return it cheerfully and apologize for the error".[11] Wian said he had five basic rules for building his business: "be a good place to work for, sell to, buy from, and invest in. And be a good neighbor in the community."[94] He also attributed the growth to, "capable management and a conservative policy of not trying to seat more people than can be served or opening more restaurants than can be serviced."[94] If some disruption occurred at a restaurant, such as a new manager or renovation, Wian would postpone advertising until operations would return to his standards.[8]: 81 

Typical of Big Boy restaurants, Elby's Big Boy used a nine-step process waiting on dining room customers:[95]

  1. Greet customers within one minute of being seated, serving water and taking beverage orders.
  2. Serve beverages and take meal orders.
  3. Call in meal orders to kitchen.
  4. Place setups (e.g., silverware) and condiments, serve salad items.
  5. Watch kitchen (number panel) for completed order and promptly serve meals to table.
    (The kitchen should complete orders within 8 minutes, 10 minutes for steaks.)
  6. Check back with customers within a few minutes: "Is everything OK?"
  7. Return and place check on the table: "I'll return shortly."
  8. Suggest dessert and take dessert orders.
  9. Serve desserts or deliver final check, remove empty dishes.

Bob Wian was discerning of employees, hiring wait staff—which he considered a profession—by appearance, intelligence and enthusiasm.[11] He preferred employees with little or no restaurant experience which afforded training in the Big Boy tradition.[84][96] Wian said that he "conned [employees] into believing in themselves ... I put my cooks in chef's outfits, even though they couldn't boil an egg".[75]: D4  Other than wait staff, employees typically started as dishwashers and busboys, and advanced to short-order cooks, and then possibly to management.[84][93][96] Bob's Big Boy was one of the first restaurant chains to offer health insurance and profit-sharing to employees.[97]

Bob Wian excelled at franchise relations. He led 20-person training crews to open new Big Boy restaurants,[73] made periodic nationwide tours of the franchises,[98] was available for consultations and claimed to know every manager's name.[75]: D4  He also assembled the principal franchisees as board members of the National Big Boy Association to participate in leadership. After Wian left, some Big Boy operators began to question the value of their franchise.[99][100][101]

Regional franchises[edit]

Operation and history[edit]

In addition to the Big Boy name, the "Big Boy" concept, menu, and mascot were originally licensed to a wide number of regional franchise holders (listed in the next section). Because many of the early franchisees were already in the restaurant business when joining Big Boy, "Big Boy" was added to the franchisee name just as the Big Boy hamburger was added to the franchisee's menu. In this sense, it is confusing when referring to a chain, as each named franchisee was itself a chain and Big Boy could be considered a chain of chains. People tend to know Big Boy not simply as Big Boy but as the franchise from where they lived such as Bob's Big Boy in California, Shoney's Big Boy in the south or Frisch's Big Boy in much of Ohio, Marc's Big Boy in the Upper Midwest, Elias Brothers' Big Boy (or sometimes just Elias Brothers') in Michigan, among many others.

Each regional franchisee typically operated a central commissary which prepared or processed foods and sauces to be shipped fresh to their restaurants.[9][102][103][104] However, some items might be prepared at the restaurants daily, such as soups and breading of seafood and onion rings.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the emphasis changed from drive-in restaurant to coffee shop and family restaurant. New franchisees without existing restaurants signed on. A larger standard menu was developed. Most adopted a common graphic design of menus and promotional items, offered by Big Boy but personalized to the franchise. Stock plans of restaurant designs were provided by Los Angeles architects Armet and Davis or Chicago architectural designer Robert O. Burton, and modified as needed.

In the 1960s, Big Boy and other drive-in restaurants could not compete with the spreading fast food restaurants such as McDonald's and Burger King. Big Boy built its last drive-in in 1964 and, by 1976, only 5 of the chain's 930 restaurants offered curb service.[1][105] Big Boy redefined itself as a full service restaurant in contrast to fast food. Nonetheless, in the late 1960s and 1970s, Bob's, Shoney's and JB's also opened Big Boy Jr. stores, designed as fast food operations which offered a limited menu. Sometimes called drive-ins, these junior stores did not use carhops.[106][107][108] In 1993, Marc's Big Boy similarly developed Big Boy Express stores using dual drive-thrus and no interior dining area.[109] Two Express stores were built, offered for sale a year later and closed in 1995.[110][111]

Bob's Big Boy in Burbank, California
Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Burbank, California

Several franchises also held Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises and sold that chicken in their Big Boy restaurants; these included Marc's,[112] McDowell's,[113][114] Lendy's and one or more Shoney's subfranchises. The practice was discouraged and Big Boy eventually provided a similar scheme of selling buckets of take out chicken, marketed as Country Style[115] or Country Cousin Chicken.[116] Franchises who resisted the change were forced to remove Kentucky Fried Chicken menu items and physically relocate those operations.[114] However, Marriott sold "Pappy Parker Fried Chicken" in Bob's Big Boys;[117] the Marriott owned brand was also sold in the company's Hot Shoppes and Roy Rogers Restaurants,[118][119] and later Marriott Hotel Restaurants.[120]

Big Boy's origins as a drive-in restaurant required a much smaller investment to open and much lower costs to operate: a small building having no dining room or limited counter space. Thus persons of modest assets could become Big Boy operators. It was the profits from these operations which allowed not only additional drive-ins, but allowed operators to build modern restaurants with large pleasant dining rooms. Many of the early successful franchisees would probably not have assets (converted to present value) sufficient to join Big Boy today.

By 1979, there were more than a thousand Big Boy restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, and about 20 franchisees. Shoney's, Elias Brothers and Frisch's—charter franchisees—controlled the vast majority.[121] These mega franchisees paid practically no fees, e.g., Frisch paid $1 per year for its core four state territory. After Bob's, the four original franchisees (in order) were Frisch's, Eat'n Park, Shoney's (originally called "Parkette") and Elias Brothers, all clustered near the state of Ohio. All, including Bob's, remain in operation today, albeit Elias Brothers is simply known as Big Boy, and Eat'n Park and Shoney's dropped Big Boy affiliation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Big Boy developed named franchisees in several ways. Very quickly the Big Boy name and even the Big Boy character were being widely used without permission. Bob Wian, needing Big Boy restaurants operating in multiple states to maintain national (U.S.) trademark protection, offered very generous franchise agreements to Frisch's, Eat'n Park and Parkette (Shoney's). In 1952, Wian instituted a formal franchise process and Elias Brothers became the first such "official" franchisee paying Wian 1% of sales. Bob Wian also settled trademark infringements allowing the rogue operator to become a licensed franchisee, such as McDowell's Big Boy in North Dakota.[122] Franchisees were permitted to subfranchise; these early subfranchisees often used their own name and operated independently: Frisch's licensed Azar's, and Manners; Shoney's licensed Adler's, Arnold's, Becker's, Elby's, Lendy's, Shap's, Tune's, and Yoda's.[123][124] (An eastern Pennsylvania Elby's franchisee briefly operated as Franklin's Big Boy before dropping Big Boy.)

Acquisitions and mergers also occurred. In the early 1970s, Frisch's acquired Kip's Big Boy; JB's acquired Vip's, Kebo's, Leo's and Bud's which were rebranded JB's. Shoney's acquired the Missouri territory previously assigned to Tote's. After buying Big Boy, Elias Brothers bought Elby's and TJ's. Elby's was unique in leaving and rejoining the Big Boy system. When Marriott purchased Big Boy (Wian Enterprises) in 1967, this included Bob's Big Boy. The name "Bob's" would be used by all Marriott owned Big Boys and became common in parts of the eastern U.S. and elsewhere, far away from Bob's historic territory.

Frisch's now owns the "Big Boy" name in a defined four-state region and its franchisee Azar's closed in 2020. Bob's is licensed Big Boy Restaurant Group. Many of the other former franchise owners (Shoney's, particularly) have expanded into the former territories of other franchise holders.

After buying the Big Boy system from Marriott, Elias Brothers planned to phase out franchise names,[125] only generally realized by Big Boy Restaurants International after 2000.[126] This was intended to strengthen the trademark but also prevent defections, such as happened with Shoney's Big Boy retaining identity as Shoney's.[127][128] The same occurred with Eat'n Park, Elby's, Lendy's, JB's, and Abdow's who kept their names after leaving Big Boy. Big Boy now permits operators to informally identify by location such as Tawas Bay Big Boy in East Tawas, Michigan.[129]

Unlike most modern franchises, the historic Big Boy franchisees differed somewhat from one another in pricing and menus. After purchasing Big Boy in 1987, Elias Brothers intended to standardize the name and menu, but Bob's, Frisch's and McDowell's (now known as Bismarck Big Boy) continue to offer distinctions from the standard Big Boy menu.[130]

Franchising costs today[edit]

Big Boy Restaurant Group and Frisch's Big Boy Restaurants both continue to offer franchises in their exclusive territories, each having 20 year terms. As of 2023, Big Boy Restaurant Group charged a $50,000 franchise fee and an ongoing 4% royalty and up to 3% advertising fees based on weekly gross revenue.[131][132] (In most of Michigan, the franchisee pays a 2% advertising fee and must spend an additional 1% on local advertising. Franchisees in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or outside of Michigan pay a ½% advertising fee and must spend 1½% on local advertising.)[133] As of 2020, Frisch's Big Boy charges a $40,000–$45,000 franchise fee, and an ongoing 4% royalty and 2½% advertising fees on gross revenue.[134][note 13] The majority of Big Boy Restaurant Group units are franchised[131] while the majority of Frisch's units are currently company owned.[136] Big Boy Restaurant Group franchise agreements are not renewable but new agreements are required.[131]

Roster of named franchisees[edit]

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)[137][138] Abdow's opened as a Hi-Boy franchisee in 1959, bought a Big Boy franchise in 1963 and changed the corporate name to Abdow's Big Boy in 1965.[139] 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.[140][141] 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)[142] Became a Lendy's Big Boy, when Adler sold the business to Leonard Goldstein of Lendy's.[143]

  • Arnold's (Folsom, Pennsylvania, 1955–?, founders unknown) Arnold's and Tune's operated in the Philadelphia area.[144]

  • Azar's (Northern Indiana, Colorado, 1953–2020,[145][100][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.[100] Alex Azar's son, George Azar, became CEO.[147] After closing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the last Azar's Big Boy closed permanently.[148][149] Alex Azar became a member of the Big Boy Board of Directors.[150] [T]

  • Becker's (Rochester and Buffalo, New York, 1956[151]–1965,[152] founded by Abe Becker) Shoney's opened a restaurant in Rochester in the mid-1950s which may have become Becker's Big Boy.[123] By 1957, Becker's was operating four Big Boy restaurants in Greater Rochester.[153] Trying to expand too quickly created a financial crisis and the end of the franchise.[154]
Historic Big Boy franchisee logos#Bob's#Abdows#Azars#Beckers#Eat'n Park#Elbys#Elias Brothers#Franklins#Frejlachs#Frischs#JBs#Kebos#Kens#Kips#Lendys#Leos#Manners#Marcs#McDowells#Mr Bs#Shaps#Shoneys#Teds#TJs#Tops#Totes#Tunes#Vips#Yodas
Logos of historic Big Boy franchisees.
Franchisees were once required to use their own name with the Big Boy name and character. Some changed logos periodically and these show designs used while a Big Boy affiliate, most dating from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s. Eat'n Park, Shoney's and JB's are no longer affiliated with Big Boy. Logos for Adler's, Arnold's, Bud's and Chez Chap were not available to the artist.

  • 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.[155] 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.[156]

  • Chez Chap (Westmount, a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, 1978–?, founded by Chapman Baehler) Baehler was Bob Wian's stepson.[157]

  • Don's (Burlington, Vermont, 1984, founded by Donald Allard) One of several chain restaurants operated by Allard.[158][159] Restaurant was rebranded as Bob's Big Boy about 1986,[160] and closed, with plans to construct a Red Lobster Restaurant on the site in 1991.[161] As of 2020, there has been an Olive Garden on that site for some years.

  • Eat'n Park (metro Pittsburgh, 1949–1975,[162] founded by Larry Hatch and William Peters) Hatch and Peters were supervisors at Isaly's in Pittsburgh.[163] 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.[164] 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.[165] Pittsburgh area Big Boy rights were reassigned to Elby's in 1977.[166] [D]

  • Elby's (Northern West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Maryland,[167] 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.[104][note 15] Originally acquired the Big Boy rights to northern West Virginia through Shoney's.[123][124][169] In 1960 Elby's expanded into Ohio,[170] 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.[166] When Frisch's refused existing terms on a fourth Ohio unit in 1971,[171] Elby's withdrew from Big Boy affiliation in Ohio, leading to a long running trademark battle by Frisch's.[172] In August 1984 Elby's paid $500 thousand to buy out its Big Boy franchise, four months after Shoney's—franchisor for Elby's West Virginia stores—broke affiliation.[100][169][173][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.[174]) Although officially stripped of the Elby's name, identity was so strong that the Elby's name continued in print advertisements.[127][175] 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.[8]: 111  They 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.[150] [F]

  • Franklin's (Eastern Pennsylvania, 1966–1976, founded by Marvin and Joseph Franklin) Subfranchised by and originally operated as Elby's.[176] Sued Elby's in 1975 for receiving commissions from approved vendors. inflating prices of supplies, and using continued franchising as an incentive.[177] Elby's denied the charges,[178] which were settled out of court in 1978.[179] Franklin discontinued use of the Elby's name in 1976, but initially continued to operate as Big Boy Restaurants.[180][181][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.[185] Nonetheless, Franklin's renamed the "Big Boy" the "Big Ben" and adopted a Benjamin Franklin theme.[89] Elby's subsequently built new restaurants adjacent to several Franklin's units.[186][187] The 12 unit chain was sold to Hershey's Foods and Friendly's Restaurants in 1985.[188]

  • Frejlach's (Illinois, 1954–196?, founded by Irvin Frejlach) Added Big Boy to their established chain of ice cream shops.[30] 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.[189] 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.[150]

  • 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.[190] On August 24, 2015, Frisch's was sold to an Atlanta-based private equity fund, ending family ownership and control of the chain.[18][169][191] [X]

  • JB's (Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, Kansas, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut;[155] 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.[192][193] 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.[194] As of December 2016, fifteen JB's Restaurants operate in five states.[195] [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.[196]

  • 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,[197] 1963–?, founded by Bill Bemis) named in honor of Bill Bemis' father Ken Bemis, who founded the White Log Coffee Shop chain.[198][199] Three Maryland Ken's Big Boys operated in 1969.[197] "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.[200] 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.[124] 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.[201][202] 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 Buddy Boy.[203]

  • Leo's (Spokane, Washington, Montana, 1966–1971, founded by Leo A. Hansen, Jr.[204]) 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.[205]

  • 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.[206] 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".[207] Marriott sold 26 remaining restaurants to Elias Brothers in 1985.[208] [W]

  • Marc's (Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, 1958–1995, founded by Ben Marcus and Gene Kilburg[73]) Owned by the Marcus Corporation, Marc's Big Boy debuted in Milwaukee in November 1958.[209] The chain grew to 4 units by 1962, 22 units by 1970,[210] doubling this number within 4 years[211] and eventually operated as many as 64 Big Boys over a 4 state territory.[212][109] Among these, acquiring Illinois Top's Big Boy restaurants by 1974—rebranding those in Chicago suburbs Marc's.[213] In 1989, Marc's Big Boy Corporation was renamed Marc's Restaurants[214] 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;[212] 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.[109][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.[110] In 1995, the company closed its last Big Boy operation.[111] 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;[212][215] in March 2017, the sandwich is priced at $11 on the lunch menu[216] and $12 on the dinner menu both served with fries.[217] [J] Now known as Aria Café and Bar at Saint Kate hotel, as of 2019 the Big Boy goes for $15.[218] [J]

  • Mark's (Hyattsville, Maryland, 1960[219]–1962?[220]) A single unit existed at 3050 East-West Parkway, Hyattsville, which was a Ken's Big Boy in 1964.[220][197]

  • 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.[122] 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,[221] 1963–1969,[222] founded by Manfred Bernhard)[8]: 75 [223] 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.[224]

  • 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[225] 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.[226] Shoney's also subfranchised to Arnold's, Becker's, Elby's,[169] Lendy's, Shap's, Tune's, and Yoda's.,[123][124] 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.[227][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.[100][228] Schoenbaum became a member of the Big Boy Board of Directors.[150] [M][P]

  • Ted's (Rhode Island, 1964–?, founded by Edmund D. Fuller III)[229][230]

  • TJ's (Rochester, Batavia and Syracuse, New York, 1972–?, founded by Anthony T. Kolinski, John Gazda and John Giamartino)[231] Grew to 9 stores by 1986.[232] TJ's was purchased by Big Boy (Elias Brothers). Elias closed 4 stores in 1992[233] and sold one Syracuse store to a local investor. It closed 3 more Syracuse restaurants in 1994.[234][235]

  • Tops (Illinois, 1956–1993, founded by Lucian Frejlach[236]) Operated primarily in the suburbs of Chicago.[237] By 1974, the Chicago area stores became Marc's Big Boys, while the central Illinois units remained Tops.[213] [Q]

  • Tote's (Missouri, 1964–197?, founded by Edward R. Todtenbier)[238][239] 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.[240] In 1972 the Missouri Big Boy territory was reassigned to Shoney's.[241] [U]

  • Vip's (New Mexico, Texas,[249] Wyoming,[250] 1962–1982. founded by Daniel T. Hogan and James O'Conner[251]) 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.[252][253][155] 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.[192] 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.[254] [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.[202][124]

Outside the United States[edit]

A Big Boy Restaurant in Chōfu, Tokyo, Japan

Mady's Big Boy of Windsor, Ontario, was not a franchisee, though sometimes identified as one and using a similar looking mascot.[255] 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.[256] In 1973 Elias Brothers bought Mady's and established an Elias Big Boy on Mady's original site.[257] John Bitove, Sr. owned the rights to Big Boy for the remainder of Canada, which he sold to Elias Brothers in 1979.[196] 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.[258]


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.[3][19][259] 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.[260] They also offer beer and wine.[260] Zensho had purchased Big Boy Japan from the ailing Daiei in 2002 for 8.65 billion yen.[261][262] Like Frisch, Big Boy Japan operates independently of the Big Boy Restaurant Group.[263]

Southeast Asia and Western Pacific[edit]

In 2019, Singapore-based Destination Eats signed a franchise agreement with the Big Boy Restaurant Group to initially open restaurants in Thailand,[264] and later in Australia, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and the Philippines.[265] In May 2020, the first Thai Big Boy restaurant opened in Bangkok, operated as a delivery only service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[266] A second restaurant was opened in Pattaya in October 2020.[267] The company is obligated to open 70 restaurants in its overall territory.[268]

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.[269] The restaurants adapted the menu to local tastes. Some Thai customers regarded the Big Boy statues as religious icons or had superstitions about them.[269][270]

Big Boy Restaurants International[edit]

The previous Michigan-based owner of the Big Boy chain, which chiefly franchised previous Elias Brothers Big Boy restaurants in Michigan, has suffered a gradual loss of franchised restaurants. About 175 Big Boys existed in July 2006,[271] compared to 76 in July 2019.

On April 16, 2017, the last Big Boy restaurant in the city of Detroit closed.[272] The Big Boy in Fenton, Michigan, was expected to close in 2017.[273] Both properties have been sold to developers. Likewise, in 2016, the Jackson, Michigan, Big Boy closed after the site was purchased by a developer.[274]

Other franchisees simply left the Big Boy chain. In April 2017, the Danville Big Boy, the only unit in Illinois, dropped Big Boy and rebranded as the Border Cafe.[275] In 2016 both the Ann Arbor, Michigan, restaurant (on North Zeeb Road)[276] and the restaurant in Houghton Lake, Michigan continued to operate but not as Big Boy restaurants.[274] The Tecumseh[277] and Alma, Michigan[278] restaurants announced they will allow their franchise agreements to expire on November 1, 2017, and early 2018, respectively, and both will continue to operate independently. The Marine City, Michigan Big Boy closed in February 2018, to reopen independently by a new owner.[279] However, in the same month, Big Boy added a new franchisee, an existing restaurant reopening as a Big Boy, in Woodhaven, Michigan.[280] In April 2018, the Coldwater, Michigan location closed, media sources noting multiple health code violations and poor customer reviews.[281][282]

Company-owned restaurants have also closed for under-performance.[283][284][285]

Big Boy Restaurant Group[edit]

In 2018, Big Boy was sold to a group of Michigan investors and renamed Big Boy Restaurant Group. The company moved its headquarters from Warren to nearby Southfield in 2020.[286][7]

In August 2020, a partnership was announced with Terrible Herbst to expand into Southern Nevada.[287] On November 8, 2020, the first Big Boy restaurant opened in Indian Springs, Nevada.[288] A second Big Boy opened in May 2022 in the Centennial Hills neighborhood of Las Vegas;[289] called Big Boy Tavern, it includes a bar and small casino area.[290][291] In June 2021, it was reported that a Big Boy restaurant will open on July 14, 2021, in Germantown, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb. The franchisees will also operate two Big Boy food trucks and plan to open additional Big Boy restaurants in southeastern Wisconsin over a three-year period.[292][293] The grand opening was pushed back to July 21 due to equipment shipping delays.[294]

Big Boy Restaurants International tried a new fast casual concept known as Big Boy's Burgers and Shakes. The restaurant opened in 2016 in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, operated in strip mall instead of a larger traditional stand-alone building.[295][273][296] The restaurant was closed by January 2020.[297][298]

In November 2020, the Big Boy restaurant in Sandusky, Michigan was stripped of its franchise when it refused to comply with Michigan's COVID-19 restrictions. It now operates as Sandusky Family Diner.[299][300]

In June 2023, Big Boy began to open restaurants with no table service and a fast-food menu and, harkening to their origin, called them Bob's Big Boy. The first two locations announced are in Michigan in the Detroit suburb of Farmington[301] and Lansing.[302]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In a 1947 training film, the office door is lettered Bob's Drive-In and although large mascots appear atop the building, nowhere is Bob's Big Boy mentioned.[11]
  2. ^ As a franchisee, the Elias Brothers bankruptcy threatened Frisch's future use of the Big Boy trademark.[16]
  3. ^ Shoes were added to Washam's bare-footed Big Boy sketch.
  4. ^ "Big Boy" wasn't written on the chest of the East Coast mascot. It was written on the side cap in the comic book, but otherwise, it was written on the sleeve and the franchise name written on the side cap.
  5. ^ Mike Sekowsky may have also drawn in the first year.[56]
  6. ^ Lettering in early issues was credited to Artie Simek; coloring and possibly some drawing was by Stan Goldberg.[60]
  7. ^ Lorina Mapa drew Adventures of the Big Boy, she said for five years;[65] Jerry Buckley also drew several issues at the end of the run.[56]
  8. ^ However, a January 1977 edition (#237) of the original series bears the Shoney's imprint.[67]
  9. ^ Comic book artist Sheldon Moldoff drew Adventures of the Shoney's Big Boy from 1980 past the conversion to the Shoney's Fun and Adventure Magazine.[56]
  10. ^ Exactly which band was involved is unclear. Hansen said Strange was a member of the Chuck Foster Orchestra.[8] However, Rick Brough in The Newspaper (Park City, Utah) said Strange was a road musician with the Harry Lewis Dance Band.[74] Lawrence quoted Wian saying it was the Glendale High School Orchestra,[73] while Searl quoted Wian simply saying it was a big band that Wian used to rehearse with.[75]
  11. ^ Some reports say the Big Boy was first called the Fat Boy hamburger until discovering Fat Boy was a protected trademark.[36][76]
  12. ^ Frisch's placed pickles above bun bottom, and Manners below the bun top.
  13. ^ By comparison, in 2020, the former Big Boy master franchisee Shoney's Restaurants, charges a $35,000 franchise fee, a 4% royalty and 3¼% advertising fee.[135]
  14. ^ Some sources, including a 1986 Azar's menu, say 1954.[146]
  15. ^ Some sources say Elby's came from the childhood nickname of Ellis Boury.[168]
  16. ^ George Boury referred to paying $500,000 to break their franchise agreement in the late 1970s.[173] This occurred in 1984 and likely only involved restaurants in Pennsylvania, since West Virginia stores were subfranchises of Shoney's, who already bought out their franchise agreement in April 1984. Elby's Ohio stores were not affiliated with Big Boy.[100][169]
  17. ^ Franklin's continued to advertise the Big Boy hamburger and mascot—now with "Franklin's" on the mascot's chef hat—on March 15, 1977.[182] A month later Franklin's advertised an unbranded "double-decker hamburger" instead.[183] By February 1978, Franklin's began to advertise the "Big Ben" (Double-Decker) Hamburger.[184]
  18. ^ Marc's Big Boy Express units were modeled on Rally's Hamburger stores which operated in the Midwest.
  19. ^ Many sources mistakenly report that Shoney's began in 1959 because Ray Danner became a Shoney's Big Boy franchisee in 1959 and he is assumed to be the founder. However, Alex Shoenbaum founded the original Parkette in 1947 and became a Big Boy franchise in 1952. The matter is further confounded because after Schoenbaum changed the public name of his restaurants from "Parkette Big Boy Shoppes" to "Shoney's Big Boy" in 1954, the parent company remained named "Parkette Foods" until it merged with Ray Danner's company in 1971, then being renamed "Shoney's Big Boy Enterprises.
  20. ^ The company name was not always the name as used with the public. The company was named "Parkette Foods" until 1971, when Ray Danner changed it to "Shoney's Big Boy Enterprises". Writing about the 1976 name change the Charleston Daily Mail reported, "Top management ... believes Shoney's is much more than the southern reincarnation of the Frisch's Big Boy."[227]


  1. ^ a b Slavin, Barbara (August 9, 1978). "Drive-ins and carhops are things of the past". The Day. New London, CT. The New York Times Service. p. 5. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Frank, Annalise (August 11, 2019). "Big Boy looks to bounce back under new ownership". Crain's Detroit Business. Archived from the original on August 11, 2019. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "About Us". Big Boy Japan. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  4. ^ Selasky, Susan (August 9, 2019). "Pasquale's site in Royal Oak to become home to Big Boy, possibly Buddy's Pizza". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on August 10, 2019. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  5. ^ Clifford, Tyler (February 13, 2018). "Big Boy promotes David Crawford as permanent CEO". Crain's Detroit Business. Archived from the original on February 15, 2018. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Frank, Annalise (July 15, 2019). "Radio entrepreneur, former Big Boy owner Robert Liggett dies". Crain's Detroit Business. Archived from the original on July 23, 2019. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  7. ^ a b ""Big Boy"". Big Boy Restaurants. Archived from the original on December 9, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Hansen, Christian (2002). The Big Boy Story: "King of Them All". Santa Barbara: Haagen Printing. ISBN 978-0967194363. (page 75) On a plane trip to Keene, New Hampshire ... to visit with [Big Boy] franchisee Manfred Bernhard, creator of the Big Boy Comic Book. ... Manfred greeted us at the plane in his car, loaded us in, and we drove in an opposite direction to his restaurant, Mr. 'B's'.
  9. ^ a b Advertisement (April 15, 1956). "New 'Bob's' Opens Tuesday: California's Fanciest Hamburger Joint newest 'Home of the Big Boy'". Los Angeles Times. p. G8 – via His original capital was $300...
  10. ^ a b "Bob's home of the 'Big Boy' [Advertisement]". Valley News. Van Nuys, CA. June 29, 1961. p. 38B. Retrieved December 10, 2017 – via
  11. ^ a b c Smalley, Alfred E. (1947). Car Hop (mp4) (telefilm recording). Glendale, California. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  12. ^ "locations". Big Boy. July 16, 2021. Archived from the original on July 16, 2021. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  13. ^ Frank, Annalise (January 16, 2020). "New Big Boy ownership moves forward on comeback, but not without some bumps". Crains Detroit Business. Archived from the original on January 16, 2020.
  14. ^ "Transfer Agreement between The Liggett Restaurant Group and Frisch's Restaurants, Inc. Archived June 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine", January 12, 2001.
  15. ^ "Agreement Regarding Use of Trademarks", November 7, 2007.
  16. ^ a b Biank-Fasig, Lisa (January 10, 2001). "Ohio turf gets larger for Frisch's". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved September 5, 2016. Craig Maier, chief executive of Frisch's, said the bankruptcy nearly cost the Cincinnati company its right to franchise Big Boys.
         'In a bankruptcy proceeding, franchise contracts are considered to be no different than a contract to owe money,' Mr. Maier said. 'They could have said, "You are no longer franchisee of the Big Boy system."'
  17. ^ ...
  18. ^ a b "Frisch's Restaurants Announces Transaction with Affiliate of NRD Partners I, L.P. at $34 Per Share" (Press release). Cincinnati: Frisch's Restaurants. PR Newswire. May 22, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015. Agreement Contemplates Continued Operation of all 95 Company Owned Frisch's Restaurants along with 26 Franchised Locations
  19. ^ a b "Zensho Group: Big Boy, Hamburger Steak & Grill Restaurant". Zénsho Holdings Company. Archived from the original on October 9, 2013. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  20. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (November 2, 2003). "When Bob's Was the Big Hangout". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on June 3, 2015. Retrieved September 13, 2016. In 1938, Wian changed the name from Bob's Pantry to Bob's Big Boy and converted the stand into a drive-in restaurant....
         It was a date-night and cruiser destination, a place to flirt, where boys eyeballed one another's engines, got into fistfights over girls and arranged drag races. Teenagers gorged on french fries dipped in blue cheese dressing and "suicide Cokes" splashed with cherry, vanilla, lemon and chocolate flavorings.
  21. ^ "Obituary: William D. Peters / President of Eat'n Park restaurant". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 20, 2000. Archived from the original on December 13, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2017. [I]n order to get a nationwide patent [sic], [Bob Wian] needed to add another franchise so he could claim a national presence. Note: it is a federal trademark which requires a national presence and which Wian sought.
  22. ^ "Shoney's Chain Growing Across 10-State Region". Charleston Gazette-Mail. January 28, 1968. p. 87. Retrieved September 20, 2017 – via newspaperarchive. Free access icon
  23. ^ Shaw, Richard (April 26, 2007). "Big Boy returns for a celebration". The Sun Advocate. Price, Utah. Birthdays. Retrieved September 20, 2017 – via NewsBank. [O]ther than the restaurants he controlled directly, Wian didn't want his first name used in conjunction with those restaurants so emerged over 18 different restaurant names associated with the Big Boy across the United States.
  24. ^ "Richard Woodruff Dies at 54; Model for 'Big Boy' Statues". The New York Times. October 28, 1986. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
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  26. ^ a b "Springtime is Big Boy time [advertisement]". Charleston Daily Mail. April 14, 1954. p. 8. Retrieved September 16, 2016 – via
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  124. ^ "Elby's rejoins Big Boy franchise system". The Doylestown Intelligencer. August 19, 1988. p. B-9. Retrieved September 6, 2017 – via newspaper archive. [T]he entire chain is being united under the Big Boy name, which means our Elby's name, as well as all other franchise names, will eventually be phased out...The chain is also moving toward a consistent core menu. This means that all Big Boys across the country will offer the same basic items, along with certain regional favorites.
  125. ^ "Sign of the times". The Grand Blanc News. September 19, 2004. p. GB-4. Retrieved September 9, 2017 – via Newsbank. The Elias Brothers sign at the corner of Grand Blanc Road and Saginaw Street in Grand Blanc comes down after more than 30 years. [T]he national Big Boy chain ... no longer wants to be referred to as Elias Brothers, and it wants all of its signs to have the same look.
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    • "Bismarck Big Boy Restaurant". BisManCafe. Retrieved March 22, 2016. continue to offer distinctions from the standard Big Boy menu.
    • "Around the Mountain State". Point Pleasant Register. August 4, 1988. p. 14. Retrieved June 27, 2013. [A]ll restaurants in the chain will operate under the Big Boy name with standardized menus across the nation. Individual franchise names will be phased out gradually.
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  138. ^ Massachusetts Secretary of State Corporate Search: Abdow's Big Boy of Riverdale, Inc.
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  153. ^ Baker, Jim (March 18, 2010). "Out of the Past: Johnson's Drive-In, Route 5 in Athol Springs, 1957" (PDF). The Sun. Hamburg (NY). p. 12. Retrieved April 12, 2013. The Johnson family continued to run the business until 1959 ... When the Johnson's left the business, they sold out to the Becker family of Rochester who owned the "Big Boy" franchise restaurants. They had successful restaurants in Buffalo, but for whatever reason, they never re-opened the former drive-in at the circle. It is believed that they tried to expand too fast and fell on hard financial times.
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         In New Mexico, JB's operates as Vip's Big Boy and in Nevada as Bob's Big Boy, the same as Arizona.
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    • "Big Boy comic book contest announced". The Argus-Press. Owosso, MI: The Argus-Press Company. June 20, 2001. p. 6. Retrieved March 23, 2016 – via Google News Archive. Big Boy Restaurants International LLC is the exclusive worldwide franchiser of more than 455 Big Boy Restaurants in the United States, Japan and Egypt.
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  268. ^ a b Frank, Robert (April 12, 2000). "When Small Chains Go Abroad, Culture Clashes Require Ingenuity". Wall Street Journal. ProQuest 398734798. People thought he was a little, well, creepy," says Peter Smythe, the head franchiser for Big Boy restaurants in Thailand, dusting off his giant Big Boy statue on Bangkok's main thoroughfare. "They kept asking me, `Is he a Chinese Ronald McDonald?' " Eventually, a few Thai visitors decided Big Boy was a religious icon and laid bowls of rice and incense at his feet... Culture clashes, food shortages and government run-ins are common. Consider the story of Mr. Smythe and Big Boy, and their five-year journey into the belly of Thailand... Mr. Smythe and Big Boy's 78-year-old patriarch, Louis Elias, flew to Thailand to hammer out a deal, and a beaming Mr. Elias told Mr. Smythe, "This is a great brand. All you have to do is open the door, and they will come!" About a year later, Mr. Smythe, still acting as an adviser, did open the doors. But no one came. "I called Detroit and screamed, `They're not coming! Now what?' " says Mr. Smythe... After interviewing hundreds of customers, Mr. Smythe found multiple reasons... Many explained that they would rather get a sweet satay, noodle bowl or grilled squid on the street for one fifth the price of a greasy burger. "It suddenly dawned on me that, here I was, trying to get a 3,500-year-old culture to eat 64-year-old food," says Mr. Smythe... Mr. Smythe studied the customers who were walking past his restaurants and discovered that they fell into two broad categories: European tourists and Thai young people, including a large number of the young women who work in nearby bars. With help from a Swiss chef, Mr. Smythe filled the menu with Germanic specialties like spatzle, beef and chocolate cake. For the Thais, he added country-style specialties like fried rice and pork omelets. He also added sugar and chile powder to Big Boy's burgers to better match Thai taste buds. Yet the restaurants now make over half their money from Thai food, and the rest from European dishes and the occasional milk shake or burger. "We thought we were bringing American food to the masses," he says. "But now we're bringing Thai and European food to the tourists. It's strange, but you know what? It's working.
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         [The owners] said ... they felt that it was the right time to move on when 'six or seven years' prior, the company told its franchisees to undertake a complete renovation if they wanted a new contract ... adding that most of the franchises appear to be making the same decision.'
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  299. ^ "Michigan Big Boy owner to terminate franchise agreement due to corporate legal action". WXYZ (TV). November 27, 2020. Archived from the original on January 24, 2021. Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  300. ^ "New fast-food 'Bob's Big Boy' spin-off coming to metro Detroit".
  301. ^ "Familiar Michigan Restaurant Brand Replacing Zeus' in South Lansing". June 12, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hansen, Christian (2002). The Big Boy Story: "King of Them All". Haagen Printing. ISBN 978-0967194363.
  • Langdon, Philip (1986). Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: The Architecture of American Chain Restaurants. Knopf. ISBN 978-0394741291.

External links[edit]

Official Big Boy company sites
Other sites