Big Boy Restaurants

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Big Boy Restaurants
Big Boy Restaurants International, LLC
Limited liability company
Industry Casual dining restaurant
Predecessors Elias Brothers
Restaurants, Inc.;
The Marriott Corporation;
Robert C. Wian Enterprises;
Bob's Pantry
Founded Glendale, California, U.S., (August 6, 1936; 80 years ago (1936-08-06))[1]
Founder Bob Wian
Headquarters Warren, Michigan, U.S.
Number of locations
90 (U.S.);
279 (Japan)[2]
Area served
Michigan (80), California (6), Ohio (2), Illinois (1), North Dakota (1) and Japan (279).
Key people
Robert Liggett, Jr.,
(Chairman and President)
Keith E. Sirois, (CEO)
Bruce Ferguson, (CFO)

Big Boy Restaurants International, LLC is an American restaurant chain headquartered in Warren, Michigan, in Metro Detroit.[3] Frisch's Big Boy Restaurants is a restaurant chain with its headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Big Boy name, design aesthetic, and menu were previously licensed to a number of regional franchisees.

Big Boy was started as Bob's Pantry in 1936 by Bob Wian in Glendale, California.[4] The restaurant became known as "Bob's, Home of the Big Boy Hamburger" then 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. 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. The company is the operator or franchisor for 90 Big Boy restaurants in the United States.[5] Big Boy Restaurants International also licenses 279 Big Boy restaurants operating in Japan.[2][6]

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.[7][8] (As a franchisee, the bankruptcy threatened Frisch's future use of the Big Boy trademark.) Thus Frisch's is no longer a franchisee, but Big Boy Restaurants International and Frisch's are now independent co-registrants of the Big Boy name and trademark.[9] Frisch's operates or franchises 121 Big Boy restaurants in the United States.[10][11][12]


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

The Big Boy mascot[edit]

The chain is best known for its trademark chubby boy in 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 (1932–1986) of Glendale, California.[13] 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. The Big Boy character was revised in 1955 by an artist working for Ken Bird, a Big Boy paper products supplier and Manfred Bernhard, son of graphic designer Lucian Bernhard.[14] This 1955 Big Boy figure was used for large painted fiberglass (or sometimes metal) statues outside the restaurants, and was featured in The Adventures of the Big Boy comic book, a promotional giveaway for children visiting the restaurants. Bernhard produced the comic book for 40 years until 1996, and the comic book has since been produced by Craig Yoe's Yoe! Studio.[15] Another longtime promotion was the Big Boy Club, a kids club offering coupons and premiums to children, who joined by sending in an application from the comic book.

Changing Big Boy logos
The changing Big Boy
  1. 1937. The first Big Boy (left) was drawn by Warner Brothers animation artist Bennie Washam in 1937. A frequent customer, Washam sketched the character on a napkin for Bob Wian for a free lunch.[16] The logo, redrawn holding a hamburger (right), was typically used by Wian and several early franchisees: Parkette (Shoney's),[17] Elias Brothers[18] and Frejlach's.[19] The orientation was also reversed.
  2. 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.
  3. 1956. This design 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.[20] Shown is a common version of the several renderings used. By 2009, a new styled version is sometimes being used again.[21][22]
  4. 1969. Revised East Coast Big Boy...
  5. 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.
  6. 1981. To emphasize a full menu the hamburger was removed from the West Coast design.
  7. 1988. After buying Big Boy, Elias Brothers lowered the left arm completely.

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).
• • •
From its beginning in 1956 to 1969, the Big Boy comic book was printed in two versions, identical except for the Big Boy character. The West Coast version used Bob Wian's Big Boy character and the East Coast version used David Frisch's distinct Big Boy character. The series was published by Timely, an imprint of Marvel Comics. In July 1969 the versions were merged, using a common Big Boy figure. Shoney's launched its own book in 1976, with an older, leaner Big Boy character. Produced by Paragon Products, this version was also adopted by JB's and Azar's. Its run ended when Shoney's left the Big Boy chain. The look and feel of the characters and book changed in 1996 when Yoe! Studio assumed production (not shown above).

In 1951, Bob Wian's original franchisee Dave Frisch developed a slightly different Big Boy character. He was slimmer, wore a side cap and was portrayed in a running pose, with "Big Boy" written on the sleeve rather than the chest of his shirt. (The side cap allowed space for the franchise name.) He wore striped overalls and had reddish or blond hair. 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 1956, some franchisees, such as Parkette (Shoney's), would use both versions, though never together.[17][23] 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 and darker hair 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]

Early versions of the West Coast Big Boy statues were gigantic, measuring up to 12 feet tall[24] with later versions as short as 4 feet.[25] The early statues always included the Big Boy hamburger above 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.

In recent years, 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.[26] A 2004 compromise allows the existing statue to remain with the words "Big Boy" removed from the figure's bib.[27] 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—be taken down before the restaurant could be reopened.[28] 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.[29]

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' uniform with a Reds' ball cap added. Frisch's Big Boy hamburgers are sold at two of the park's concession booths.[30] Rather than modifying a typical statue, the Big Boy restaurants in Manistique and St. Ignace 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.[31] (The restaurant was rebuilt in 2016, and no longer displays the modified statue.)

Because of the closing or separation of former Big Boy restaurants, many West Coast statues were acquired by private individuals, often traded through eBay.[32][33] Smaller versions of the statues are sold as coin banks and bobblehead figures.[34] The three dimensional Big Boy figure was also used on early ash trays,[35] salt and pepper shakers,[36] wooden counter displays and as small unpainted pewter models.[37]

Gigantic air inflatable Big Boy figures are available and typically used for restaurant openings and special promotions, where permitted.[38]

The Big Boy hamburger[edit]

The signature Big Boy hamburger is the original double deck hamburger.

The novel hamburger started as a joke. In February 1937, members of an area big band, who were regular customers, visited Bob’s Pantry, one asking, "How about something different, something special?"[39] [emphasis added]. Bob Wian improvised, creating the first (then unnamed) Big Boy, intending the thing "look ridiculous, like a leaning tower".[39] Demand for "the special" soared but Wian sought a "snappy" name, which became Big Boy.[39] Some reports say the Big Boy was first called the Fat Boy hamburger until discovering Fat Boy was a protected trademark.[24][40] In 1938 the Big Boy hamburger cost 15¢.[41][42]

The Big Boy hamburger inspired and was the model for other double deck hamburgers. This includes McDonald's Big Mac, Burger Chef's Big Shef and Burger King's Big King.[43][44]

The Big Boy consists of two thin beef patties placed on a three layer bun with lettuce, a single slice of cheese, and either mayonnaise and red relish (a combination of sweet pickle relish, ketchup and chili sauce),[45] Big Boy special sauce (often called thousand island dressing) or (in some locations) tartar sauce on 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. 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.[46]

Originally, the Big Boy hamburger was the only common menu item required of all Big Boy franchisees.[46]


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".[47][48] Similarly, when franchisees left Big Boy, they would typically rebrand the Big Boy hamburger: it became the "Superburger" (Eat'n Park),[49] the "Buddy Boy" (Lendy's),[50] the "Big Ben" (Franklin's),[51] the "Classic Double Decker" (Shoney's),[52] and the "Elby Double Deck hamburger" (Elby's).[53]

Big Boy offers breakfast, burgers and sandwiches, salads, dinner combinations, and various desserts.[47][54]

Philosophy and practices[edit]

Bob Wian developed rules and philosophies about how Big Boy should operate. Besides the (construction of the) Big Boy hamburger he attributed most of his success and that of his franchisees to following these rules.[39] His fundamental restaurant principles were: "serve the best quality food, at moderate prices, in spotless surroundings, with courtesy and hospitality."[55][46] 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.' "[56] He also attributed 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."[56] 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.[57]

From 1956 through the 1960s Bob's Big Boy dinner menus and those of most franchises included the following message (individualized to the franchise) representing Wian's philosophy:[16]

(front of menu)

We're happy you came..
…and hope you'll enjoy the food and service that we offer!

(back of menu)

Yes—we're very happy you came!
We're also gratified and complimented!
HAPPY, because preparing the very finest food for you and serving it with thoughtfulness and good cheer is what we most like to do.
GRATIFIED, yes, because you are giving us the opportunity to serve you and prove our philosophy that good food, cleanliness and friendly hospitality can travel hand in hand.
COMPLIMENTED, because you have chosen BOB's in your quest for good things to eat. Fulfilling this quest is our purpose and our opportunity to contribute to this part of our great American standard of living.
May I assure you that we will do everything possible, as we have since the opening of our first place in 1936, to make you feel "Glad that you came to BOB'S."
Cordially yours,

Typical of Big Boy restaurants, Elby's Big Boy used a nine step process waiting on dining room customers:[58]

  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 table: "'I'll return shortly."
  8. Suggest dessert and take dessert orders.
  9. Serve desserts or deliver final check, remove empty dishes.

Bob Wian preferred employees with little or no restaurant experience which afforded training in the Big Boy tradition.[46] Other than wait staff, employees typically started as dishwashers and bus boys, and advanced to short order cooks, and then possibly to management.[46][55]

Regional franchises[edit]

Operation and history[edit]

In addition to the Bob's 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, among the many others.

Each regional franchisee typically operated a central commissary which prepared or processed foods and sauces to be shipped fresh to their restaurants.[59][60] Other items were 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][61] Big Boy redefined itself as full service in contrast to fast food. However, 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.[62] In 1993 Marc's Big Boy similarly developed Big Boy Express stores using dual drive-thrus and no interior dining area.[63] Two Express stores were built, offered for sale a year later and closed in 1995.[64][65]

Several franchises also joined and concurrently sold Kentucky Fried Chicken in their Big Boy restaurants; these included Marc's,[66] McDowell's,[67][68] 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[69] or Country Cousin Chicken.[70] Franchises who resisted the change were forced to remove Kentucky Fried Chicken menu items and physically relocate those operations.[68]

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 operators to build the 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.[71] 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 diverse exposure for 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. Bob Wian also settled trademark infringements allowing the rogue operator to become a licensed franchisee, such as McDowell's Big Boy in North Dakota.[72] Subfranchisees often used their own name and operated independently: Frisch's licensed Manners and Azar's; Shoney's licensed Elby's, Becker's, Shap's, Lendy's and Yoda's. Elby’s licensed Franklin’s Big Boy in eastern Pennsylvania. 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. 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 Azar's and Bob's are licensed by Frisch's Big Boy and Big Boy Restaurants International, respectively. Many of the other former franchise owners (Shoney's, particularly) have expanded into the former territories of other franchise holders. Prohibiting franchisees from publicly using their own names is intended to strengthen the trademark but also prevent defections, such as happened with Shoney's Big Boy retaining identity as Shoney's.[73][74] 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.[75]

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.[76]

Roster of named franchisees[edit]

Named Big Boy franchisees are listed below with territories, time span, founders and additional notes, as known:

  • Abdow's (Western and Central Massachusetts, Connecticut, 1959–1994, founded by George and Ron Abdow and their sister Phyllis Abdow-LaVallee)[77] Abdow's opened as a Hi-Boy franchisee in 1959 and changed the corporate name to Abdow's Big Boy in 1965.[78] Other reports say Abdow's was a Big Boy franchise beginning 1959. Abdow's left Big Boy in 1994 over menu conflicts with Elias Brothers, removing 18 restaurants from the national chain.[79] Now defunct, many converted to Elxsi Corporations's Bickfords Family Restaurants or remain vacant.

  • Arnold's (Folsom, PA, 1955-?, founders unknown) Arnold's and Tune's operated in the Philadelphia area.[80]

  • Azar's (Northern Indiana, Colorado, 1953+,[81] founded by Alex and David Azar) One Azar's Big Boy remains in operation in Ft. Wayne, IN. George Azar, CEO is Alex Azar's son.[82] Alex Azar became an original member of the Big Boy Board of Directors.

  • Becker's (Buffalo and Rochester, NY area before TJ's, 1956–19??, founded by Abe Becker) Shoney's opened a restaurant in Rochester in the mid 1950s which may have become Becker's Big Boy.[83] Trying to expand too quickly created a financial crisis and the end of the franchise.[84]
Historic Big Boy franchisee logos
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 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 York, New Jersey, and Indiana and Pennsylvania turnpike and airport locations operated in several states by the Marriott Corp., 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. Currently, "Bob's" is again used only in Southern California, and no others under the domain of Big Boy Restaurants International are permitted to use franchise names for public identity. Wian became the original chairman of the Big Boy Board of Directors.

  • Bud's (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, 1966–197?) Operated two units. Acquired by JBs in the 1970s.[85]

  • Chez Chap (Greater Montreal, Quebec, 1978–?, founded by Chapman Baehler) Baehler was Bob Wian's stepson.[86]

  • Eat'n Park (metro Pittsburgh, 1949–1975, founded by Larry Hatch and William Peters) Hatch and Peters were supervisors at Isaly's in Pittsburgh.[87] 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.[88] 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.[89]

  • Elby's (Northern West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Maryland, 1956–1984, 1988–2000, founded by George, Ellis and Michael Boury) Named after a brand of flavoring syrup sold by the Bourys' restaurant supply business.[60] Originally acquired the Big Boy rights to northern West Virginia through Shoney's.[83][90] In 1960 Elby's expanded into Ohio, licensed through Frisch's. Six years later, Bob Wian awarded Elby's franchisor rights to Pennsylvania (excluding greater Pittsburgh and Philadelphia). When Frisch's refused existing terms on a fourth Ohio unit in 1971,[91] Elby's withdrew from Big Boy affiliation in Ohio, leading to a long running trademark battle by Frisch's.[92] In 1984 Elby's dropped Big Boy overall when Shoney's—franchisor for Elby's West Virginia stores—broke affiliation.[90] Opened units in Maryland after leaving Big Boy. Elby's was sold to Elias Brothers in 1988 becoming Big Boy again. Although officially stripped of the Elby's name, identity was so strong that the Elby's name continued in print advertisements.[73][93] The last remaining Elby's closed in 2000 in response to the Elias Brothers financial crisis.

  • 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.[94] Worked with Wian, Schoenbaum and Manfred Bernhard to create the iconic 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 (89%) of Big Boy Restaurants International's American Big Boy stores. Fred Elias became an original member of the Big Boy Board of Directors.

  • Franklin's (Eastern Pennsylvania, 1966–1984, founded by Marvin and Joseph Franklin) Subfranchised by and originally operated as Elby's.[95] After dropping Big Boy affiliation, Franklin's adopted a Benjamin Franklin theme renaming the signature hamburger "Big Boy" as "Big Ben".[51] Sold the 12 unit chain to Hershey's Foods and Friendly's Restaurants in 1985.[96]

  • Frejlach's (Illinois, 1954–196?, founded by Irvin Frejlach) Added Big Boy to their established chain of ice cream shops.[19] 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.[97] 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 an original member of the Big Boy Board of Directors.

  • Frisch's (Ohio, Kentucky, S. Indiana, Tennessee; Florida until the early 1990s, 1948+, 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 95 Big Boys and franchises 26 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.[98] On August 24, 2015, Frisch's was sold to an Atlanta-based private equity fund, ending family ownership and control of the chain.[12][90][99]

  • JB's (Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, Kansas, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut; 1961–1988, founded by Jack M. Broberg.) The first JB's Big Boy opened in 1961 in Provo, Utah. In the 1970s JB's expanded by acquiring neighboring Big Boy franchisees: Vip's, Leo's, Kebo's and Bud's. After Marriott refused granting additional territory, in 1984, JB's sued to leave Big Boy. The parties settled, JB's paying $7 million in exchange for additional territory, including central and northern California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona where it operated as Bob's Big Boy; JB's also purchased 29 existing Bob's Big Boy restaurants from Marriott.[100][101] Citing the sale of Big Boy to Elias Brothers, in 1988 JB's allowed its Big Boy franchise to expire, removing 107 units from the Big Boy system. As of December 2016, fifteen JB's Restaurants operate in five states.[102]

  • 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.[103]

  • 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 - suburban Washington DC, 1963–?, founded by Bill Bemis) named in honor of Bill Bemis' father Ken Bemis, who founded the White Log Coffee Shop chain.[104] "Ken's" became "Bob's" in the late 1960s.

  • 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.[105] 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.

  • Lendy's (Western Virginia, 1955–1964, founded by Leonard Goldstein) Owned by Goldstein but operated as Shoney's 1955-1959. Territory proximity to Yoda's angered Goldstein and concurrent franchise with Kentucky Fried Chicken antagonized franchisor Alex Schoenbaum, prompting Lendy's to leave Big Boy.[106][107] Renamed the "Big Boy" hamburger as the "Buddy Boy" and created a Buddy Boy mascot similar to Frisch's Big Boy character.

  • Leo's (Spokane, Washington, Montana, 1966–1971, founded by Leo A. Hansen, Jr.[108]) 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.

  • 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.[109] 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".[110]

  • Marc's (Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, 1958–1995, founded by Ben Marcus and Gene Kilberg[39]) Owned by the Marcus Corporation, Marc's Big Boy debuted in Milwaukee in November 1958.[111] The chain grew to 4 units by 1962, 22 units by 1970[112] and eventually operated as many as 64 Big Boys over a 4 state territory.[113][63] A two-year experiment completely removing Big Boy at two of its stores ended in 1991 demonstrated no effect on business. In 1992, the Marc's format was upscaled and renamed Marc's Big Boy Cafes;[113] 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.[63][note 1] 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.[64] In 1995, the company closed its last Big Boy operation.[65] Some former units later operated as Annie's American Cafe and as Perkins Restaurants. However, in 2017 the Marcus Corporation sells Big Boy hamburgers at the Kil@wat restaurant in its downtown Milwaukee hotel;[113] in March 2017, the sandwich is priced at $12 on the lunch menu[114] and $10 on the dinner menu where it is listed as an appetizer and served quartered.[115]

  • 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.[72] Operates exclusively as a drive through. McDowell's name was dropped and the remaining store is now called the Bismarck Big Boy.

  • Mr. B's (New Hampshire, 1963–1969,[116] founded by Manfred Bernhard)[117][118]

  • 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.[119]

  • Shoney's/Parkette (Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Philadelphia, PA, 1952–1984, 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[120] so in 1954, a public contest for a new name resulted in Parkette becoming Shoney's, which was also a reference to founder Alex "Shoney" Schoenbaum. Shoney's was a charter Big Boy franchisee and by 1984 became the largest franchisee operating 392 Shoney's Big Boy units.[121] Shoney's also subfranchised to Becker's, Elby's,[90] Shap's, Arnold's, Tune's, Yoda's and Lendy's.[83] Shoney's paid $13 million to break its contract with Big Boy in 1984 allowing expansion into neighboring states where other franchisees had exclusive rights to the trademark.[122] Schoenbaum became an original member of the Big Boy Board of Directors.

  • Ted's (Rhode Island, Eastern Massachusetts) Massachusetts was divided between Ted's Big Boy in the east and Abdow's Big Boy in the west, corresponding to the division of Rhode Island and Connecticut between the two franchises.

  • TJ's (Rochester and Syracuse, NY, founded by Anthony T. Kolinski, John Gazda and John Giamartino, 1972–?)[123] The five stores were purchased by Big Boy (Elias Brothers). The two Rochester stores were closed in 1992, and one Syracuse store was sold to a local investor.

  • Tops (Illinois, 1956–1993, founded by Lucian Frejlach[124])

  • Tote's (St. Louis area before Shoney's, c 1960s, founded by Edward R. Todtenbier)[125]

  • Tune's (Philadelphia and Levittown, PA, 195?–1963, founders unknown) In the mid to late 1950s Alex Schoenbaum seeded various franchises including Tune's.[83][126] Two drive-in restaurants opened.[127] By the early 1960s, the Levittown unit closed[128] and the other was rebranded as Shoney's.

  • Vip's (New Mexico, Texas,[129] Wyoming,[130] 1962–1982. founded by Daniel T. Hogan and James O'Conner[131]) 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.[132][133] 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.[100] 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.[134]

  • 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.[107]
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.[135] 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.[136] In 1973 Elias Brothers bought Mady's and established an Elias Big Boy on Mady's original site.[137] John Bitove, Sr. owned the rights to Big Boy for the remainder of Canada, which he sold to Elias Brothers in 1979.[103]

Outside of North America, Big Boy Japan owns and operates 279 Big Boy Hamburger Steak & Grill Restaurants throughout 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.[2][6][138] 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.[139] They also offer beer and wine.[139]

Big Boy also operated (or planned to open) restaurants in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, the Philippines and Thailand.[140]

In addition, Big Boy established @burger, a new concept casual dining restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is now closed.[141]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marc's Big Boy Express units were modeled on Rally's Hamburger stores which operated in the Midwest.


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  3. ^ "Comments." Big Boy. Retrieved on November 23, 2012. "4199 Marcy St. Warren, MI 48091"
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  5. ^ "Locations: Big Boy". Retrieved September 2, 2016.  Two of the 92 restaurants listed have closed.
         DesOrmeau, Taylor (September 26, 2016). "Big Boy in Jackson closes its doors". Jackson Citizen Patriot. Retrieved October 19, 2016. [The Jackson, Michigan] Big Boy officially closed Monday, Sept. 26, [2016]. ... The restaurant opened as a Big Boy between 1960 and 1961, the source said. 
         Reznich, Thomas (October 6, 2016). "Goodbye Big Boy". Houghton Lake Resorter. Retrieved October 18, 2016. The Big Boy that graced the top of the Big Boy restaurant sign on M-55 at Houghton Lake was lowered to the ground Oct. 3.... Libby Whittington, daughter of restaurant building owner Barb Whittington, ... said the restaurant will continue to operate, but will now be known as Mikey’s. 
  6. ^ a b "Zensho Group: Big Boy, Hamburger Steak & Grill Restaurant". Zénsho Holdings Company. Retrieved December 12, 2014. 
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         "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.' " 
  10. ^ "Big Boy Restaurant & Bakery/Frisch's Big Boy". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved June 15, 2015. The Big Boy system has restaurants operated by and franchised to others by Big Boy Restaurants International LLC and Frisch’s Restaurants Inc. ... Headquarters: Big Boy Restaurants International LLC – Warren, Mich./Frisch’s Restaurants Inc. – Cincinnati, Ohio ... CEO: Big Boy International – Keith Sirois/Frisch’s – Craig F. Maier 
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         "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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         "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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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]

Big Boy Company Sites
Other Sites