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Hamburger Diaries: Burger Queen

Sunday, 29 May, 2011

Update 19 May, 2014: This has proved to be one of the most popular entries in the Hamburger Diaries series. I very strongly suspect many folks have valuable observations about Burger Queen, although the policy of the entire blog is to stop commenting after a year. Sadly, I do not have the ability to revoke the rule for this one entry. If you wish to share your memories of Burger Queen or believe you have interesting information, please e-mail the composer of this blog directly via the “about” page.

The following is about the defunct restaurant chain based for most of its existence in Louisville, Kentucky and not any existing or other enterprise.

I have been asking residents and former residents of my native Louisville, Kentucky whether they have any memories of our regional Hamburger-oriented, quick-service restaurant chain Burger Queen. Flirting with forty, perhaps we are too young. The format and presentation of the place changed right around the time my peers became teenagers. The name changed from Burger Queen to Druther’s Restaurant; always using the presumably redundant “restaurant” in its advertising. As modestly but persistently successful as Burger Queen had been, Druther’s had greater difficulty maintaining profitability. The idea of placing a family restaurant menu within a quick-service environment seems odd today, but it was all the rage in 1981.

Not much is remembered about Burger Queen, aside from their mascot Queenie Bee and that they existed. The Royal was their 4-to-1 burger and the Imperial was their interpretation of the Big Boy with regionally appropriate tartar sauce instead of thousand-island dressing. [see comment and correction below] They offered only one size of fries, which is unusual enough to mention incessantly. In the middle 70s they expanded the menu to offering fish fillets, fried chicken, the de rigure salad bar and a breakfast menu with earlier hours.

I discovered Burger Queen actually originated in Central Florida, exactly where remains something of a mystery. The entire concept was purchased by a Louisville-based partnership and the original restaurants became a franchise. Why this occurred is unknown. Whether the purchase occurred before the opening of the alleged first store in nearby Middletown, KY during 1963 or thereafter is another mystery.

A cluster of Burger Queen restaurants, of this chain, operated in Florida from 1958 until 1980. Outside Florida, Louisville-based Burger Queen Systems International franchised dozens of restaurants whose presence has been confirmed as far east as Huntington WV and as far west as Metropolis IL They did not expand far north of Louisville, as far as can be determined only in adjacent counties of Indiana, with an outliers into central Illinois, but at least as far south as Jackson TN. This does not seem especially ambitious, but in that era dozens, possibly hundreds, of restaurant franchise operations were chasing increasingly scarce investment capital.

The next subject of the Hamburger Diaries is selected. The first anniversary entry is such because I have totally ignored this company, in type and otherwise, despite having lived in Texas a very long time. I may have learned a few things through blogging, but I am amazed how much about my own biases I learn through the HD entries.

Your humble narrator persists with a measurable level of animosity toward the restaurant now known as DQ, formerly Dairy Queen. There was exactly one such restaurant in the MSA of my upbringing, and it was in a the premium-priced area. I do not remember much aside from it merely existing.

The Dairy Queen at what was then called The Mall on Shelbyville Road was almost cerainly the first interior-shopping-center location of an established stand-alone, quick-service chain restaurant. It opened with an extension in 1972. Curiously that same extension is the long-standing food court today. As far as can be known from what information is available over internet, it was a company-owned store. It may have been opened solely to give Dairy Queen a presence in the home market of Burger Queen for purposes of dragging them into court.

Burger Queen was ultimately (ca. 1973) forbidden by the larger Queen from serving dairy beverages or desserts of any kind. No shakes. No milk, even when they started serving breakfast in the late 70s. No ice cream. The 1981 revamp of the chain, under new ownership, and the name change to “Druther’s Restaurant” was intended in no small part to get that weight off of them. They also stated at the time the name limited their appeal as they wished to expand the menu even further and hoped to establish a new generation of franchisers.

Hindsight being twenty-twenty, an example of the folly of this notion is the relative success of The Cheesecake Factory. The new franchisers never appeared, and the addition of machines to generate shakes and soft-serve ice cream caused several small-town Burger Queens to defect, often to Hardees, or become independent. The name change eliminated eighteen years of goodwill overnight. They didn’t even keep up the trademark on Burger Queen, surrendering it for an undisclosed sum to International Dairy Queen. The switch to Druther’s brought kid combos, not unlike McDonald’s Happy Meals, for the first time. Druther’s variant being the Andy Dandytale Adventure Meal. Being too small to attract the kind of promotion vehicles of the national chains, Andy Dandytale provided tall tales, lessons in history and natural history supervised by a volunteer corps of educators.

The harassment of Druther’s Systems, Inc. did not stop following their ill advised name change. Shedding franchisers into the 1980s, the system ultimately elected to franchise a more prominent name for its restaurants.  Dairy Queen returned to the scene of the crime. The nature of the deal remains undisclosed, but evidently was closed with uncommon rapidity. The remaining company-owned Druther’s Restaurant locations, and several franchisers switched to Dairy Queen branding during 1995. Although Druther’s was contractually obliged to encourage other franchisers to switch, most left the system entirely. During 1997 International Dairy Queen purchased the remaining assets and 31 stores of Druther’s.

Queenie Bee died on a cross of clumsiness and contractual obligations. The “original” Burger Queen in Middletown, KY is open and operating today as DQ.

Somehow, a restaurant in Campbellsville, KY maintained the Druther’s Restaurant branding and even distributed Andy Dandytale Adventure Meals at least until 2009. As of May, 2011 it is reported as closed, but I have no confirmation. The name and logos of the Louisville Burger Queen are used by quick-service ethnic restaurants in Taichung, Taiwan and Addis Ababa. Any connection between these institutions is unlikely.

Next week, I am going to DQ, but I don’t have to like it.

Update: 15 July, 2012 http://wp.me/p1SQI-WW

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17 Comments
  1. Graeme permalink
    Sunday, 29 May, 2011 10:28

    As I mentioned via Twitter, I somehow associated Burger Queen with the taste of mustard. I assume that’s where I learned I don’t like mustard. Still don’t. I can tolerate a bit of it, but it becomes too much very quickly.

    One of my mom’s friends was one of the franchisees of the Druther’s in Holiday Manor. There was some relationship, because I would get dragged along there when she would meet up with her friend for breakfast or lunch. I either learned to like the food or the menu changes were satisfying. I can’t remember which.

    I’m shocked Druther’s lasted as long as it did. I stopped going there in the early ’80s.

    I’m even more shocked by how much Burger Queen & Druther’s stuff is on YouTube. In college I was determined to fill a full video cassette with commercials, which I had labeled ‘the real reason for tv.’ I quickly lost interest in the project, simply because I don’t really care.

    And that was the point. People really get excited about this shit. They pour so much of their identity into these brands & jingles. I wish I could say I wasn’t shocked, but it shocks me that people keep this stuff. I don’t know why, as I am genuinely interested in fast food. And I can admit to owning a couple White Castle mugs.

    I definitely appreciate what you have to say about learning your own biases through the writing & research you do for these entries.

    Anyway, I remember the DQ in the Mall in St. Matthews. One night we were there & my dad said we should get ice cream. I was skeptical, because we had always ignored the DQ before. Why would that change now? He told us we could have our soft serve cones dipped in chocolate. WTF? How did he know about this? It was like there was a whole different world in this dumb little mall outpost we had been ignoring for as long as I was aware of it. I liked the cone, but I think we only got them a few times thereafter. Mostly we went to Oxmoor, and they had Orange Julius. My sister & I loved the Orange Julius. The drink, anyway. I believe they served hot dogs. All the other fast food places served hamburgers. So somehow the hot dog idea offended my sensibilities.

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    • Sunday, 29 May, 2011 15:07

      First, I managed to break my White Castle mug/pen holder during the move. Not happy.

      I feel obliged to mention that with Morissette irony, Orange Julius now also lives under the DQ corporate umbrella. In certain markets they have the Julius machine installed at the DQ.

      The rest of the world seems to accept hot dogs as fast food. I am thinking something about our part of Kentucky makes one suspicious of the idea.

      Folks get attached to the little joint where they like to eat. I am no exception. The jingles and commercials have a very strong nostalgic appeal. When Papa John’s rolled out in Austin, I couldn’t help but feel a little pride as our dinky-ass cheap pizza joint had come this far … soon to realize that the guy who was thirty-ish and still delivering pizzas to my place on Fourth Street was actually the founder of the enterprise.

      Like

      • Graeme permalink
        Monday, 30 May, 2011 1:40

        I do honestly prefer Papa John’s to the other big delivery chains. And I’m never thrilled with the idea of giving the religious nut who owns Domino’s more money. So if I am trapped in a suburban situation, I will eat PJ’s. Haven’t had it since I was in KC.

        And even then I preferred the local parlor, Minsky’s.

        I believe Vince used to deliver to John Schnatter’s house when he worked at the Papa John’s on Hurstbourne. Supposedly he was out of the delivery area, but they didn’t refuse him.

        My mom likes to gossip about how Schnatter & the CEO of Pizza Hut both live in Anchorage in the same neighborhood & they hate one another. I don’t know if that’s really true, though.

        Interesting to hear about the Orange Julius at the DQ. I don’t think that will get me in there, though.

        I guess that’s the thing… Fast food is just novelty. I just can’t get truly excited about it. I like to eat it, but that’s as far as it goes. The jingles just make me sorry I watched so much TV as a kid.

        As with so much of this culture, I have to cop to a love/hate relationship I’m still working out. I’m sure if we have kids I will have to come up with a more consistent take on the matter. Or maybe I won’t? I don’t know… Maybe it’s enough to conclude I like being in on the joke?

        I am far more open to the hot dog as fast food these days, but I have to admit I don’t consider it as essential as the burger.

        We did enjoy the Oki Dog experience in LA. If you haven’t had it, it is 2 hot dogs & pastrami coated in chili & wrapped in a burrito. SUBLIME.

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    • Meadowlark permalink
      Wednesday, 2 May, 2012 23:52

      When I was 10 in 1969 my family moved from Detroit to a sleepy little hamlet (by Detroit standards anyway) named Bardstown, Kentucky. This is where I got my first taste of fast food at a little burger joint called Burger Queen. For me it was a real treat. One of my happier memories of Bardstown.

      Like

  2. Graeme permalink
    Sunday, 29 May, 2011 10:45

    My mistake. The Burger Queen videos turned out not to be what I thought they were.

    Oh well. I’m sure I’ll have the Druther’s theme looping in my brain all damn day…

    Like

    • Sunday, 29 May, 2011 15:09

      For a minute there, I thought you had uncovered the Queenie Bee “spelling bee” commercial on YouTube. Evidently the phrase “burger queen” now means something lewd. I might be better off not knowing.

      Like

  3. Donna permalink
    Friday, 1 July, 2011 7:13

    I worked at BQ in the early seventies & if I remember correctly, the Imperial Burger was the 4 to 1 & the Royal Burger was the double decker that was served with a “collar” around it.

    Like

    • Friday, 1 July, 2011 22:56

      Thank you. I write some of these diaries based on what a handful of people on forums think they remember. If I can get three not associated people to agree, it’s good enough for here. Corrections are always welcome.

      Like

  4. gshawen permalink
    Saturday, 2 July, 2011 5:24

    I worked at the Druthers in Campbellsville back in the 80′s my first time and have worked there 2 other times during my life.

    The Druther’s in Campbellsville is still open, although just for breakfast and lunch, not sure what time they close but I never see it open pass 6 P.M.

    And the Imperial burger was the burger like the quarter pounder and the royal burger was the double decker like the big mac.

    Like

  5. Frank Nacarato permalink
    Thursday, 15 September, 2011 20:10

    I remember a Burger Queen, on Phillips Hwy { US 1} going south from the southside of town. It was near the Southside Drive In movie. On the other corner was a Burger King. This was around 1957 or so..Frank Nacarato, Yank..

    Like

  6. jerry permalink
    Tuesday, 13 December, 2011 18:57

    My name is Jerry. I grew up in Dyersburg TN. I was just the other day asking my girlfriend if she remembered the fast food chain called Burger Queen. She said she didn’t. Im 46 and shes a few years younger than me. I told her my favorite all time burger was the Imperial Burger from Burger Queen. Then I got online to see if any existed and I found this site. It didn’t mention the Burger Queen Than was in Dyersburg TN. I’m not sure what year it was but I would quess about the mid 70′s. I remember exactly were it was. It was on Lake Rd. (Hyw 78) right where the KFC is right now. This brings back a lot of memories. I really mis that Imperial Burger.

    Like

  7. Bebo permalink
    Saturday, 7 January, 2012 5:47

    Circa 1973/74, I was in the 4th grade. Grew up in Middletown. The Burger Queen gave out coupons to the teachers for their student’s good grades. I’d gotten one and made the 3 mile round trip trek one fallish Saturday evening along Shelbyville Rd while my folks were away at a UK Football game. I remember the other burgers; but as a finicky fourth grader, I’d only eat hamburgers. In the fifth grade, I had a classmate, Todd, who transferred in from Georgetown; his father worked for Burger Queen in some management capacity. Also, via MRA, I played baseball for Thurman Construction; we played teams called FOP, Starview Farms, and I distintly remember the Burger Queen team (gray, brown, and mustard yellow colors). In re John Schnatter, he does live in Anchorage. Did not know about the Pizza Hut CEO living there; which is interesting. Isn’t there a saying about ‘love thy neighbor’? Or, is that ‘keepin’ up with the Jones’?

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  8. Sunday, 5 February, 2012 12:19

    I remember the Burger Queen on 10th St. in Jeffersonville, Indiana. I used to have a ton of yellow plastic rings with a bee on them that came with their version of a Happy Meal (I think.)
    It was down the street from our house in the Grant’s Shopping Center. A neighbor lady went to work there in the early 70′s but was fired for not wearing a bra. My grandmother accidentally set fire to a table with a cigarette but calmly put it out by pouring coffee on it.
    Ah, childhood memories.

    It changed to Druthers and later was a Mexican place. The one in New Albany Indiana became a Hardee’s, I think.

    Like

  9. Sunday, 5 February, 2012 12:20

    Oh and that song… “Follow Queenie Bee, to Burger Queen with me!”

    Like

  10. Marla permalink
    Tuesday, 14 February, 2012 13:41

    I most recently found one of my birthday party pictures as a child (I believe I was 9) at Burger Queen. Posted the pictures on Facebook for all my friends to admire all that was the BQ. Thanks for sharing. Found this as a result of a Google Search to prove to others I hadn’t lost my mind – Burger Queen did exist.

    I also worked at Druther’s in Sellersburg, IN in the late 90′s.

    THANKS !
    M

    Like

  11. Dan permalink
    Tuesday, 27 March, 2012 15:38

    My father co-owned a Burger Queen franchise in Cape Coral, Florida. There were no other fast food places in the city back this far in the 70s. There was never a drive through. It was open from 1976 to 1979. The building now is a 5th/3rd Bank. I also remember locations in Punta Gorda, FL and Arcadia, FL.

    Like

  12. Ricky Bourland permalink
    Wednesday, 2 May, 2012 6:17

    I worked at the Burger Queen in Providence, Ky (Webster County) shortly after it opened in 1978, when I was a junior in high school. It was the first fast food chain restaurant in the county. I believe the county now has three fast food chain stores, all located in Providence. The Burger Queen became Druthers, then was bought out by Dairy Queen. The original owner’s last name was Hogan, and he had previously ran a Burger Queen in Princeton, Ky. (Caldwell County) before opening the store in Webster County. The Dairy Queen and the building are still in business.

    The store I worked in had milk products. I know they either had shakes or cones. I remember vividly the milk mix that was poured into the machine to make the product. The restaurant was very popular with it’s drive through window. When Dairy Queen bought out Druthers, if their was already a Dairy Queen in the same town then the original Druthers’ store would remain. If not, then the Druthers was converted into a Dairy Queen.

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