Hamburger Diaries: Burger Queen
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