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Hamburger Diaries: A&W Restaurant

Monday, 6 June, 2011

Previously within these pages, I have spoken poorly of Yum’s A&W division. These observations were based on an experience years passed, compounded by the corporate attitude toward this division. Similarly, the use to the phrase “All American Food” is inconsistent and I shall no longer declare it is part of the formal name of the restaurants.

Although it is pretty creepy, at least if you are actually in North America seeing it. I won’t get into how utterly hollow naked nationalism typically presents within the United States. Most of you know this. I am quite surprised to find the phrase in use internationally, and in English without regard to the local language. Perhaps the idea is to create an ethnically American chain. That is an idea I could support. 

I shall also aspire to not mention:

  • not tapping into the success of the brand in Canada, or even becoming a licensee of that system.
  • insufficient use of the lovable Root Bear
  • having a Papa Burger, but no Mama, Baby, Teen, &c. Burgers anymore.
  • A&W trying to re-establish an old brand with a new system within a market replete with Hamburger restaurants.
  • The assumption that the drive-in, sock hop, fabulous fifties thing attracts more people than it alienates.
  • The time bomb which is the diversified use of the A&W trade and service marks.

A&W may have invented the franchise restaurant. Allen & Wright’s root beer concentrate was distributed to restaurants who then used the name. Evidently, there was no standard menu but a series of names and logos which could be used. Before the 1960s, A&W was the prominent Burger joint across the nation. With the coming of the new, standardized chains this would change dramatically. Outside of a precious few areas across the US, A&W was a mere shell of its former might.

The same year, 1921, Ingram and Anderson were inventing what would become quick service, A&W started franchising restaurants. A&W was the first franchise restaurant of any kind in Japan, opening in 1961. The Canadian operation, est. 1956,  standardized early and has ever since been a substantial brand in that country. More A&W restaurants are operating in Canada today than in the rest of the world. A&W of Canada is a wholly distinct company.

Your humble narrator visited a combo Long John Silvers-A&W in the Austin area just yesterday. It was a different experience than I remember. The combo restaurant thing just rubs me the wrong way. I suspect it is just me. It reeks of a lack of commitment to an idea. Also, I don’t want to put up with the music people were nostalgic about thirty years ago when having that precious grease and vinegar laden fish I simply must have about twice per year.

Half the restaurant is in LJS livery, that’s cute. My dining companion had the fish. I exploited the opportunity to revisit the only nicknamed Burger on the menu. I wish I could find out whether the Papa Burger is the same as in Canada or even the same as it was in 1960 when A&W’s franchised stands dominated the industry.

Service in a snap. Say what you will about Yum, they have the turn-around time down pat. Not three minutes. Papa comes to me in a LJS-logoed boat with fries. Specifically nineteen fries. They are thicker and a different variety of frozen fries than during my last visit, for fish, which was in March or so. I was served so few, I actually bothered to count them. Then again, these are the very fries I described in the Carl’s Jr. review as the best frozen fries I ever had … they could have been warmer.

The Papa Burger is a double 3 oz. with melted-on-the-grill cheese and what I presume to be an approximation of fresh beef. A little salt, maybe pepper and great texture. Cool, fresh veg, including too much onion which is my preference. Appropriately light condiments. “Papa Sauce” is a Bob’s Big Boy/Thousand Island style sauce and just a dollop. No complaints, here. The bun is tall and fluffy. Perhaps that is why is spent so much time in the toaster with 50% caramelization. Somehow, it works.

They really are doing something special at A&W. This particular restaurant is quite literally next door to Whataburger and across the street from local sensation Dan’s Hamburgers. I don’t know how to get people in the door with such appealing Burgers so close. Keeping the brand, at least in my area, as the Hamburger option while dining at another restaurant cannot be good for the overall reputation. It feels cheap. The dual fountain service from Pepsi, Yum’s legacy, and DPS for the two A&W root beers cannot be appealing to prospective franchisers. Could or do stand-alone A&Ws get fountain service from DPS alone and serve Dr Pepper and Royal Crown cola?

The food itself is well executed. I should try the cheese curds sometime. I appreciate use of the term coney, but they have a coney without cheese and cheese coney. A coney without cheese is a chili dog, while a coney always has cheese. I suspect the “cheese coney” does not have brown mustard either.

I shall recommend A&W. I wish I was served more fries. I still don’t know how to promote the brand and would cooperate with the Canadians more closely including adopting their logo. Of course, does the world really need a higher-quality Sonic without the drive-in? You guys have your work cut out for you.

  1. Graeme permalink
    Monday, 6 June, 2011 10:11

    Interesting… This got me checking to see if there’s an A&W in the bay area. There is one in Santa Rosa. If I’m driving that far, I’m probably going elsewhere. But I will keep it in mind, just in case. Sooner or later I’ll have an excuse.

    It seems you need to go to Canada. Your car is ready for the trip.

    I also hate the cross-branded restaurants. Always have. It just seems cheap. As you said, it also seems like a lack of commitment. I don’t expect anything to taste right. I think it makes sense, because I remember when we were kids my sister & I would always want different fare. I’m sure it makes parenting easier.

    We finally went to Quickly the other day. I’ve been meaning to go for years.

    They are definitely the fresh tea people. Megan’s almond milkshake was quite good, too. The food, however, is nothing but an afterthought. We were the only customers who ordered food (as well as the only customers who weren’t Asian). It took forever. They were out of rice. It was 1 pm on a Saturday. That’s lunch hour, as far as I’m concerned!

    Maybe we missed a rush, but I don’t believe so. Most of the customers were Asian girls ordering bubble tea.

    Because they didn’t have rice, we couldn’t get bento boxes. We got popcorn chicken, regular and garlic. I had waffle fries. Megan had sweet potato fries.

    The waffle fries were battered. I hate battered fries. You’ve had one, you’ve had them all. The sweet potato fries were soggy.

    The breading on the popcorn chicken was very light. We both kept doing double-takes thinking we were eating breaded calamari. There was something of a lemon flavor to my chicken that wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that good. I don’t think the garlic flavor was garlic, but I can’t put my finger on what it was. Neither of us finished our food.

    We had a lot of popcorn at the movie. I didn’t think to salt it. I thought for certain there would be salt on the stuff. There wasn’t any. I won’t get popcorn at this movie theater when we go back in 2 years or so. We just don’t see movies.

    I like fast food, but American culture generally is stupid. I guess fast food is stupid in a lot of ways, too, but somehow it appeals to me. I guess my body enjoys novelty more than my brain does.


    • Monday, 6 June, 2011 15:13

      You’ve mentioned Quickly before. I suspected my mind would remember at some point. No. That’s a new one for me. A quick glance at leads me to think they don’t do food at all. Has it been long enough that bubble tea &c. is making a comeback?

      I thought I noticed Quickly was a coastal phenomenon until I saw the photo of the store in Norcross, GA.


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