Saturday, March 03, 2007

The City of Fast Food

As some of you may know, I grew up in Muscoy, an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County, just outside of the city limits of San Bernardino, California. Some of what I am about to relate I have known for years, but some of it I just recently learned, but it all has to do with growing up in the City of Fast Food.

I remember as a kid never eating fast food and then it just sort of took over. I didn't realize it was all starting right in my hometown. It had actually started in 1940 when Richard and Maurice (Dick and Mac) McDonald opened their McDonald's Barbecue restaurant on E Street in San Bernardino. A few years later Dick McDonald studied his sales and discovered that 80% of his business was generated by hamburgers. They closed down the Barbecue restaurant and on December 12, 1948 they reopened the converted E Street shop as a fast food restaurant called simply, McDonald's, and introduced their Speedee Service System. Fast food was born!

In an article by John Weeks in the San Bernardino Sun and the Daily Bulletin, Chris Nichols, a historian with the Los Angeles Conservancy said, "Every major fast-food company has something to do with the corner of 14th and E streets." In the same article Chris recalled a famous anecdote in McDonald's lore.

"One day, Glen Bell...sat in the car outside McDonald's with Neal Baker... and John Gallardi... and tried to figure out how they did it." How the McDonald brothers could serve so many people so quickly was what intrigued the trio. McDonald's serviced a seemingly never ending line of customers at a revolutionary pace. As those in the car later discovered, the McDonald brother had become masters of innovation.

The brothers collaborated with the owners of Toman Brothers Machine Shop in San Bernardino to create spatulas that were the perfect size for flipping burgers, milk shake machines with shorter spindles so workers could make shakes right in the paper cups, and ketchup dispensers that doled out perfect dollops of ketchup.

"That sounds like a little thing, but it makes it so they could do this anywhere, and it would be the same everywhere," Nichols has said. The McDonalds' innovations put the "fast" in fast food and the brothers were generous with their secrets, sharing them with others.

James A. Collins, chairman of Collins Foods International, the largest Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee and the operator of Sizzler Restaurants recalls his own tutelage at McDonald's, starting in 1952. "We all took our lessons from the McDonald brothers. There was a fraternity of us, and every one of us saw the McDonald's in San Bernardino and basically copied the boys."

The "fraternity" included those three buddies who pulled up in one car, on that day in the early 1950s, and were so impressed with what they saw.

Glen Bell of Muscoy, and the driver of that famous car, opened Bell's Hamburgers on the corner of Oak and Mount Vernon Avenues in San Bernardino. After a while, Glen began experimenting with adding tacos to his menu. The tacos were a hit and in 1954 and 1955 he opened 3 Taco Tia restaurants dedicated to serving his tacos, the first at the corner of Base Line and Acacia. They still exist today.

In 1952, another Muscoyvite and passenger in that famous car of lore, Neal Baker, a friend of Glen Bell's who had helped Glen build his first few locations, decided to try his hand in the business and opened the first Baker's Drive Thru on Highland Avenue. Baker's may have been the first fast food place I ever went to. As a kid, if we got fast food it was usually tacos from Baker's.

They had a "Taco Tuesday" where you could get eight tacos for a dollar. Over the years it dropped to six, then five, then four, then three, then two for a dollar. But they still make a great taco. Baker's pioneered the "twin-kitchen" concept of American and Mexican fast food under one roof. They never expanded like the other chains and only have around 40 locations, but I do still go out of my way to get to one.

Glen Bell opened a Bell's Burgers location in Barstow and convinced his employee Ed Hackbarth to move up to Barstow and run it. Ed successfully ran the location after they changed it into a Taco Tia. Eventually Ed leased the location from Glen.

In 1956 Glen opened his first El Taco restaurant in Long Beach creating another chain which he sold in 1962 when he opened a restaurant in Downey named after himself, Taco Bell. He quickly expanded to eight locations (which are still open today) and sold his first franchise to Kermit Becky in 1964. Today, Taco Bell is the nation's largest Mexican fast-food chain, with more than 6,000 outlets.

Glen loved the food business and in 1961 convinced his commissary manager, San Bernardino friend and the other passenger in that famous car, John Gallardi to open a restaurant of his own. John wanted to sell something other than tacos and settled on hot dogs. In an interview in the Orange County Business Journal Gallardi recalled, "Glen's wife named the company. I was at dinner one night at their house and Bell's wife was looking at a cookbook and said you ought to call it wienerschnitzel. I told my wife going home nobody in their right mind would call a company wienerschnitzel. Three days later, I said, 'Hell, it's better than John's Hot Dogs.'" Today, Wienerschnitzel is the world's largest hot dog chain, boasting almost 350 locations.

Also in 1961 the McDonald brothers sold Ray Kroc the business rights to their restaurants for $2.7 million dollars; they retained the original McDonald's, which they rechristened The Big M. A few years later Kroc opened a McDonald's across the street and eventually put the McDonald brothers out of business. Today, the Kroc restaurant remains boarded up. The original McDonald's was demolished in the late 1960s, though a McDonald's museum exists at the original site (with a building built in the 1970s), which is run by Albert Okura, founder of the local chicken chain, Juan Pollo.

In 1964 Ed Hackbarth who leased Bell's Taco Tia in Barstow opened his own restaurant in nearby Yermo called Casa del Taco. Casa del Taco expanded to become a chain of its own, eventually shortening its name to Del Taco. Today, there are more than 400 Del Taco restaurants.

Years later Dick Naugle, while installing equipment for the first Del Taco drive thru, would become interested in the business and would team up with Harold Butler from Denny's and open up a taco place called Naugles. It was a Mexican fast food franchise similar in many ways to Del Taco (only the food was much better). Naugles rapidly grew to 225 restaurants under the ownership of Harold Butler, who sold the company to Collins Food International in 1985 (yeah, the same Collins Food International that is run by James Collins who worked for the McDonald brothers on E Street in 1952). In 1988, Del Taco and Naugles merged, and all Naugles franchises were converted to Del Taco franchises.

Much of the menu at Del Taco today is actually the Naugles menu, where the "Macho" food items all originated.

In the California State University San Bernardino Magazine, in referring to the business innovations introduced into the food industry in the ’40s and ’50s, Neal Baker said, “All of these places really started here and San Bernardino never really gets any credit for it.”

So that makes San Bernardino and my little community of Muscoy, in one way or another, a part of the births of McDonald's, Bakers, Taco Bell, Del Taco, Wienerschnitzel and Naugles, like I said, the City of Fast Food.

Neal Baker still owns land in Muscoy and donated the property for the new enlarged Muscoy fire station which opened last Fall, and just recently donated a large corner lot adjacent to the fire station to the county, with specific orders it is to be a Muscoy Community Center.

I remember in the 1970s that Naugles was the only fast food place in San Bernardino that was open 24 hours a day, so if you wanted a burger or a burrito in the middle of the night or late on the weekend you had to go to Naugles to get one.

I'll never forget the night in the Naugles' drive-thru when a shoot out happened right in front of me between a guy on foot and an off-duty police officer in the truck two cars ahead of me. There were women in cars getting punched through their open windows, bullets flying, shattering glass, women screaming, men yelling and very shaky Naugles employees walking from car to car to give you your food and help you back out of the drive thru and away from the building.

Ah, those were the days and nights in the City of Fast Food!

2 comments:

Jack Keller said...

Brother Barry, good job. I was researching exactly the same thing (as my earlier email might have revealed), only slowly because high winds are interfering with my wireless connectivity (winds are blowing oak branches back and forth through the narrow signal path to my antenna mast, causing many timeouts).

When we moved to Muscoy in 1956, the San Bernardino Valley had more orange, grapefruit and olive trees than people, and several huge vineyards scattered around Muscoy and westward past the outskirts of Rialto, Fontana, Etiwanda, Rancho Cucamonga, and Ontario. Kinda hard to imagine an environment like that spawning all these fast food chains, but it did....

Jack Keller
Pleasanton, TX

commie sympathizer said...

very informative post, barry. I grew up in that area (and era). when our family lived in berdoo briefly (Fall of 1950), I remember going to mcdonald's on E St. and the burgers were only 10 cents each. More importantly, the newly-built outlet was all new and bright, with lots of glass, shiny counters all round, and THE ARCHES OVER THE BUILDING, courtesy of stanley meston, an architect in fontana, where I grew up.