Burger Chef

Do you remember Burger Chef?

Burger Chef was an American fast-food restaurant chain. It began operating in 1957 in Indianapolis, Indiana, expanded throughout the United States, and at its peak in 1973 had 1,050 locations, including some in Canada. The chain featured several signature items, such as the Big Shef and Super Shef hamburgers.
In 1982, the General Foods Corporation, owners of the Burger Chef trademark and name, divested itself of the restaurant chain, gradually selling to the owners of Hardee’s. The final restaurant to carry the Burger Chef name closed in 1982.

In 1954, Frank and Donald Thomas patented the flame broiler in their parent company General Equipment Corporation and started their restaurant in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1957, they opened their first Burger Chef. Burger Chef spread across the United States, following a strategy of opening outlets in smaller towns.

By 1972, its number of locations (1,200) was surpassed only by McDonald’s (1,600). They offered a double burger, called the Big Shef, and later the quarter-pound hamburger, Super Shef. Subsequently, they added the Works Bar, where customers added their own toppings to hamburgers.

In 1968, General Foods Corporation purchased the chain and continued its rapid expansion. At the time of the purchase by General Foods, Burger Chef had 600 locations in 39 states.

By 1969, international expansion was underway with General Foods building ten Burger Chef outlets in Australia. The expansion ended in 1975 with a US$1.3 million loss (equivalent to $6.55 million in 2021). It was stated that Australians disliked the limited burger based menu.

In 1972, the chain introduced the Funburger, a hamburger with packaging that included puzzles and a small toy. The following year, the chain introduced the Funmeal, the first kid’s meal that included a burger, french fries, a drink, a cookie, and a small toy; with expanded packaging that included stories about Burger Chef and Jeff’s adventures and friends (including the magician Burgerini, vampire Count Fangburger, talking ape Burgerilla, and Cackleburger the witch), with riddles and puzzles. When McDonald’s introduced their Happy Meal in 1979, the chain sued, but ultimately lost.

In 1982, General Foods sold Burger Chef to the Canadian company Imasco, which also owned Hardee’s, for US$44 million (equivalent to $123.55 million in 2021). Imasco converted many locations to Hardee’s restaurants and let franchises and locations near existing Hardee’s locations convert to other brands. Remaining restaurants that did not convert to Hardee’s or new names and branding simply closed.

The Rise & Fall of Burger Chef

1957
Founded
Burger Chef was Founded

In 1954, Frank and Donald Thomas patented the flame broiler in their parent company General Equipment Corporation and started their restaurant in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1957, they opened their first Burger Chef.

1982
Defunct
The End of Burger Chef

In 1982, General Foods sold Burger Chef to the Canadian company Imasco, which also owned Hardee's, for US$44 million. Imasco converted many locations to Hardee's restaurants and let franchises and locations near existing Hardee's locations convert to other brands. The Remaining restaurants that did not convert to Hardee's or find new owners simply closed.

Click through the gallery above for some of the most popular forgotten retail spots that are now gone, but never forgotten. Did we miss one of your favorites? Share your memories in the comments.

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