The predecessor to what is now the international fast food restaurant chain Burger King was founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida, as Insta-Burger King. Inspired by the McDonald brothers’ original store location in San Bernardino, California, the founders and owners, Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle Matthew Burns, began searching for a concept. After purchasing the rights to two pieces of equipment called “Insta” machines, the two opened their first stores around a cooking device known as the Insta-Broiler. The Insta-Broiler oven proved so successful at cooking burgers, they required all of their franchises to carry the device. After the original company began to falter in 1959, it was purchased by its Miami, Florida, franchisees James McLamore and David R. Edgerton. The two initiated a corporate restructuring of the chain; the first step being to rename the company Burger King. The duo ran the company as an independent entity for eight years, eventually expanding to over 250 locations in the United States, when they sold it to the Pillsbury Company in 1967.
Pillsbury’s management made several attempts at reorganization or restructuring of the restaurant chain in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The most prominent change came in 1978 when Burger King hired McDonald’s executive Donald N. Smith to help revamp the company. In a plan called Operation Phoenix, Smith initiated a restructuring of corporate business practices at all levels of the company. Changes to the company included updated franchise agreements, a broadening of the menu, and new store designs to standardize the look and feel of the company. While these efforts were initially effective, many of them were eventually discarded, resulting in Burger King falling into a fiscal slump that damaged the financial performance of both Burger King and its parent. Poor operating performance and ineffectual leadership continued to bog the company down for many years, even after it was acquired in 1989 by the British entertainment conglomerate Grand Metropolitan and its successor Diageo. Eventually, the institutional neglect of the brand by Diageo damaged the company to the point where major franchises were driven out of business and its total value was significantly decreased. Diageo eventually decided to divest itself of the loss-making chain and put the company up for sale in 2000.
In the 21st century the company returned to independence when it was purchased from Diageo by a group of investment firms led by TPG Capital for $1.5 billion (USD) in 2002. The new owners rapidly moved to revitalize and reorganize the company, culminating with the company being taken public in 2006 with a highly successful initial public offering. The firms’ strategy for turning the chain around included a new advertising agency and new ad campaigns, a revamped menu strategy, a series of programs designed to revamp individual stores, and a new restaurant concept called the BK Whopper Bar. These changes re-energized the company. Despite the successes of the new owners, the effects of the financial crisis of 2007–2010 weakened the company’s financial outlooks while those of its immediate competitor McDonald’s grew. The falling value of Burger King eventually lead to TPG and its partners divesting their interest in the chain in a $3.26 billion (USD) sale to 3G Capital of Brazil. Analysts from financial firms UBS and Stifel Nicolaus agreed that 3G will have to invest heavily in the company to help reverse its fortunes. After the deal was completed, the company’s stock was removed from the New York Stock Exchange, ending a four-year period as a public company. The delisting of its stock was designed to help the company repair its fundamental business structures and continue working to close the gap with McDonald’s without having to worry about pleasing shareholders. 3G later took the company public again after a series of changes to its operations and structure. Burger King would eventually be merged with Canadian-based donut and coffee chain Tim Hortons, igniting a political controversy in the United States over tax inversions.
1950s–60s Burger King logo
Burger King was founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida, as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle, Matthew Burns. Their first stores were centred around a piece of equipment known as the Insta-Broiler, which was very effective at cooking burgers. It proved so successful that, as they grew through franchising, they required all of their franchises to carry the device.
While the Jacksonville chain kept expanding, two friends named James McLamore and David R. Edgerton, both alumni of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, were seeking an opportunity to open their own business. McLamore had visited the original hamburger stand belonging to Dick and Mac McDonald in San Bernardino, California, and sensing potential in their innovative assembly line-based production system, decided to open a similar operation.
McLamore and Edgerton acquired a license to operate an Insta-Burger King franchise and opened their first location on 4 December 1954 at 3090 NW 36th Street in Miami. By 1959, the pair had stores at several locations within the Miami-Dade area, and operations were growing at a fast rate. However, the partners discovered that the insta-broiler units’ heating elements were prone to degradation from the drippings of the beef patties. The pair eventually created a mechanized gas grill that avoided the problems by cooking the meat patties a different way inside the unit. The new cooking appliance, which they called a flame broiler, moved the patties over the flame vertically on a chain link conveyor over the heating elements, a design that imparted grill lines on the patties similar to those made on a charcoal grill. The new unit worked so well that they made the decision to replace all of their Insta-Broilers with the newly designed unit.
Even though the original Insta-Burger King had rapidly expanded throughout the state and its operations totaled more than 40 locations by 1955, the group ran into financial difficulties. McLamore and Edgarton purchased the national rights to the chain in 1959 and rechristened the company as Burger King of Miami. The company eventually became known as Burger King Corporation and began selling territorial licenses to private franchisees across the US by 1959.
Besides the creation of the company’s signature piece of equipment, the flame broiler, the company added two more features during this period that have since become closely associated with the chain. The first to be created was its mascot, the Burger King in 1955. The character would become a staple of its advertising over the next 60 years. The second creation was the company’s signature sandwich, the Whopper. It was created in 1957 by James McLamore and originally sold for 37 cents. McLamore created the burger after he noticed that a rival restaurant was having success selling a larger burger. Believing that the success of the rival product was its size, he devised the Whopper. The name was chosen because he felt that it conveyed “imagery of something big”. Finally, the company made its first forays into advertising in the new medium of television with commercials for the chain in 1958.
by simon schofield