Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Elias Bros. Big Boy Drive-In

Big Boy Drive-In
Livonia, Michigan

Curb service at the Big Boy on Plymouth and Farmington Rds. was "curbed" long ago, but this sign remains as a dim, flickering reminder of the days of hot rods and car hops. This little-noticed sign at the Farmington Rd. entrance is probably the last Elias Bros. sign in existence. 

In 1936, Bob Wian sold his prized DeSoto Roadster to purchase a small hamburger stand in Glendale, California which he named Bob's Pantry. One night one of his regular customers asked for something different. Bob went to work and created the first double-decker hamburger.

Customers couldn't get enough of Bob's burgers. One fan in particular was a chubby six-year-old boy in droopy overalls, little Richard Woodruff (1936–1986), also of Glendale. One day as Wian was trying to cook up a name for his new sensation, in walked Richard. Always happy to see him, Wian said, "Hello, big boy!" and the name stuck. Another frequent customer was Warner Bros. animation artist Ben Washam who sketched Richard's caricature on a napkin which became the Big Boy mascot.

Wian sold his very successful brand and chain to Marriott Corp. in 1967. By 1979 there were more than a thousand Big Boy restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, and about 20 franchisees. Shoney's, Elias Brothers and Frisch's—charter franchisees—controlled the vast majority.

Detroit's Elias brothers, Fred Sr., Louis, and John, who became the first Big Boy Restaurant franchisees in 1952, bought the chain from Mariott in 1987 and moved the headquarters to Warren, Michigan. They were exclusive worldwide franchisers of the Big Boy Restaurant system, which operated 925 Big Boys in the United States, Canada and Japan until declaring bankruptcy in 2000.

After bankruptcy, investor Robert Leggett, Jr. bought the chain and became CEO.  Immediately after the purchase, Liggett Restaurant Enterprises, dba Big Boy Restaurants International, negotiated an agreement with the other large franchise operator, Frisch's Restaurants, which granted Frisch's exclusive, perpetual ownership of Big Boy marks in Kentucky, Indiana, and most of Ohio and Tennessee. All other Frisch's territories transferred to Liggett. Big Boy International and Frisch's now are co-registrants of the Big Boy name and trademark. Thus, Frisch's is no longer a franchisee but essentially an equal owner with Liggett. Frisch's is the owner or franchisor of 118 Big Boy restaurants in the United States.

Still headquartered in Warren, Big Boy Restaurants International is franchisor for 126 Big Boy restaurants - including Bob's Big Boy - in the United States.

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