Special Report

25 Iconic Food and Drink Brands Born in California

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A&W Restaurants
> Year founded: 1919
> Original location: Lodi
> Original name: Root Beer

Roy W. Allen bought the formula for his root beer in Arizona and brought it back to his home in Lodi, in California’s Central Valley, opening a counter called simply Root Beer in 1919. One of his employees, Frank Wright, came in as a partner and they began opening a chain of stands with a name drawn from the initials of their last names. Their first restaurant, serving fast-food staples (burgers, etc.), appeared in 1923 in Sacramento, and the company grew into an international franchise operation.

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Baskin-Robbins
> Year founded: 1945
> Original location: Glendale
> Original name: Burt’s/Snowbird Ice Cream

In 1945, Irving Robbins, whose family had owned an ice cream store in Tacoma, Washington, opened his own place, Snowbird Ice Cream, in Glendale, just north of downtown L.A. Burton Baskin, who had married Robbins’ sister, subsequently launched an ice cream shop too, just east of Glendale in Pasadena. The two consolidated their operations in 1953, flipping a coin to determine whose name came first on the marquee. Noting that the East Coast Howard Johnson’s chain offered 28 flavors, they decided to list 31 — one for each day of the month.

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Big Boy Restaurants
> Year founded: 1936
> Original location: Glendale
> Original name: Bob’s Pantry

After Robert C. Wian sold his car for $300 and opened a burger stand he dubbed Bob’s Pantry in Glendale, a group of hungry musicians came in and asked for something bigger than the usual. He had the inspiration of cutting a bun into thirds instead of halves and inserting two patties instead of one, making the original double-decker burger. He christened the creation the Big Boy — later adopting the phrase as part of the restaurant’s name. The operation grew into a nationwide chain, but its fortunes have ebbed and flowed. Today, only a handful of Big Boy restaurants remain, but new owners of the trademark have promised a renewal of the brand.

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California Pizza Kitchen
> Year founded: 1985
> Original location: Beverly Hills
> Original name: Same

A couple of L.A. attorneys, Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, who had been regular customers at Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago — which popularized California-style pizza with unconventional topping — hired Puck’s pizza chef, Ed LaDou, to develop recipes for a place of their own. It grew to a chain of 26 restaurants within seven years and continued to expand after PepsiCo bought a majority interest. Today owned by a private equity firm, the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year in the face of the pandemic, but continues to operate more than 250 units nationwide and in nine foreign countries.

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Carl’s Jr.
> Year founded: 1941
> Original location: Los Angeles
> Original name: The Blimp

Carl Karcher got his start in the fast-food business with a hot dog cart called The Blimp in downtown L.A., then moved to Anaheim and in 1945 launched a drive-in, where he served burgers for the first time. The first Carl’s Jr., conceived as a smaller counterpart to the original place, followed in 1956. A major expansion program ensued in 1968. In 1997, the chain’s parent company, CKE Restaurants, acquired 2,500 Hardee’s locations, whose units were in the Midwest, South, and East. Today, there are more than 3,600 CKE restaurants under both the Hardee’s and the Carl’s Jr. banners, with almost identical menus, in 44 states and 38 foreign countries and U.S. territories.