Sunday, July 1, 2007

Burger King- The flame broiled wonder!

Like Royal Castle, Burger King was a miami born institution. The first Burger King hamburger stand opened at 3090 NW 36th Street in an old area of Miami known as Allapatah. Burgers and shakes were 18 cents each. The Whopper, which appeared in 1957, sold for 37 cents. However, I remember that the founders actually invented the Whopper at their diner on Brickell Avenue a few blocks south of the current Brickell Avenue Bridge. I found this information on a tribute to Jim Mclamore, who with Dave Edgerton founded Burger King. It confirms my memory that he had a diner on Brickell that sold the first "whoppers".
"McLamore, during his early months in Florida's warm climate, learned an expensive lesson about the seasonality of business in the Sunshine State. Captivated by the overflow crowds at the Brickell Bridge restaurant, he immediately proceeded to buy the operation, only to discover that the logjam of customers during the winter months literally slowed to a trickle in the summer. Just a few blocks from Brickell Bridge, Edgerton was managing a restaurant at the Howard Johnson hotel. The two struck up a friendship and decided to take a chance on a franchise concept begun in Jacksonville. Called "Insta-Burger King," it featured hamburgers cooked via a piece of equipment called the Insta-Burger Broiler -- a revolutionary system that used twin heating elements along a conveyor line and was capable of cooking more than 400 hamburgers and buns per hour. However, problems developed with the Insta-Broiler when burger juices began dripping onto the heating elements, causing them to corrode. Edgerton and McLamore redesigned the system in such a way that it transported the burgers horizontally over gas flames, giving the customer a flame-broiled product. The pair subsequently arranged for the Sani-Serv company of Indianapolis to manufacture the new prototype for them. Shortly thereafter they dropped the "Insta" prefix from the name and began promoting Burger King as the "Home of The Whopper."


Bill Parks said...

I remember Mr. McLamore's diner. It was across the street from the Presbyterian church. It was called the Dinner Bell.

Rich said...

And I always thought the one on 27th ave and about 80th street was the first. It must have come later. The hamburgers tasted better back then and I do remember the conveyor belt!

Dave said...

Bill: Thank you!!! I couldn't remember the name to save my life!

Rich: That one came much later, arouind the mid 60's and I believe it was right next to a Food Fair supermarket

SOC said...

And don't forget Jim's wife, Nancy. They were a great couple. She worked in the restaurant right alog side Jim.

Don Smith said...

I came across this post on the Miami Memories Blog from 2007 and just had to respond to it. I worked as an auditor with Price Waterhouse back in the 70's when RC was liquidated. I was on the job auditing in the offices on 62nd Street during the liquidation. We were practically in residence there reviewing the closing documents as they came in.

Although the Miami Herald ran a story that accurately described the issues that led to the demise of the once beloved chain of restaurants, most people have it wrong as to what happened. It wasn't competition from BK or MickeyD, although this had an effect, it was because of factors that one might find surprising.

At my ripe old age now, I might have some of the facts wrong and I will only give a short synopsis of the real story as I recall it.

Royal Castle was William Singer's company. Few know that when Singer bought property on which to put a restaurant he usually bought much more than the space on which it sat. Sometimes he bought the entire city block or building. When the little RC in downtown Miami had an unairconditioned little Royal Castle diner and juice bar with street side with 10 stools on the ground floor of a skyscraper, in actuality, they owned the entire building. Many a corner property on which an RC sat with a Publix Supermarket in the background was owned by Royal Castle including the property on which the grocer sat. Publix, Food Fair, Margaret Ann, Kwik Chek, etc., all paid rent to Royal Castle, one of the largest property owners in South Florida.

Some time during this period in the 70's Singer sold out to a holding company made up of Venture Captialists that also owned other chains, one of which was Minnie Pearl chicken. Minnie Pearl got in financial difficulties when its franchisees sued to stop the company from forcing them to buy chicken from the franchisor and the franchisees won, including historical damages. The holding company, I seem to recall it was called "Performance Systems", or some such, was forced to get rid of Royal Castle to pay off their resulting borrowings. Because of public perception that Royal Castle was a losing company, the stock value was relatively low on the market. Performance had hired a new RC CEO from a failed burger franchise company who instituted some short sited changes at Royal Castle, such as Birch Beer in plastic cups with crushed ice, reconstituted instead of fresh squeezed OJ and plastic forks and plates as well as drive in widows and expanded dining rooms, apparently to attempt to copy BK and MD. Thus, their marketing edge, ceramic mugs, made to order burgers, etc. ice encrusted birch bear steins, was history, and led to the public perception of failure. But RC remained profitable and had a very healthy balance sheet.

Still, because the value of Royal Castle assets, including the real estate, was much higher than the market value of the stock, the stockholders had little choice but to approve liquidation of the assets so the the VC could extract itself from the debt arising from Minnie Pearl Chicken.

It is a sad story indeed. I have kept some of the old coffee mugs from the liquidation. They are great, but only hold about half a cup, actually.

Don Smith