Route 66 #1

Route 66 #1
Route 66 Museum

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Route 66 and the Big Chain Restaurant

There's this general consensus among Route 66 devotees that chain restaurants, motels, and stores where part of what killed Route 66. The basic theory behind that thought is that Route 66 equals Mom & Pop joints, and "chain joints" equal the interstates and super slabs. 

In a way that thought process isn't all that wrong. Chain business's are near many interstate exits, and passers by are more inclined to stop at one of these places, like Walmart, McDonalds, or Comfort Inns, then they are to head deeper into town for that Mom & Pop place. In many circumstances the Mom & Pop places, places that fronted on Route 66, have succumbed to these chain influences. 

What I think a lot of old time Route 66er's don't think about is that one of those chain monsters is actually a Route 66 child. That's right McDonalds was originally founded by the McDonald Brothers in San Bernadino, CA. The original restaurant at North E St, and West 14th stands only about a mile or so East of Route 66. One could only imagine that Route 66 travelers would probably take the side trip down 14th to visit the unusual burger joint locals guided them to.

But that's not the whole story. It was a Chicago businessman (that's right Chicago another Route 66 town) Ray Kroc who saw the potential of the burger joint and encouraged the McDonald Brothers to expand, while investing his own money to make it happen and becoming the first franchisee. 

In 1955 Kroc opened the first of the franchise stores in Des Plains, IL. The town of Des Plains, is a suburb of Chicago in Northwestern Cook County, the same county as Chicago. Des Plains itself is not on Route 66 but it's less then 20 miles from it, making it still relatively close. 

Both the first McDonalds Brothers, and Ray Kroc stores are museums now. You can visit them on either end of Route 66 to see how far the restaurant has come since being a little burger joint in San Bernardino, CA. 

The thing is though that "McDonalds" is probably considered to be the king of franchise/chain restaurants. That's right McD's is suppose to be this faceless corporation dishing out homogenous food coast to coast along interstates, and killing Mom & Pop diners. Yet this faceless corporation has its roots in Route 66, and started as a Mom & Pop, or should I say Brother & Brother itself in San Bernardino, CA. 

So the next time you read or hear someone criticizing "Big Chains" on Route 66, don't forget to think that Route 66 itself gave birth to one of them. That says something about 66 itself helping the US grow in the post-war 1940's. 

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