Back in the days before McDonald’s ruled the world, there was a great burger joint called Burger Chef.

Did you ever eat at a Burger Chef? Which location?

In 1954, Frank and Donald Thomas patented the flame broiler. To showcase the flame broiler and their other restaurant equipment, they opened the first Burger Chef in Indianapolis in 1957.

Burger Chef opened with a conveyor broiler that was said to be able to make 800 flame-broiled patties with ‘cook out flavor’ per hour, as well as being equipped with equally prolific automated milkshake blending machines.

Burger Chef spread across the United States, following a strategy of opening outlets in smaller towns.

In 1968, General Foods Corporation purchased the chain and continued its rapid expansion. At the time of the purchase by General Foods, Burger Chef had 600 locations in 39 states.

By 1972, its number of locations (1,200) was surpassed only by McDonald’s (1,600). They offered a double burger, called the Big Shef, and later the quarter-pound hamburger, Super Shef. Subsequently, they added the Works Bar, where customers added their own toppings to hamburgers.

The chain had two mascots: Burger Chef (voiced by Paul Winchell) and Jeff (the chef’s juvenile sidekick). In the early 1970s, the chain introduced the Funburger and the Funmeal, with packaging that included stories about Burger Chef and Jeff’s adventures and friends (including the magician Burgerini, vampire Count Fangburger, talking ape Burgerilla, and Cackleburger the witch), with riddles, puzzles, and small toys. When McDonald’s introduced their Happy Meal in 1979, the chain sued, but ultimately lost.

In 1982, General Foods sold Burger Chef to the Canadian company Imasco, which also owned Hardee’s, for $44 million . Imasco converted many locations to Hardee’s restaurants and let franchises and locations near existing Hardee’s locations convert to other brands. Remaining restaurants that did not convert to Hardee’s or new names and branding simply closed.

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