You and your family are hungry after a busy day of errands. On the way home, Dad pulls up to a coffee shop whose sign proclaims it “Home of the Big Boy.” Just in front of the entrance, there stands a fiberglass Big Boy statue, proudly holding aloft a giant double-deck hamburger. Inside, as you are seated, you grab a copy of The Adventures of Big Boy, a free comic book with the kids’ menu printed on the back cover. You’re a big kid now, so you order the famous Big Boy combo. The stacked sandwich and fries arrive, and you gobble it down, relishing the secret sauce that adds a distinctive zing. It’s the classic family dining experience that could only come from a Bob’s Big Boy.
Entrepreneur Bob Wian opened a tiny, ten seat diner, Bob’s Pantry, in Glendale CA in 1936. It became a popular hangout for local jazz musicians. One night, a band member asked Bob for something extra-filling. Wian cobbled together a double deck cheeseburger, and the result was a smash hit. Wian added his own secret recipe sauce to the sandwich and christened the towering result the “Big Boy.” The namesake was Richard Woodruff, a chubby kid who visited the restaurant and prompted Bob to say, “You’re a big boy!” Noting that the same was true of his famous burger, he called upon Warner Brothers animator Ben Washam to sketch a cartoon likeness of the lad in drooping red suspenders and the rest, as they say, is history.
Wian’s chain of restaurants grew, and by the 1960′s, Bob’s Big Boy was a fixture in cities and towns across the country. The Big Boy sandwich and character were licensed to a dizzying array of franchise restaurants, so depending on where you grew up, you found the Big Boy at Azar’s, Frisch’s, JB’s, Kip’s, Vip’s or Shoney’s (among numerous others.)
Bob’s Big Boy was purchased by Marriott Corporation in 1967, and sold to Elias Bros. of Warren, MI, in 1987. Elias Bros. declared bankruptcy in 2000 (They had previously campaigned, perhaps unwisely, to get rid of the Big Boy character). Robert Liggett, Jr. has taken the reins in recent years, and now runs Big Boy Restaurants International. As of this writing, the company has 455 Big Boy restaurants in the United States, Canada and Japan, with more opening every year. And yes, they’re still giving out free comic books!
The oldest original Bob’s Big Boy is still in business in Burbank, CA. Built in 1949, and designed by influential LA architect Wane McAllister, the streamlined design and giant Bob’s sign remain as icons of the classic “coffee shop” era. The spot was named a California Point of Historical Interest in 1993. Filmmaker David Lynch ate there every day for seven years in his early career and still stops by. The Beatles ate their once, as well, and their table was marked with a plaque for many years.
In an era of cholesterol watching and calorie counting, sometimes one must throw caution to the wind and just live a little. Thanks to Bob’s Big Boy, you and the family can still take a little trip down memory lane, to a time when people just cared about how good something tasted. In that regard, Bob’s delivers – each and every time.
If you have fond memories of eating at Bob’s Big Boy, we’d love to hear your recollections in our comments section, as we fondly remember an iconic burger joint that is still going strong.