Bob’s Big Boy

Bob's Big Boy

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.

3 Responses to “Bob’s Big Boy”

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  1. Great place to go–I’ve been to a few Big Boy restaurants, have had an enjoyable experience every time. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it, you’ll just love it!

  2. Meaghan Edwards says:

    The last time I was at a Big Boy’s, in Kingsland, Georgia (where we stayed overnight at a nearby Days Inn on our way to a Florida vacation), there was a fly that got into my mom’s soup or coffee and we never went back. We went to a Shoney’s after that (maybe even the same location). I don’t remember much about the restaurant itself, but what sticks out most for me, for whatever reason, is getting a colouring booklet that featured Bald Eagles.

  3. Mark A. Gelhaar says:

    Big Boy Restaurants all over the United States and Canada in the 50’s,60’s, and 70’s were the direct licensed franchises from Mr. Bob Wian president, Bob’s Big Boy Inc. Glendale, CA. Mr. Wian started Bob’s Big Boy Family Restaurants in Los Angeles CA at a small snack bar called Bob’s Pantry in 1936. Bob Wian realized as founder of The Original Big Boy Double Decker Hamburger that others would try to copy his restaurant concept. Bob and loyal employees developed the Bob’s Big Boy franchise license for operators that would accept the Bob’s training and operational standards set by Bob’s to qualify to use the name and symbols of “Big Boy Family Restaurants”. Soon in the 40’s started franchises such as Frisch’s Big Boy (still exists) in OH,KY,IN,FL, Shoney’s (So.US States) Kip’s Boy Family Restaurants, TX,OK, and Wichita,KS, JB’s UT and NW states,Azar’s, Marcs, Top’s, Ken’s, Leo’s, Vip’s,, and others through out the US. Mr. Tomas W. Holman Sr., a long time employee that worked for Bob Wian from dishwasher (1941) to Vice President Corp. formed opening teams in the US to open and and set up and train franchised crew and operators with on site training to get the new on coming locations on the “Big Boy” concepts path. People who work in the Big Boy locations were always the most valuable assets Bob maintained through out his successful long running career. Mr. Tom Holman also was awarded a franchise called Kip’s Big Boy in Oklahoma City and Wichita, KS after his retirement from Bob’s in CA. Kip’s Big Boy in OK also acquired and started the Roy Rogers Roast Beef Restaurants in OK. Kip’s Big Boy Restaurants operating in Texas were franchised to Mr. Fred Bell a friend and business partner of Bob Wian and Tom Holman. Mr, James D. “Bucky” Reed also partnered with Mr. Tom Holman in OK and KS operating Kip’s locations and Roy Rogers restaurants. Frisch’s Big Boy OH, purchased all the Kip’s in all the areas they operated in 1972 and continued to operate as Kip’s for some 8 to 10 years and then sold the units. The whole franchise system was designed to provide the Bob’s image of the highest quality of food and service establishing the highest standards of the “Family Restaurant” easily recognized wherever one saw the Big Boy figure and sign. Thanks and I appreciate all comments and artifacts welcomed! mark,gelhaar513@gmail.com

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