The Original Rockford Nostalgic Website
Richard and Maurice McDonald opened McDonald’s Bar-B-Que restaurant in San Bernardino, California in 1940, it was a typical drive in restaurant featuring a large menu and car hop service. In 1948 the brothers shut down their restaurant for three months for alterations. In December it reopened as a self-service drive in restaurant. The menu was reduced to just nine items. Prince Castle Sales Multi mixer salesman Roy Kroc went to visit the McDonald brothers in 1954 to sell them more Multimixers. Instead he learns that the brothers were looking for a nationwide franchising agent, and Ray decided his future would be in hamburgers. Kroc bought the franchise rights from the brothers and opened his first McDonalds in Des Plains, Illinois on April 15, 1955.
Back in the mid-1950’s Frank Patton, worked for the De Vilbuss Company of Chicago, he worked his way up to the position of branch manager of the firm. Patton had a white collar job, company car, a wife and two young daughters, and was the envy of friends. Ray Kroc, who recently obtained the franchise rights from the McDonald brothers, advertised for franchisees and Frank Patton who always dreamed of being in business for himself answered the call. Patton and Kroc reached an agreement in 1957, recorded the on the back of an envelope.
The result was that Patton left his well-paying, secure job in Chicago after working there 17 years to take a gamble by moving his family from Arlington Heights to Rockford, and opening the first McDonald’s in Rockford, the 25th McDonald’s Drive In restaurant in the barely two year old chain. Back then the restaurant chain offered walk up service, there were no carhops, no inside seating and no drive through window and a menu that included nine items, five of which were drinks, hamburgers were 15¢, French fries a dime. The burgers were made fresh on a grill and if not sold within 5 minutes they were tossed out and new ones cooked. It was an untested concept; no one could have guessed the future growth of the chain.
Patton would open his McDonald’s Drive in restaurant at 3137 North Main Street on November 21, 1957. Patton and his wife agreed that they would give it a year and see if the business was for them. They both put in long hours, with his wife Ruth doing the bookkeeping while Frank worked at every station in the restaurant, front counter, cooking, cleaning, window washer, ordering supplies and even taking out the trash among other duties, usually working from 9 a. m. to 2 a. m. Back then the store was open from 11 a. m. to 11 p. m. and after closing the store was cleaned from top to bottom. Although the investment was more than $70,000, and it took a lot if 15¢ hamburgers to make a profit. It took the Patton’s more than three years to make a profit. Meanwhile in 1960 Ray Kroc bought all of the trademarks, copy-rights, formulas, the golden arches and the name for $2.7 million.
Patton and his wife decided to build an additional McDonald’s Drive In restaurant near another shopping area, Rockford Plaza. They decided on a plot of land near East High School at Charles Street and 24th Avenue owned by Mr. and Mrs. P. A. Nelson. The Nelson’s had fought to change their property from residential zoning to commercial. Nearby residents complained that their property values would fall and the principal of East High School fought against it as it would serve as a gathering place for students who wanted to miss classes. The city claimed that the traffic generated by the drive in would create traffic problems in the area. Eventually the Nelson’s and Patton won the approval of the city to build a restaurant at the location. Rockford’s second McDonald’s location would open at 2715 Charles Street on March 7, 1961. As with other McDonald’s locations across the nation, the Charles Street location was designed with the identifying red and white tiled building and the rainbow shaped neon lighted arches. By now the chain had sold more than 400 million hamburgers. In 1964 the McDonald’s Filet O Fish sandwich joined the menu.
Picture courtesy of Kelly Sullivan
Many changes took place over the years as the walk up restaurants added limited indoor seating in 1962, in 1968 the new McDonald’s mansard roof building design is introduced to replace the red and white tile buildings along with new updated signs and expanded indoor seating. Also in 1968 hot apple pie and McDonald’s Big Mac are introduced, Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun. In 1969 McDonald’s would give away one cheeseburger for every “A” a student received on their report card to encourage education in Rockford schools. Patton would open up the third Rockford McDonald’s location at 315 North Alpine Road in September 1971.
Patton would open his fourth location at 3237-11th Street in 1973. The McDonald’s Quarter Pounder debuts in the same year. In 1975 breakfast was introduced at McDonald’s with the debut of the Egg McMuffin and early morning hours. In 1976 drive thru lanes were added nationwide. In 1978 Patton would open his fifth location at 6232 North Second Street. Things had changed over the years with the addition of more menu items, expanded indoor seating, drive thru lanes started to be added to the restaurants in 1976 and recently in 2016 all day breakfast.
In 1980 Frank Patton sold all of his locations back to the McDonald’s Corporation except for the Loves Park location which he retained because he no longer was able to maintain a personal connection with all the locations and he felt after working hard all of these years it was time to slow down and enjoy life. McDonald’s continued to grow in the Rockford metro area with over twenty restaurants which is now a mix of company owned and franchised locations. McDonald’s have also grown to be an international company and they no longer conform to one single style for their restaurants as they did in the past. Frank Patton, the man that brought McDonald’s to Rockford passed away on August 28, 1995.
The Golden Point Drive In was a new national chain started in Chicago, Illinois in 1958 by the Golden Point Hamburger Corporation with Thomas A. Anderson as president of the corporation. Golden Point was one of the earliest competitors of the McDonald's corporation and each store had sloping bright red roofs with an exaggerated central blue chimney with a distinctive 21 foot tall golden spire rising from the center of the building. This was a restaurant chain that, like McDonald's, had a limited menu and specialized in 15¢ hamburgers, 20¢ cheese- burgers and 10¢ French fries. The hamburgers and cheeseburgers were wrapped in gold colored wrappers. They also served grilled cheese and filet of sole sandwiches, milk shakes, orange drink, root beer, Coca-Cola and milk and coffee.
Drive In locations were leased by the Golden Point Corporation which paid the real estate owner a guaranteed rental price or five percent of gross sales, whichever was greater. In many cases the property owner would operate the drive in. The Golden Point Corporation was aggressive in recruiting owner-operators to keep pace with its expansion schedule and preferred local operators because it wanted to be associated closely with each of the communities in which they were built. They had no problem opening a store in Rockford when in June 1958, local resident Joe Boris signed on as a franchise owner-operator of the new Golden Point Hamburger Drive In located at 4240 East State Street. Another area Golden Point would open in Beloit, Wisconsin in September 1958.
The Golden Point Hamburger Corporation planned to open 1000 hamburger drive ins across the country within five years and in June 1959 another Golden Point Drive In would be opened at 815 Marchesano Drive by Boris. By 1961 the chain was operating over 100 restaurants in 27 states and was still aggressively marketing the chain to potential franchisees. But just as fast as the chain began it would appear that it was ending. In Rockford the Marchesano Drive and East State locations closed in the middle of 1962. The State Street location was put up for sale in August and a buyer was soon found. The building was razed and a new Sandy’ Hamburger Drive In would open on the former Golden Point site. In 1962 the Marchesano Drive location became a Hollywood Drive In. In 1978 this location became Box’s Bar B Q closing for good in 2003.
In 1956 four men from Kewanee, Illinois, Gus Lundberg, Robert C. Wenger, Paul White and W. K. Davidson decided to buy one of the first McDonald's franchises. Ray Kroc had just started selling the franchises, and the four purchased the right to open McDonald’s restaurants in central Illinois. In 1956, they opened their first restaurant, only the third McDonald’s restaurant to open outside California. The store proved popular and did so well that the group decided to open two additional locations in other cities.
Ray Kroc notified them that the new locations were not included in their franchise territory, and they would owe a higher percentage of their profits to McDonald's. Having invested heavily in the locations including erecting the buildings, the partners decided instead to open their own restaurant chain, and settled on the name Sandy's. Sandy’s went into direct competition with McDonald's - everyone who bought the 12 cent McDonald's hamburger bought the 10 cent fries. Sandy's market strategy was advertising 10 cent burgers. But the fries were 12 cents!
Sandy's Hamburgers had a Rockford location at 4240 East State Street that opened in the early 1960's. Sandy’s continued to grow and prosper growing from seven stores in Illinois in 1959 to 121 in five states by 1966. Toward the end of the 1960’s in order to compete with similar chains they would need to advertise on television like their competitors. They soon would grow short on funds.
To solve its financial situation, the chain’s 240 stores would soon merge with the Hardee’s Hamburger chain with the stipulation that Sandy's was supposed to maintain its own identity, but in 1973 ninety percent of the locations agreed to switch to Hardee's while only ten percent remained Sandy's. The Rockford location closed in 1973 after the chain’s 240 stores merged with Hardee's. The building was demolished and replaced by a car wash, also since gone.
Hardee's had several Rockford locations including 3700 East State Street, 3114 11TH Street, 2542 South Alpine Road, 2431 Auburn Street, 3555 N. Main Street, 7510 East State Street in Rockford. 6000 North Second Street and 1550 East Riverside in Loves Park and 5110 Edgemere Court in Roscoe. All of the local Hardee's locations were closed by the early 2000's. Most of the former locations found re-use. After several ownership changes and remodeling the State Street location currently houses Johnny Pamcakes. Recently Hardee's has returned to the Rockford region with two area locations.
Ponderosa Steak House was founded by Dan Lasater, Norm Wiese and Charles Kleptz in Kokomo, Indiana in 1965 featuring cooked to order steaks, hot baked potato, a roll and an unlimited salad bar. Ponderosa operated three buffet style restaurants locally at 3725 E. State Street opening in 1973, 6329 North Second Street opening in 1974 and at 1201 Sandy Hollow Road opening in 1975. Ponderosa disappeared from the Rockford landscape in the 1990's.
In September 1973 ground was broken for a $200,000 restaurant and ice cream parlor building at 915 South Alpine Road. The two story building featured an authentic-style soda fountain with an old fashioned Victorian atmosphere on the first level with a party room and rental space on the lower level. Owned by twin brothers John and James Palm they hired C. Edward Ware & Associates as the architects and Pearce-Butler was named the general contractor for the project. Opening in 1974 the nostalgic atmosphere was immediately accepted at the South Alpine location and a year later they would open a second location at 3600 North Main Street at the Northtowne Mall.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Benson
Between the two locations the business provided jobs for nearly 2,000 high school students during its existence. The popular restaurant and ice cream parlor is still remembered for its iconic Firewagon Special, Kiddie Kaper and the Alpine Special. Closing sometime in the late 1980’s many of us still remember this special.
One of the high school age waitresses behind the soda fountain of The Last Straw in 1975
The front cover of a menu from the South Alpine Road Last Straw circa 1974. Click above on cover to view entire menu
Rax Roast Beef Restaurants came to the area in the late 1970's with the first opening in Loves Park at 5203 North Second Street in 1979. Locations at 1500 Sandy Hollow Road, shown here in 1980, and 3700 East State Street followed in 1982. All three were closed in the late 1980's.
The Loves Park location became a "title loan store", the Sandy Hollow location became an Arby's Restaurant and the East State Store became a Hardee's and is now occupied by Johnny Pamcakes Family Restaurant. The Rax Restaurant chain scaled back even more after filing for bankruptcy in 1992 and there are now only 8 locations in three states - Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky as of February 2016.
In 1958 Pizza Hut was founded by Dan and Frank Carney in Wichita, Kansas. Pizza Hut came to Rockford after franchisee Gordon L. Harrah opened a location at 2524 South Alpine Road in 1971 in the Alpine Village Shopping Center. The South Alpine location featured a small counter area where you could dine or enjoy an alcoholic beverage, and a fireplace in the center of the dining room. They served their signature pizza with freshly made dough, fresh sliced cheese and freshly made pizza sauce and toppings. A Friday night favorite of Jefferson High School J-Hawks fans after a game. Later Harrah would open another Pizza Hut at 7911 North Alpine Road in suburban Loves Park, similar to the Rockford location but was larger in size. Pizza Pete adorned the signs and building while the interior featured red and white checkered table cloths which were carried over to the employee’s red and white checkered shirts. The Pizza Hut on South Alpine burned down in 1987 and was rebuilt minus the fireplace and in a smaller building. Pizza Hut would sell its chain of pizza restaurants to the Pepsi Cola Company in 1978 and is now part of its YUM! Brands Division.
Shakey's Pizza was founded in Sacramento, California, on April 30, 1954, by Sherwood "Shakey" Johnson and Ed Plummer. Johnson's nickname resulted from nerve damage following a bout of malaria suffered during World War II. The pizza parlor was filled with ragtime, jazz and honky tonk music, sometimes performed by live players and other times by a player piano. To entertain their guests during their visit they would invite the audience to sing along in the family friendly atmosphere. Served were Pizza, Fried Chicken, Salads and Shakey’s famous Mojo Potatoes. Johnson sold his interest in Shakey's in 1967; the same year a Shakey's was opened locally at 3207 North Main Street shown above. There were 272 Shakey's Pizza Parlors in the United States at that time. Shakey's after many ownership changes on the corporate level the chain would continue to shrink and the Rockford location was closed in the mid 1980's.
In 1961 Ron Santo the popular baseball player who was third baseman for the Chicago Cubs opened a pizzeria in Park Ridge, Illinois using his mother’s pizza recipe. The pizza was also sold at Wrigley Field for a couple of years. His restaurant chain eventually mushroomed into seven locations with one opening in Rockford at 517 - 15th Avenue in 1967. The chain would soon fade into memory as Santo's losses mounted due to changing consumer tastes with the Rockford location fading into memory around 1972.
Ron Santo rolling out the dough in the off season
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