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The Food That Built America Recap for The Godfathers of Fast Food

The Food That Built America Recap for The Godfathers of Fast Food

-This week’s The Food That Built America focuses on fast food…..specifically hot dogs and hamburgers.

-During World War I, immigrants came to America for freedom and food. They would work long hours and not have time to make hot meals, yet could not afford to eat at fancy restaurants. Instead, they would rely on greasy spoons, which would serve meals out of ground up meat. However, that meat would come from unsanitary slaughterhouses.

-In Wichita, a young man named Walt Anderson, who worked in the restaurant business, invented the hamburger, initially served in a meatball form. Little did he know this would be a game changer in the world of food. He used high quality ingredients and worked in an open kitchen to gain the trust of his customers.

-Despite making a modest profit, he soon had to buy meat on consignment. One day, he had an impatient customer, which led to him smashing the meatball….inventing the burgers people all know and loved today.

-Once this is a success, he used dinner rolls as the bread, making what we now know as the slider.

-Walt now must figure out how to make people buy said burgers.

-Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, a Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker was working two jobs to make ends meet and ended up getting jobs at Coney Island and a seafood place called Feltman’s. He was only able to afford to eat hot dogs, which were super unpopular at the time.

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-At the time, hot dogs were considered a poor person’s meal and their ingredients were a mystery.

-Nathan asks to work at the kitchen in Feltman’s, which would soon change things in the food industry forever. He works around the clock to make his dream into a reality.

-After saving up some money, Nathan opens a hot dog stand down the street from Feltman’s, his former employer. At first, he isn’t making any money, causing him to be discouraged.

-Back in Wichita, Walt’s burgers are a hit. He plans to open another location and meets Billy Ingram, a real estate agent who tells him that the dentist with whom he was to share the building was uncomfortable with his clientele. However, he decides to help him build a partnership and open even more locations.

-The men took out loans to open seven locations, which would have a small counter and little else, making it easier to clean. The plan was to make each one exactly the same so there was always consistency. The franchise became what the world would know as White Castle….aka the White Castle System of Eating.

-Before long, the seven locations opened and soon became a Kansas staple. Billy wants to expand on this once he sees the fruit of their labor.

-Back in Brooklyn, Nathan’s business is suffering and is in competition with Feltman’s. However, the price of Nathan’s hot dogs soon put him on the map. It would soon become one of the most well-known hot dog brands of all time.

-White Castle began growing across Kansas. Billy wants to expand even more, causing friction with Walt. Billy began a training program for his employees to make sure they all acted in a professional manner. This is something that would be standard in restaurants around the world.

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-Despite his low prices, Nathan was still struggling, so he decides to make the hot dogs kosher to pay homage to his Jewish heritage. He finds cuts of meat that would keep the prices low, inventing the ‘kosher-style’ hot dogs. Nathan’s Famous was then born.

-He also decides to send out mailers showing medical people eating hot dogs and even offering a discount on the people who agree to work on the ads. It works swimmingly….until the Great Depression hits.

-People struggled during the Depression, especially when it came to getting food. However, Nathan’s business was booming due to being so affordable. Since he is so busy, he decides to create an assembly line, a la Henry Food. He would sell over 75,000 hot dogs in a single weekend.

-However, the Great Depression leads to a falling out between Billy and Walt. Despite this, White Castle begins to grow, thanks to Billy. Walt, for his part, steps away from the business.

-Walt added coupons to newspapers to drive up sales, which soon became a hit. The Buy ‘Em By The Stack became a takeout favorite….selling 20 million burgers annually.

-Imitation burger places would soon open, causing problems for the OG business. This causes a lawsuit with a rival business called White Tower. All this causes Walt to sell his shares of the business and go into the airplane business, giving Billy sole control of the business.

-By the 1930s, Nathan’s is the busiest restaurant in America and a favorite with both celebrities and regular folk alike.

-Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest made the business even bigger, followed by selling hot dogs in stores and opening new franchises.

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-Both businesses led to other fast food places opening, including McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC.

-The fast food industry is said to be worth trillions by 2027.

-More next week, stay tuned.

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Author: Sammi Turano
Sammi has been a journalist for over a decade, specializing in entertainment, lifestyle, sports and celebrity news. She is the owner of TVGrapevine and Football in High Heels and the Host of Grapevine in High Heels With Sammi.