By 1956, Jim McLamore and his partner Dave Edgerton had been developing Burger King for a year and a half under the Keith J. Cramer and Matthew L. Burns franchise. However, business was not moving forward. Sales were dropping, the fast-casual equipment was causing more and more problems, and the assortment seemed standard. One decision changed the course of the business.
The emergence of the Whopper.
Dave and I were constantly wondering what to do and how to get out of this desperate situation. Burger King’s whole system was at a standstill. Kremer and Burns had a lot of complexities of their own.
The five franchise locations they helped open, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, were doing even worse than we were, the same situation in Tampa and Orlando. Their own restaurant in Jacksonville was doing no better.
We knew that Burger King was missing something. It certainly wasn’t anything particularly unique to consumers. Earlier, in 1957, Kremer and Burns had opened Burger King near the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Fla.
The space was modular – assembled from prefabricated blocks. The idea was that if the restaurant wasn’t a success in that location, near the university, it could be quickly dismantled and opened elsewhere. The point of this experiment with the mobility of the premises in the end did not come out, but thanks to him we made a decision that was the most significant in the entire three years of the existence of the business.
It went like this. On our way back to Miami from another trip with Kremer and Burns to Jacksonville, Dave and I decided to stop by this newly opened restaurant near the University of Florida. After sitting there for several hours, we didn’t see a single customer. To keep myself occupied, I left the restaurant and walked down the street.
After walking less than a hundred yards, I saw a restaurant with a drive-in that had a long line lined up to get in. I saw a poster with a big hamburger and decided to see what was what, so I got in line. The restaurant was unkempt, dirty, and the staff looked terrible.
The parking lot was unfenced, and clouds of dust rose from under the wheels of incoming cars, right beside the customers who were standing in line and ordering from the cars. The restroom was outside, and the door dangled from a single hinge. The place looked ugly, but I could see a long line of people wanting to order. Why were all these people standing here in the dust when there was a new Burger King a hundred yards down the street that was empty?
As I stood in line, I noticed that the order takers were carrying bags
with huge burgers. I ordered two, myself and Dave. When I unpacked
one of them, I saw a huge hamburger on a bun about 13 centimeters in diameter with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, pickles, onions and ketchup. After taking a few bites, I understood why I was buying them – the burger was big and very tasty.
So big, in fact, that I finished it on the way to Burger King, where Dave stayed. I was impressed, and I couldn’t wait for Dave to try the burger too and give me his opinion. There were still no customers in the restaurant. Dave unpacked the hamburger I had brought and ate it with as much gusto as I did. At that moment, an idea popped into my head that had a huge impact on our business.
After seeing what the new modular
Burger King space, we got in the car and headed south to Miami, home. On our many trips around the state, Dave was always behind the wheel.
I had a small bottle of bourbon stashed in the glove compartment, and I splashed some into the soda I’d bought at the gas station. I couldn’t stop thinking about that big, delicious hamburger I’d just eaten, and the more I thought about it, the clearer I knew exactly what we needed to do.
As we drove through the small municipality of Majanopi,
I was in high spirits, and it suddenly occurred to me that
it would be a good idea to add a big, delicious hamburger to the menu at our restaurants in Miami. Dave immediately agreed with me. I suggested that we call
I suggested we call the burger “whopper” because it’s a word associated with something big.
I also suggested adding the Home of the Whopper signature on the sign under the restaurant’s name to show that this is our signature product. It was decided it was a good idea. We arrived in Miami after midnight, tired but excited – we couldn’t wait to add Whopper to the menu.
Without delay, we changed the signs on the roofs of all seven of our restaurants, and in a few days each had a sign at the entrance that read, “New Whopper Burger, thirty-seven cents.
Dave and I decided that a price of thirty-seven cents plus a 2-cent sales tax would keep the Whopper under forty cents-we were sure it was a reasonable price for the market. A few weeks later we raised the price to 39 cents. At the time, we had no idea that one day in the future our product would become the most popular and best known sandwich in the U.S., and maybe the world.
We wrote the specs for the Whopper, and within a few
days after we returned from our trip, sales of the new sandwich began in all seven of our restaurants. From that day on, our business started to improve.
From that day on, things were going to get better. The Whopper was an immediate hit and this was the turning point we have been waiting for. We realized
that we had found the key to success.
Around the same time the Whopper came along, we replaced the un-
reliable milkshake machines to the new Sani-Serve cycle shakers. And Dave’s invention of the boiler not only increased the speed of the restaurant’s order preparation conveyor belt, but also made it possible to cook Wopper patties alongside regular patties.
If Dave hadn’t come up with this new machine, we wouldn’t have been able to get Wopper production up and running so easily. These two new machines have helped us increase employee productivity overall, but more importantly, it has helped speed up customer service, and their loyalty to Burger King has started to grow. The Whopper had a huge impact on our entire business, restaurant visitor volumes were skyrocketing, and we were becoming more and more convinced that we were finally getting it right.
Even before the historic arrival of Whopper, we stopped going to Jacksonville.
to Jacksonville for guidance. The few franchisees that existed in the state had long since begun to focus on us in their work.
We were the only source of innovation and change that was vital to our industry. The emergence of Whopper was just one of many creative ideas we had in trying to improve the business, but it was the idea that proved to be a lifesaver.
Dave and I told Kremer and Burns that we were going to get rid of the instant cocktail machines as well as the extremely inefficient order dispensing system, and we put them on notice that from now on we would write our own specifications for products and equipment.
We also informed them that we would set our own standards for production and would design our own restaurant spaces in the future. The operations manual, created by Dave Edgerton, became a board book in all of our restaurants. We realized that we no longer needed Jacksonville’s support, and we informed the executives.
Kremer and Burns were sympathetic and even seemed grateful that we had been on their payroll for so long. Seeing our innovations, everyone involved realized that the future of Burger King was now in Miami.
All of our restaurants across the state now sold Whopper, references to instant shakes were removed from the billboards, and we became known simply as “Burger King – Home of the Whopper.
As the months passed, our business and sales grew
at an incredible rate. Dave and I gained the future confidence we so desperately needed.