You can easily find an A&W location in the US, as there are hundreds of them. In fact, cross into Canada and you’ll find a lot more. Enter one, get a root beer float, and relax. It’s all good.
All that goodness, however, isn’t exactly new. The very idea of fast-food franchises is actually relatively new. And A&W was perhaps the pioneer of it all. Of all the fast-food brands out there, there’s none older than the venerable A&W.
It all started with a man named Roy Allen, way back in 1919. There was a parade going through a town in Lodi, California, celebrating the return of the soldiers from the Great War. Allen saw this as quick and easy way to make some money.
He set up a temporary stand, so that the folks at the parade could enjoy frosty glass mugs of ice-cold root beer. It sold well at 5¢ per glass, as it was a hot June day.
That’s where he got the idea of doing this all the time, and he partnered with Frank Wright in 1922. They leased first two root beer stands out to their first franchisees in town, so they could concentrate more on developing their operations in Sacramento. They also got the A&W brand from the first letters of their names.
The Prohibition and A&W Success
The A&W brand started at the right time, as the Prohibition era had just started in 1920. It simply was a great time to start selling anything with “beer” in its name. It wasn’t actually alcoholic, so it wasn’t banned.
Actually, there were some Prohibition supporters who demanded the ban on root beer, simply because of its name. The issue only offered more publicity, and made the A&W brand a lot more famous.
Brewing Their Own Root Beer
Roy Allen didn’t really invent root beer. He just bought a root beer recipe, so he could make his own root beer for his stands. And even now, they’re still doing it this way. They’re still brewing their own root beer. Throughout much of their history, the restaurants made their own root beer fresh each day. The company did try to switch to using concentrate, to save money and space, back in the early 2000s.
But they switched back to making fresh root beer in 2017. Many A&W locations still use a paddle-operated brewing kettle to brew their own root beer in-house each day. They also put in their own special blend of herbs and spices, along with bark and berries. That way, any recipe that uses commercial root beer just won’t taste the same.
They also had the grand idea of serving vanilla soft serve ice cream with the root beer, to come up with the root beer floats. This is still the iconic A&W treat, so that it seems like no visit to this place is ever complete without the float. In fact, some people come in just for the floats alone.
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The First Drive-In
The idea of the drive-in seems like a romantic but obsolete oddity these days. People often think of these places as having been popular in California back in the 1950s up to perhaps the 1970s.
But the truth is that the very first California drive-in was A&W, and that was way back in 1923. Presumably, they already had enough private vehicles (and movies) to make the idea a success.
The Invention of Bacon Cheeseburger
These days, lots of brands feature their own version of the bacon cheeseburger. The idea seems like a no-brainer, proving the oft-quoted notion that bacon makes everything better. Nowadays, lots of things have bacon in them, including non-edible products with bacon.
But the idea of the bacon cheeseburger actually started with A&W. This was way back in 1963 and a long-time Michigan franchise owner named Dale Mulder. He noted that a lot of his repeat customers were always asking that the staff put in slabs of bacon on top of the cheeseburgers. This wasn’t just for breakfast (although it may have started that way), but throughout the day.
Dale Mulder noted this, so he just included the item as part of his menu. The idea caught on, and it spread across not just the A&W franchises but the whole fast-food industry. These days, most fast-food menus have cheeseburgers with bacon, all thanks to A&W and Dale Mulder.
View the A&W menu prices here, and you’ll find that there are plenty of items that should satisfy your simple taste buds, your hunger, and your need to save money. A&W started it all, and no one can challenge the root beer floats. Add a burger (with bacon) and some cheese curds and onion rings, relax, and it’s always a nice visit to A&W.