A&W Root Beer

Roy Allen, who refurbished old hotels, met a pharmacist who had perfected a recipe for making root beer. Allen bought the recipe and on June 20, 1919, opened a root beer stand in Lodi, California, offering frosty mugs of root beer for a nickel. Shortly thereafter, he opened more stands in Stockton and Sacramento, one of which may have been a drive-in. In 1920, Frank Wright, an employee at the Stockton stand, became Allen’s partner; they combined their initials and called the company A&W Root Beer. Additional A&W stands were opened throughout California, Utah, and Texas. Allen eventually bought out Wright, trademarked the A&W Root Beer logo (a bull’s eye and arrow), and began to franchise the chain; thus, A&W became one of the first fast food franchise chains in the country. Franchisees paid a small licensing fee, displayed the A&W logo, and bought root beer syrup from Allen. Other than these connections, little commonality existed among franchisees—no common architecture, no common menu, and no common procedures or national advertising.
Some A&W Root Beer franchises began selling food, including hamburgers and hot dogs, along with root beer. Some early A&W Root Beer stands were drive-ins, featuring tray-boys and tray-girls, later renamed carhops, who brought orders to customers in their cars outside.
The Depression affected franchises differently. Some went out of business, but others opened more new stands. In 1933, A&W had 170 outlets; by 1941, it had 260 stands nationwide. The war years between 1941 and 1945, on the other hand, were a very difficult time for A&W. There were labor shortages and sugar shortages, and by the time the war ended many franchises had closed. After the war, however, A&W rapidly expanded. During the 1950s, Roy Allen sold the business to a Nebraskan, Gene Hurtz, who formed the A&W Root Beer Company. Within ten years, the number of A&W outlets had increased to more than 2,000. In 1956, an A&W Root Beer outlet opened in Canada, followed by Guam and the Philippines.
A&W went through many ownership changes beginning in 1960, when the chain was sold to the J. Hungerford  Company, which had manufactured the concentrate for the soda almost since the beginning. Three years later, both companies were sold to the United Fruit Company (later renamed United Brands Company). Within United Brands, the company changed its name to A&W International. In 1971, United Brands formed A&W Beverages, Inc., and test-marketed A&W Root Beer in bottles and cans in California and
A&W Root Beer.
A&W Root Beer.
Arizona. The product was well-received and was subsequently distributed nationally, along with sugar-free, low-sodium, and caffeine-free versions. In 1974 the company introduced its mascot, The Great Root Bear.
In 1975, franchisees formed the National Advisory Council of the National A&W Franchisees Association (NAWFA), which was the first time that franchisees had a voice in the formation of their contract. A standard menu for each restaurant was created in 1978. The new A&W Great Food Restaurants included salad bars and ice cream bars, among many other innovations. At the same time, A&W Restaurants, Inc., a wholly owned restaurant franchise subsidiary, was formed.
A. Alfred Taubman, the shopping mall and real estate tycoon, purchased A&W Restaurants, Inc. in 1982, and he opened new franchises in malls and shopping centers. The company also began expanding its operation to include A&W Hot Dogs and More restaurants. By the mid-1980s, the company had expanded its operations into several Southeast Asian countries, with an office in Malaysia serving as the headquarters of A&W’s international operations. In October, 1993, A&W Beverages, Inc. became part of Cadbury Beverages, Inc. Today, the A&W Beverages continues under the ownership of Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc., the largest non-cola soft drink enterprise in North America and the largest subsidiary of London-based Cadbury Schweppes.
In 1994, A&W Restaurants, Inc. was purchased by Sagittarius Acquisitions, Inc., which in 1999 merged with Long John Silver’s to form the Yorkshire Global Restaurants based in Lexington, Kentucky. By 2001, A&W had 970 restaurants (780 in the United States and 190 in other countries), and 121 joint establishments with Long John Silver’s. Tricon Global Restaurants (later renamed Yum! Brands , Inc.) acquired A&W Restaurants in 2002.

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