Monday, December 11, 2017

Wimpy Grills in Chicago, Illinois. (1934-1978)

"The Glorified
  Hamburger."
Originally called Wimpy Grills, the Wimpy brand was created in 1934 by Edward Gold, when he opened his first location in Bloomington, Indiana. The name was inspired by the character of J. Wellington Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons created by E. C. Segar.

Although the Wimpy name is most closely identified with the city of Chicago, Gold did not open his first Chicago area location until two years later in 1936, and after opening units in five other Midwestern cities.

By 1947, the chain had 26 units, and expected to sell eight million hamburgers annually in the Chicago area.

According to a 1978 Chicago Tribune article, Gold's company Wimpy Grills Inc. of Chicago had 25 locations in the United States at its height, but only seven locations remained at the time of his death in 1977. When Gold died in 1978, Gold’s stores were put up for sale, but there were no takers and they were shuttered.
The north east corner of Clark and Madison Streets, Chicago.  1958

Looking east on Madison Street at the north east Corner of Clark Street, Chicago.
Circa 1955
Madison and Clark Streets, Chicago, Circa. 1955

Madison and Clark Streets, Chicago, 1957

Looking east on Monroe Street from Dearborn Street, Chicago, 1966. Wiompy is on the near side of the Shubert Theater.

Wimpy's on the east side of Wabash Avenue looking north towards Lake Street. Circa 1952
Wimpy's located on Milwaukee Avenue just north of Higgins in Jefferson Park, Chicago. July 4, 1965. Courtesy of Debbie Craig.

Wimpy Grill at the southwest corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue, Chicago. Year unknown. 
I personally remember eating many times with my Father at the Wimpy's located at 75 East Washington Street, which was at North Garland Court (a named alley), Downtown Chicago. Today the location is a Dunkin Donut shop.

Today all of the U.S. Wimpy’s are long gone.

Wimpy Worldwide
In 1954, Gold sold a licence to J. Lyons and Co. to use the Wimpy name in the United Kingdom. Subsequently, in 1957, Wimpy Grills Inc. of Chicago formed a joint company with Lyons called Wimpy's International Inc., based in Chicago, to operate Wimpy Grills in the rest of the world.

The joint company eventually grew to 1,500 locations, and Gold later sold his share to Lyons prior to his death. After obtaining full control of the international licensing outside of the United States, Lyons and its successors handled global franchising through their United Kingdom based subsidiary Wimpy International Ltd. This arrangement ceased when Wimpy UK became a subsidiary of South Africa-based Famous Brands in 2007 and the South African company started to handle worldwide franchising duties directly from Johannesburg.

Wimpy United Kingdom
Lyons obtained a licence to use the Wimpy brand in the United Kingdom, from Edward Gold's Chicago based Wimpy Grills, Inc. and, in 1954, the first "Wimpy Bar" Lyons was established at the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street, London.
Britain's first Wimpy Hamburger Parlor in the Lyons Corner House cafe (as a Wimpy franchise) on the corner of Rupert Street and Leicester Square, London. 1954
Originally, the bar was a special fast food section within the more traditional Corner House restaurants, but the success soon led to the establishment of separate Wimpy restaurants serving only hamburger based meals.

In 1955 newspaper column, Art Buchwald, syndicated writer for the Washington Post, wrote about the recent opening of a "Wimpy's Hamburger Parlor" on Coventry Street and about the influence of American culture on the British.

Buchwald wrote, "Food served at the table within ten minutes of ordering and with atomic age efficiency. No cutlery needed or given. Drinks served in a bottle with a straw. Condiments in pre-packaged single serving packets." In addition to familiar Wimpy burgers and Whippsy milkshakes, the British franchise initially had served ham or sardine rolls called torpedoes and cold frankfurter with pickled cucumber sandwiches called Freddies.

During the 1970s Wimpy refused entry to women on their own after midnight. Some sources speculate that this may be because of an assumption they might be prostitutes.

By 1970, the business had expanded to over 1,000 restaurants in 23 countries.

In July 1977, the business was acquired by United Biscuits. By the end of the 1980s, Wimpy was beginning to lose ground to McDonald’s, which had opened its first restaurant in the country in 1974, and so the new management of Wimpy began to streamline the business, by converting some of the traditional table service restaurants to counter service.

When United Biscuits decided to divest its restaurant division in 1989, it sold the business to Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo). At the time of the sale, there were 381 locations in the United Kingdom. Grand Metropolitan had acquired Burger King the previous year, and it began to convert the counter service restaurants to Burger King, since it had a greater global brand recognition.

In February 1990, the remaining 216 table service restaurants were purchased by a management buy out, backed by 3i. These were locations that were considered less desirable by Grand Metropolitan. At the time of the buyout, there were also 140 franchised locations outside of the United Kingdom. In October 1999, Wimpy rolled out a chain of restaurants known as Dr Beaks, to take on brands such as KFC.

A second management buy out occurred in May 2002, backed by the Bank of Scotland. At the time of the sale in 2002, there were approximately 300 locations in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Although Wimpy outlets have decreased in numbers in the United Kingdom, they are still found in many cities, and at seafront/seasonal locations, such as Clacton-on-Sea, Clarence Pier in Southsea, Porthcawl and Brean Leisure Park in Somerset. By the beginning of the 21st century, most Wimpys were found in less desirable low rent locations that primarily cater to pensioners and others on a fixed income, and not in their former high street locations of their earlier days. Another big change from earlier times was that most locations were now franchises, and not company owned operations.

On 27 February 2007, Famous Brands, which owns the Wimpy franchise in South Africa, announced that it had acquired Wimpy UK. Having acquired the brand, Famous Brands has re branded Wimpy in the United Kingdom, to bring it in line with Wimpy South Africa. The "new" logo is actually one used by Wimpy UK from the 1960s until the 1980s.

In November 2009, Famous Brands began to upgrade its 170 locations in the United Kingdom to resemble United States style diners.
By June 2017, only 80 restaurants remain in the United Kingdom, down from over 500 during its height in the 1970s.

Wimpy South Africa
Wimpy International opened its first South African location in Durban in 1967. The South African restaurants were sold to Bakers SA Ltd in the late 1970s, which in 1987 sold the South African chain to Pleasure Foods, then known as Juicy Lucy SA. Famous Brands Limited, then known as the Steers Holdings Limited, acquired Wimpy when it bought Pleasure Foods in 2003.

In February 2007, Famous Brands acquired the United Kingdom based Wimpy to become the parent company for the chain, and become in charge in collecting the franchise fees from the other franchises.
Komani/Queenstown, South Africa, new style Wimpy's Restaurant.
By 2011, Famous Brands had 509 Wimpy restaurants in South Africa, making it the largest franchise in the Wimpy franchise system. 

Autos Scare Horses, Three Women Injuried in Homer, Illinois, November 21, 1907

A WORD OF WARNING

Since three serious accidents have occurred lately to ladies in this vicinity directly attributable to horses being frightened at automobiles, this question has become an important one and a word of warning to automobile drivers has become necessary.
Downtown Homer, Illinois in 1908 as viewed from the Rose Grain Elevator.
We believe that Homer owners and drivers of automobiles are desirous that their machines not prove a menace or a disturbance to the community, yet many are that claim and circumstances to prove it. Many horses never will become accustom to these horseless conveniences, and since horses were here first and must necessarily remain, the auto drivers must do all in their power to avoid accidents in the best interest of everybody. 

Homer Enterprise Newspaper, Homer, Illinois
November 21, 1907 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Electric (Amusement) Park, Kankakee, Illinois. (1894-1934)

Electric Park opened at the end of Kankakee's streetcar line on Osborn Avenue in 1894. The park was considered the "Coney Island" of Kankakee. It was located on what was then the eastern limits of Kankakee, on the edge of the city. The name "Electric Park" was itself a draw. For these were the times before modern street lights. Most streets in the city were unlit. A place with lighting after dark was enchanting.
The amusement park was an Emory Cobb[1] promotion. Cobb was an early Kankakee entrepreneur responsible for several municipal improvements, including the town waterworks and Hotel Riverview, which opened in 1887 at a cost of $80,000 ($2,128,481 today). The hotel consisted of 80 guest rooms, an immense covered veranda, tennis courts and croquet grounds, and beach access to the river complete with rowboats.

The idea behind the amusement park was, in part, to sell more streetcar tickets. Admission to the amusement park was a nickel, but it was free if you used the trolley. Use of the bath house, to change into your swimming suit, was an extra one and a half cents[2]. In the winter the park offered ice skating. The theater on the site could hold 700. The dance pavilion was named the "Green Lantern."

Over the years Electric Park held boxing matches and dance-a-thons. Special events at the theater, like a play or an orchestra performance, would command an extra dime for admission.

Electric Park was part of a time when Kankakee served as a Northern Illinois tourist mecca, drawing customers out of Chicago. The Hotel Riverview, the Great Interstate Fair (located where Old Fair Park is today), steamboats and amusement parks were all part of that time. From 1897-1899, the YMCA operated an Athletic Park, which included bicycle racing, adjacent to Electric Park.

Electric Park was designed to be family-friendly. No alcohol was sold. It was a competitor to the rougher Gougar's Grove further up the river. Gougar's Grove began to decline when the Sunday laws against beer sales and gambling were enforced.

The advent of the automobile helped lead to the demise of Electric Park. The park became part of the Kankakee Parks system in September, 1928. The coaster and buildings were dismantled by 1934.


[1] Emory Cobb was the first settler to what would become the Riverview Historic District in Kankakee. Cobb was instrumental in the founding of Western Union, but retired in 1866 at age 34. He moved to Kankakee at this time and built his house at the southwest corner of what is now River Street and South Chicago Avenue. Cobb owned much of the land that would become the district, which he initially used as pasture. Heavily involved in Kankakee's early commercial development, Cobb decided to build a resort hotel on his property. The Riverview Hotel, located in what is now the triangle formed by Park Place, South Chicago Avenue, and South Greenwood Avenue, opened in 1887 and operated for ten years before it was destroyed in a fire. After the fire, Cobb subdivided most of his property for residential use.

[2] The half-cent is the smallest denomination of United States coin ever minted.
First authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792 on April 2, 1792, the coin was produced in the United States from 1793 to 1857. The half-cent piece was made of 100% copper and was valued at one two-hundredth of a dollar. It was slightly smaller than a modern U.S. quarter with diameters 22 mm (1793), 23.5 mm (1794–1836) and 23 mm (1840–1857). The half-cent coin was discontinued by the Coinage Act of February 21, 1857. They were all produced at the Philadelphia Mint.