Vintage Toronto Ads: Burger Chef’s Monstrous Opening

Originally published on Torontoist on October 2, 2012.

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Given the emphasis on monsters in this ad, perhaps a Halloween launch would have been more appropriate? Toronto Star, February 6, 1970.

As the 1960s drew to a close, Canada was ripe for an American fast food invasion. Even if demand for cheap burgers and fries had temporarily peaked, the Great White North offered plenty of territory for chains like McDonald’s and Burger King to expand. Among the invaders was Burger Chef, which seemed to have two ingredients of success: plenty of locations (over 1,000, putting it in second place behind the Golden Arches), and strong corporate backing from General Foods.

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Burger Chef’s first attempt to enter the Toronto market. Don Mills Mirror, May 29, 1963. 

Burger Chef’s origins lay with General Restaurant Equipment, a milkshake machine manufacturer that Burger King approached to build one of its early broilers. Management saw potential in running their own fast food chain and launched Burger Chef in Indianapolis, in 1958. The chain attempted to break into the Toronto market with a Scarborough location on Eglinton Avenue in the early 1960s, but it appears to have vanished by the time new owner General Foods made a new push in early 1969. At that time, local advertising heavyweight McCann-Erickson was hired to promote Burger Chef, whose new locations were described as being “of the neighbourhood type.”

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Toronto Star, February 12, 1970.

Company officials made no pretense that Burger Chef was going to revolutionize the local fast food landscape. “We’re not going to reinvent the wheel,” vice-president C.C. Skinner told the Globe and Mail in 1970. “If there is something that other people can help us with, we will use it.” One possible source of help was the homegrown Harvey’s chain, which had considered the possibility of being taken over by General Foods earlier that year. After General Foods decided Harvey’s hamburgers were not a beautiful thing, Harvey’s management accused the food giant of dealing in bad faith and promptly cancelled a contract to buy General Foods–supplied coffee.

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Toronto Star, June 4, 1970.

After an initial advertising blitz in 1970 (which offered dubiously-named giveaways like “Skin-Pix”), Burger Chef adopted a lower profile. After a large loss, expansion halted the following year. McDonald’s Canada president George Cohon admitted his chain had crippled Burger Chef’s sales. By the end of the 1970s, remaining Canadian Burger Chef locations were being converted into Crock ‘N Block restaurants. Stateside, the chain didn’t last much longer: after its purchase by Canadian tobacco giant Imasco in 1982, most remaining locations were converted into Hardee’s outlets.

Additional material from the February 26, 1969 and August 6, 1970 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the October 16, 1970 and May 24, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: McLower Prices at McDonald’s

Originally published on Torontoist on August 14, 2012.

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The Telegram, November 6, 1970.

Portrait of an early Canadian McDonald’s location, courtesy of the Globe and Mail:

You won’t find a cigarette machine or a pay phone in a McDonald’s drive-in restaurant, because they don’t want you to stop there for purposes other than eating. The store manager orders your food put on the grill when your front wheels touch the parking lot, not when you place your order. He decided what you will be eating on the basis of projections from previous periods. The cooked hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fish sandwiches are put in heated holding bins. If you and your fellow customers in the restaurant vary your orders from past averages enough that a hamburger is in a bin longer than 10 minutes, it is thrown out.

With ever-growing sales spurred by a price drop and rapid expansion, what difference did a few tossed-out burgers make?

Store managers proudly donned their paper hats in ads like this one, to announce that, as a result of lower supply costs, prices were dropping on most menu items by up to 10 cents.

McDonald’s Canadian operation—which launched in Richmond, British Columbia in 1967 and debuted in Toronto a year later at 3777 Keele Street (now a KFC/Taco Bell combo)—was initially forced to import nearly all of its food and supplies, because Canadian companies weren’t convinced that the chain would ever meet its projected sales volumes. By 1970, McDonald’s had found local suppliers willing to meet its financial terms. It dropped Canadian menu prices to match those at locations south of the border.

The new prices worked. In the 10 Canadian stores that were open as of January 1970, sales were 52 per cent higher a year later. Those numbers widened the smile on Ronald McDonald’s painted face.

Additional material from the February 10, 1971 edition of the Globe and Mail.