Big Boy is an iconic American restaurant chain known for its signature double deck hamburgers. The very first Big Boy restaurant opened in Glendale, California in 1936. Over the decades, Big Boy grew into a nationwide chain with hundreds of locations across the country. Today, many Big Boy restaurants are owned and operated by franchisees or licensees rather than the parent company. This allows local ownership and management while still being associated with the nationally recognized Big Boy brand.
The History of Big Boy
The first Big Boy restaurant was founded in 1936 by Bob Wian in Glendale, California. Wian designed the double deck hamburger that became the signature menu item of Big Boy. The mascot “Big Boy” became popular and soon every Big Boy location had a statue of the plump boy with red and white checkered overalls holding a Big Boy double decker burger.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Big Boy expanded through franchising to locations throughout California and Arizona. The company adopted the franchise model early on to facilitate growth. This allowed individuals to open their own Big Boy restaurant while leveraging the branding and menu of the larger company.
Big Boy spread across the country in the 1960s and 1970s. At its peak popularity, there were over 1,200 Big Boy locations in the United States. The company also expanded into international markets like Canada, Japan, and the Middle East.
The Decline of Company-Owned Locations
In the late 1970s, Bob Wian sold Big Boy to the Marriott Corporation. Under corporate ownership, the number of company-owned and operated Big Boy locations started to decline.
Marriott ended up selling Big Boy in 1987 to food service distributor Imasco Limited. The trend of closing corporate-run locations continued under this new owner.
In the year 2000, Big Boy was sold yet again. This time it was purchased by venture capitalist Robert Liggett Jr. Under his leadership, Big Boy refocused its efforts on franchise operations rather than company-owned restaurants.
Today, there are very few Big Boy restaurants still owned and operated by the parent company. Just 7 of the remaining 136 Big Boy locations in the U.S. are company-owned.
The Current Status of Big Boy in Germantown
Germantown is a neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee. The city was once home to multiple Big Boy locations back when the chain was at its height.
Today, there is just one Big Boy restaurant left in Germantown. This Big Boy is located at 7750 Poplar Pike near the intersection with Riverdale Road.
Based on research, it appears that this Germantown Big Boy is not owned by the Big Boy corporation. The location is operated by a licensee or franchisee.
There are a couple clues that point to this Big Boy having local Germantown ownership:
- The restaurant’s branding and interior decor differ slightly from corporate Big Boy standards. There are custom murals painted inside and the statues of Big Boy out front look different than those at company-owned locations.
- The menu features additional offerings beyond Big Boy’s core hamburgers and breakfast items. This indicates some freedom by the owners to experiment beyond corporate mandates.
- The location is owned by G.B. Foods Inc according to business records. This company name does not suggest affiliation with Big Boy’s parent organization.
Based on this information, it appears the Big Boy in Germantown is not corporately owned and operated. Local franchisees or licensees own this remaining Memphis area Big Boy. The parent company likely maintains some branding and menu standards for the location, but day-to-day operations and ownership lies with a Germantown-based business entity.
The Franchise Model for Big Boy
The Big Boy companyshifted to a franchise-focused business model back in the 1970s and 1980s. This was a strategic move as opening franchised locations requires significantly less capital than establishing company-owned restaurants.
For Big Boy, the franchise model allowed rapid expansion around the country without taking on all the associated costs and risks. With franchising, local individuals make the investment to open and operate new Big Boy locations instead of the parent company.
In exchange for the right to use the Big Boy name and branding, franchisees pay an upfront franchise fee and ongoing royalty payments back to the corporate office. This provides Big Boy with a stream of revenue while transferring costs like real estate, equipment, inventory and staffing to individual franchise owners.
The franchise model provides a level of quality assurance for customers as well. Big Boy is able to maintain brand consistency by enforcing certain standards at franchised restaurants. However, local franchisees have some flexibility to tweak menus and decor to meet local tastes.
This franchise model continues today with most existing Big Boy locations being operated by franchisees across the U.S. The Germantown restaurant fits the profile of a franchisee-owned establishment.
Advantages of Franchise Ownership
For the owners of the Germantown Big Boy, there are a number of advantages to being a franchisee versus a corporate-owned location:
- Local Decision Making – As a franchisee they can make adjustments to better serve their community versus following national directives.
- Motivated Ownership – As local owners, they likely have more incentive to ensure their Big Boy thrives than a corporate manager would.
- Established Brand – They benefit from Big Boy’s national brand recognition while retaining local control.
- Corporate Support – While independent, they still get support from Big Boy’s corporate team in areas like marketing, training, purchasing, and IT.
- Proven System – Big Boy’s system for menus, suppliers, and operations provides a blueprint for franchisees to follow.
By having local owners, the Germantown Big Boy is able to meet the needs of Memphis area residents while still being part of a larger brand. The franchise model offers advantages to both the parent company and individual restaurant owners.
Remaining Locations in Tennessee
While Big Boy once had a major presence in Tennessee back in the 60s and 70s, the number of locations in the state has declined over the years.
Here are the remaining Big Boy restaurants still operating in Tennessee today:
- Germantown – 7750 Poplar Pike
- Chattanooga – 2120 Hamilton Place Blvd.
- Johnson City – 3001 Peoples St #14
- Knoxville – 11663 Parkside Dr
All of these Tennessee Big Boy outposts appear to be locally owned franchise or licensee locations. The Germantown restaurant is the only remaining Big Boy in the Memphis area. Residents can still enjoy the restaurant’s signature double deck burgers and strawberry pie, though the days of company-owned Big Boys in the state have passed.
The franchise model allows the Big Boy name to continue on in parts of Tennessee despite the parent company’s shift away from directly operating locations. This allows locals to retain some franchise brand presence in their communities through individual franchisees.
Big Boy Outposts Still Thriving Elsewhere
Though Big Boy has declined over the decades, the restaurants and brand maintain an outsized presence, particularly in its Midwest home region.
The states with the highest number of remaining Big Boy locations are:
- Michigan – 38 locations
- Ohio – 20 locations
- Indiana – 11 locations
- Wisconsin – 8 locations
Big Boy remains an iconic brand in these Midwestern states where the restaurants first found success in the 40s and 50s. Nostalgia for the brand remains high. Many of the franchisee owners in places like Michigan and Ohio have been operating their local Big Boys for decades, passing the businesses down through generations.
Outside the Midwest, pockets of Big Boy restaurants can still be found in a handful of states. The brand has held on through local franchisees committed to preserving their iconic local Big Boys.
Though no longer the national mega-chain it once was, Big Boy persists thanks to the passion of individual franchise owners across the U.S.
The Big Boy Franchise Today
Big Boy remains an active franchise today. The company is still focused on franchise growth and provides support to existing franchisees.
As of 2022, Big Boy reports having around 93 active franchise units in its system. Franchise locations generated around $230 million in system-wide sales in 2021.
For restaurateurs interested in opening a Big Boy franchise, the company lists these current requirements:
- Net worth of $1.5 million.
- Liquid assets of $500,000.
- Commitment to open multiple unit agreements.
- $40,000 initial franchise fee per location.
- 6% ongoing royalty fees.
- Real estate lease for acceptable restaurant site.
The total investment to open a new Big Boy is estimated to be between $1,441,000 – $2,298,000. This covers real estate, equipment, signage, inventory, training, fees, and opening costs.
Like most franchises, Big Boy also charges advertising fees to franchisees to help fund national and regional marketing campaigns. This allows local restaurants to benefit from broader brand building efforts.
For existing franchisees, Big Boy corporate provides ongoing services like training, business consulting, marketing resources, purchasing assistance, and IT support. Franchisees are also required to follow Big Boy’s systems and procedures to maintain brand consistency.
The days of rapid franchise growth may be over for Big Boy. However, they continue working with dedicated multi-unit owners to selectively expand in certain markets. The Germantown location is an example of the franchise model sustaining Big Boy’s presence despite past downsizings.
In summary, the existing Big Boy restaurant in Germantown, Tennessee is not owned directly by the Big Boy corporation. It is likely operated by a local franchisee or licensee holder. This reflects Big Boy’s franchise-focused business model used since the 1970s.
Franchising allowed rapid expansion of Big Boy across the U.S. in the 20th century. While corporate-owned locations have mostly disappeared, Big Boy persists in some communities through independent franchise owners committed to the brand.
The Germantown Big Boy has local owners that provide a level of autonomy while benefiting from the branding and history of an iconic American chain. Big Boy corporate continues to support franchisees through services that help maintain brand standards and quality.
Though no longer as ubiquitous as its mid-century heyday, remnants of Big Boy’s legacy remain through locally-owned franchised restaurants like the one in Germantown. For generations of Americans, the familiar sight of the Big Boy mascot still evokes nostalgia and fond memories that independent owners like those in Germantown work hard to preserve.