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5 Fast Food Joints and the Stories Behind Their Names

Ian Harvey

Shakespeare’s Juliet lamented, “What’s in a name…?” when speaking of her love for Romeo. For fast food restaurants, it could be everything.

The fast food concept has been around since the 1950s, but several of the most popular have changed their names for one reason or another.

Most of the reasons are for branding association, but there have been a few that had other reasons.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken was founded by Colonel Harland Sanders in Louisville, Kentucky in 1952. The brand gradually became a household name all over the world.

In 1990 the state of Kentucky trademarked the name of their state causing any business to use the name “Kentucky” to get permission from the state and pay a licensing fee.

“Cape Town, South Africa – June 21, 2011: A KFC bucket bearing the image of founder Colonel Harland Sanders is placed above a Drive-thru sign at a suburban KFC franchise in Cape Town.”

“Cape Town, South Africa – June 21, 2011: A KFC bucket bearing the image of founder Colonel Harland Sanders is placed above a Drive-thru sign at a suburban KFC franchise in Cape Town.”

Rather than pay a huge fee for using the same name they had been using for so many years, Kentucky Fried Chicken simply changed its name to KFC. Many people claim it was because they couldn’t use the word “chicken” due to the artificial nature of the meat they produced but this is not the case.

Most people already used the acronym. In 2016, KFC and the Commonwealth of Kentucky reached an agreement and the chain plans to revert to the original name.

Kentucky Colonel Harland Sanders in the 1970s, in character Photo by Edgy01 CC BY-SA 3.0

Kentucky Colonel Harland Sanders in the 1970s, in character Photo by Edgy01 CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1984 Steven Kolow and Arthur Cores founded Boston Chicken in Newton, Massachusetts. At first, it sold only chicken with side dishes.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken

In 1995 the menu was expanded to include other types of dinners and pies but still specializing in rotisserie cooked meat and chicken. The name was changed to Boston Market.

Popeyes

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen was founded in 1972 in New Orleans, Louisiana by Al Copeland.

Huntsville, Alabama, USA – August 3, 2011: Illuminated fast food signs at sunrise. Popeyes, Checkers, and McDonalds signs on University Drive in Huntsville, Alabama, just west of Jordan Lane.

Huntsville, Alabama, USA – August 3, 2011: Illuminated fast food signs at sunrise. Popeyes, Checkers, and McDonalds signs on University Drive in Huntsville, Alabama, just west of Jordan Lane.

Originally named Chicken on the Run it wasn’t doing so well, so Copeland changed his recipe and renamed it Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits — supposedly after Gene Hackman’s character in the 1971 movie, The French Connection, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle.

Anderson, US – October 24, 2016: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Fast Food Restaurant. Popeyes is known for its Cajun Style Fried Chicken III

Anderson, US – October 24, 2016: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Fast Food Restaurant. Popeyes is known for its Cajun Style Fried Chicken III

In 2017 the name was changed again to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen to reflect the new offerings of seafood along with chicken and the return to spices and flavors of the Deep South.

 Qdoba Mexican Eats

Californians Anthony Miller and Robert Hauser got together in 1995 and laid the foundations for Qdoba Mexican Eats. When their first outlet opened in Denver, Colorado, it was named Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill. The lines of hungry diners keen to eat there were long, but service was quick.

Qdoba Mexican Grill on Andover St. in Peabody, Massachusetts Photo by Anthony92931 CC BY-SA 3.0

Qdoba Mexican Grill on Andover St. in Peabody, Massachusetts Photo by Anthony92931 CC BY-SA 3.0

As they developed their model into a state-wide chain, the name was changed to Z-Teca Mexican Grill because of an already established restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts that used the name Zuma. Miller and Hauser began franchising in 1997, extending the reach of their brand into other states.

This meant more copyright infringement situations arose, until 1999 when Qdoba Mexican Grill became their name. After Jack in the Box Inc. purchased the company, the name was changed to Qdoba Mexican Eats to distinguish themselves from Chipotle Mexican Grill.

IHOP

Another recent name change for a popular restaurant happened in June 2018. IHOP, known for their large breakfast menu, said they would change their name to IHOb (IHOburger) because of its expanded menus that serve lunches and dinners. As it turned out it was a marketing ploy to bring attention to the fact that people could enjoy dinner as well as breakfast food.

First named The International House of Pancakes, it was founded in 1958 by Jerry and Al Lapin, Albert Kallis, Sherwood Rosenberg, and William Kaye, in Burbank, California.

An IHOP in Portland, Oregon in 1983, with the older look and “International House of Pancakes” signage Photo by Steve Morgan CC BY SA 4.0

An IHOP in Portland, Oregon in 1983, with the older look and “International House of Pancakes” signage Photo by Steve Morgan CC BY SA 4.0

In 1973 the name was shortened to the acronym IHOP. The brand also changed their logo to make the ribbon below the name curve upward like a smile rather than downward like a frown.

 

Rusty Taco

In 2010 Rusty and Denise Fenton and Steve Dunn opened Rusty Taco in Dallas, Texas. In 2013 Rusty Fenton died from cancer. Although most of the shares were sold to Buffalo Wild Wings, Denise Fenton stayed on the payroll as Brand Director.

The name was changed to R Taco by the new owners. Following the acquisition of R Taco/Buffalo Wild Wings by Arby’s Restaurant Group in September 2018, forming Inspire Brands, the name has been changed back to Rusty Taco in a nod to the passion of the chain’s founder.

Read another story from us: The Restaurant Serving 40 Year-Old Beef Stew

Raymond L. Danner, Sr. founded Captain D’s, a casual fast food seafood restaurant in 1969 in Donelson, Tennessee. It was formerly named Mr. D’s Seafood and Hamburgers, but as the chain grew it was changed in 1974 to place the emphasis more on the seafood than the hamburgers.