How the old Bob’s Big Boy burger restaurants became the stuff of legend

Old Bob’s Big Boy burger restaurants at Click Americana

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

Facebook
Pinterest
Twitter
Email
LinkedIn
Pocket
Reddit

Step into a time machine and travel back to 1936. The location? Glendale, California. Here we discover the birthplace of the classic American diner experience that is Bob’s Big Boy.

The man behind the dream, Bob Wian — a young entrepreneur with a knack for whipping up delicious burgers — was about to redefine dining in America. 

First Bob's Big Boy restaurant in 1936 - Glendale, California

Bob’s innovation came in the form of the first-ever double-deck hamburger, a culinary masterpiece that still takes center stage on the menu today. This hefty creation, known as the “Big Boy,” was a hit, and it didn’t take long for Bob’s business to become a favorite local hotspot. The eatery’s relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere, complete with curbside service, made it a standout in the diner scene.

Franchises and drive-ins

The years rolled by, and the 1950s saw Bob’s Big Boy evolve into an iconic franchise as diners across the country came to crave the renowned double-decker burger.

The restaurants also became social hubs, particularly for the car-loving youth of the 50s and 60s. The concept of the “drive-in” restaurant was a perfect fit for the car culture of the era, adding to Bob’s popularity and fame.

ALSO SEE: What old drive-in movie theaters were like in the 1950s & 60s – and why they were so popular

Vintage 50s drive-in restaurants - Big Boy
Vintage 50s drive-in restaurants – Big Boy

Why do Big Boy restaurants have different names?

A distinctive feature of this model was the allowance for each franchisee to use their own name alongside the Big Boy brand, leading to regional variations like Frisch’s Big Boy in Ohio, Elias Brothers Big Boy in Michigan, and Shoney’s Big Boy in the South.

This practice not only fostered a sense of regional identity and personalized touch within the franchises, but also ensured the signature double-decker hamburger and the original Bob’s Big Boy spirit were found in every corner of the country.

Vintage Kip's Big Boy restaurant - Fort Worth, Texas (1962)

Big Boy comics

The Big Boy character truly became a household name through the publication of the Big Boy comic books, which were launched in 1956. Distributed free at the restaurants, these comics served a dual purpose of entertaining young guests and solidifying brand recognition.

The comics featured the Big Boy character and his friends embarking on various adventures, often themed around friendship, honesty, and good citizenship. For many kids of the era, the comic books were an inseparable part of the Big Boy dining experience, and they became collectible items, fondly remembered by generations of Big Boy fans.

Vintage Big Boy comic books

And there’s a surprising connection between the brand and the world of comic books beyond their own publication.

Before achieving international fame as the co-creator of iconic Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four, the legendary Stan Lee was one of the artists who worked on the Big Boy comic book series. His involvement, although obviously less well-known than his later work, played a part in his journey in the comic industry.

It’s a testament to the widespread influence of the Big Boy brand — showing that its impact extended beyond the realm of fast food and into popular culture in unexpected ways.

Bob's Big Boy restaurant ad and statistics (1951)
Bob’s Big Boy restaurant ad and statistics (1951)

The nostalgia lives on…

Through the decades, the franchise chain has seen some changes. The brand expanded, contracted, changed hands, and navigated the ebb and flow of America’s ever-evolving dining culture. But despite all the challenges, the essence of Bob’s Big Boy — serving up good food in a fun, welcoming environment — remains the same.

Today, there’s a touch of nostalgia in every Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, a nod to the history and tradition that the brand represents. They continue to serve their signature Big Boy double-decker hamburger and other classic American dishes, honoring Bob Wian’s original vision. (Find out more about the modern-day company at bigboy.com.)

It’s been a remarkable journey from that small eatery in Glendale to the national franchise it still is today. Have a scroll down memory lane with these photos from decades gone by.

Bob Wian and a vintage Bob's Big Boy menu cover
Bob Wian and a vintage Bob’s Big Boy menu cover

Tucson, Arizona Bob’s Big Boy coffee shop (1962)

Tucson Bob's Big Boy coffee shop opening (1962)


Vintage Bob’s restaurant signs (1967)

Vintage Bob's Big Boy restaurant signs (1967)


Bob’s Big Boy owes its name and iconic character to a serendipitous event. Bob Wian, the founder, hired a chubby, six-year-old boy named Richard Woodruff in 1937, who came into the original Glendale, California, location looking for a job.

Touched by his initiative, Wian put him to work doing odd jobs. One day, Wian jokingly referred to Woodruff as “Big Boy,” and the name stuck. The child’s nickname then inspired him to name a double-decker hamburger “The Big Boy.”

Antique Bob's Big Boy restaurant menu (1938)
Antique Bob’s Big Boy restaurant menu (1938)

An animator for Warner Bros. who frequented the eatery sketched a caricature of Richard Woodruff on a napkin, creating the company’s first logo. Woodruff’s innocent appeal and the double-decker hamburger sketch were the catalysts that built Bob’s Big Boy’s unique brand identity.

Retro Bob’s Big Boy statue in front of a restaurant (1968)

Old Bob's Big Boy statue in front of a restaurant (1968)


Huge retro Bob’s Big Boy sign (1968)

Huge retro Bob's Big Boy sign (1968)

ALSO SEE: The Roy Rogers Restaurant chain’s wild ride: How the cowboy rode into fast food history


1960s Bob’s Big Boy restaurant exterior (1969)

1960s Bob's Big Boy hamburger restaurant exterior (1969)


Bob’s Big Boy Jr restaurant in Santa Monica, California (1970)

Bob's Big Boy Jr restaurant in Santa Monica, California (1970)


1950s Bob’s Big Boy menu

Look at those prices! The double Big Boy burger was just 55 cents, and a Coke would set you back 15 cents. Printed along the bottom of the menu: “If you are in any way displeased with your food, your waitress will cheerfully exchange it for any other item.”

1950s Bob's Big Boy menu


Old Bob’s Big Boy coffee shop interior (1971)

ALSO SEE: 40 vintage 40s diners that delighted Americans with their convenience & cozy train car ambience

Bob's Big Boy coffee shop (1971)


Vintage Bob mascot statue (1971)

Vintage Bob mascot statue (1971)


Vintage 70s Bob’s Big Boy mall entrance (1973)

Vintage 70s Bob's Big Boy mall entrance (1973)

ALSO SEE: 50 old mall stores you probably haven’t seen for years (at least not looking like this)


Vintage Bob’s Big Boy hamburger car (1974)

Vintage Bob's Big Boy hamburger car (1974)


Bob’s Big Boy dinner house salad bar (1974)

Bob's Big Boy dinner house salad bar (1974)

YOU MIGHT LIKE: Classic green pea salad recipe (1970)


Old Bob’s Big Boy restaurant exterior (1977)

Old Bob's Big Boy restaurant exterior (1977)


Meals at Bob’s Big Boy in 1979

Meals at Bob's Big Boy in 1979


Bob’s Big Boy menu ad (1980)

Bob's Big Boy menu ad (1980)

ALSO SEE: 2 vintage recipes for delicious strawberry satin pie


80s Bob’s Big Boy salad bar (1981)

80s Bob's Big Boy salad bar (1981)


Illinois: Marc’s Big Boy hamburger & soup combo (1982)

Marc's Big Boy hamburger and soup menu combo (1982)


Retro 80s Bob’s Big Boy restaurant staff (1982)

Retro 80s Bob's Big Boy restaurant staff (1982)


80s Bob’s Big Boy restaurant entrance (1982)

80s Bob's Big Boy restaurant entrance (1982)


80s cheerleaders at a greenhouse-style Bob’s restaurant (1983)

80s cheerleaders at a greenhouse-style Bob's restaurant (1983)


Retro Bob’s TV commercial & old jingle (1984)


Opening a new Bob’s Big Boy restaurant (1984)

Opening a new Bob's Big Boy restaurant (1984)

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 

Facebook
Pinterest
Twitter
LinkedIn
Reddit
Email

You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. We used to have two Big Boy restaurants in my area for several decades. One ended up closing many moons ago, but the other remained open until just a couple years ago. But the quality had gone down greatly and the pandemic sealed their fate. They used to have a Swiss Miss burger on the menu that was my favorite.

    Other restaurants we used to have in a gone by era are Bill Knapp’s, Ponderosa, Bonanza, Zantigo’s (way better than Taco Bell), Howard Johnson’s, Burger Chef, Woolworth’s lunch counter, K-Mart cafeteria and the sub/ham sam counter with frozen cokes. We still have the only remaining Henry’s Hamburgers in the nation…with the original neon signage.

  2. We loved going to Big Boy restaurants…great atmosphere and good food!

    I liked the Big Boy burger, the spaghetti with meat sauce and especially the strawberry pies for dessert….yum!

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.