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How fast food got its start in Southern California – and why it’s still the fast food capital of the world

Fast food has been deeply attached to Southern California since its inception.

McDonalds logo outside a store in Vienna, Austria, October 1, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

McDonalds logo is seen outside a store in Vienna
Thomson Reuters

McDonald’s, Taco Bell, In-N-Out, Del Taco, Jack in the Box and many other chain stores all have their roots in this area.

original mcdonalds

Taco Bell, Chipotle and others are still based there.

Taco Bell hq
Mary Meisenzahl/Insiders

Bob Wian opened the first Bob’s Big Boy in Glendale, California in 1936.

Bob's big boy
Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Wian is also credited with creating the double burger, which is now a fast food staple.

Big boy Bobs
AP Photo / Chris Carlson

Wian has had some experience serving customers in their cars since working at Kirby’s Pig Stand, where the auto shops are located, in Texas.

Kirby Texas Pig Stall
Margolies, John, photographer, Library of Congress

Bob’s Big Boy has a drive-through service for customers, the forerunner of the drive-through service.

Bob's Big boy drives in
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

In 1940, McDonald’s brother opened the first McDonald’s Bar-BQ drive-in in San Bernardino in 1940.

roast chicken

Chicken on the grill.
beautiful pictures

That same year, McDonald’s became a walk-in burger restaurant.

Genuine MacDonald Downey CA
Mary Meisenzahl/Insiders

By 1955, Ray Kroc joined as a franchisee and he founded the McDonald’s System, the forerunner of the McDonald’s Corporation.

McDonald Ray Kroc

Del Taco and Taco Bell, still competitors today, opened a year apart in 1960 and 1961.

Taco Bell hq
Mary Meisenzahl/Insiders

The two restaurants broke away from the fast food mold of hamburgers and fries at the time to sell burritos and tacos.

Original Menu with Kermit Becky Taco Bell

Taco Bell’s original menu from the 1960s.
Courtesy of Taco Bell

At the same time these restaurants are growing and expanding, the United States is building its massive highway system.


According to author and journalist Adam Chandler, American life is redesigned around car culture, and Americans want convenient dining stops to fit that lifestyle.

LA traffic
beautiful pictures

Southern California, in particular, grew on the automobile, which created the conditions for suburban housing, malls, and fast food restaurants to appear.

California suburbs from a drone's perspective.
adamkaz / Getty images

Southern California is booming financially as the nation’s leader in aircraft and automobile manufacturing and other defense spending.

Construction of the SoCal b-1 . bomber
Photo by Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

A car-centric culture, spending money on entertainment and the growing demand for fast and efficient food created the perfect storm for fast food to start, propelling the industry forward. throughout the rest of the world.

Genuine MacDonald Downey CA
Mary Meisenzahl/Insiders

Do you have a story you would like to share about a chain of retail stores or restaurants? Email this reporter at

Southern California is predicted to develop drive-thrus, which accounts for about 75% of fast food sales today.

Starbucks barista driving through COVID

Starbucks drive-thru.
Photo by Jason Whitman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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