Diners and cafes are as American as Elvis Presley, Mickey Mouse and apple pie

Elvis Presley's memory lives on in an American Diner. (Photo by Texas Elvis Fan Club archives).

Cafés, restaurants, drive-ins and diners, are deeply embedded in American culture and life. Tourists and fans still flock to one of the oldest cafes in Memphis, on South Main Street at the Arcade Restaurant to sit in Elvis Presley’s favorite seat in the 1950s.

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Arguably, some of the best and prominent eating establishments are as American as Elvis, Mickey Mouse and apple pie.

Did you know the first restaurant in America was established in 1734? Guess which city? Check out these interesting “firsts” in American restaurant culture:

Fajitas were discovered in a San Antonio Mexican restaurant by Norman Brinker, the founder of Steak and Ale, and CEO of chain restaurants like Chili’s and Macaroni Grill.

“We first put fajitas on our menu at Chili’s and sells soon went up the roof,” Brinker told News Legit’s Jack Dennis in 1997. “Fajita’s alone, with its sizzle and steam rising from the plates as we served them, transformed business and Chili’s was never the same.”

Burbank, CA Bob’s Big Boy drive-in opened in 1947.

The famous Big Boy character and logo image that graces restaurant’s napkins, statues, signage, etc. originated from a sketch of a six-year-old boy named Richard Woodruff.

The tubby little boy came into Bob Wian’s dinner in February 1937, just one year after he opened, and charmed the restaurant owner into free hamburgers for doing odd jobs.  Soon, the chubby guy, who often wore baggy overalls, earned the affectionate nickname “Fat Boy.”

Mr. Wian named his large new hamburger (the first double-decker) after “Fat Boy.” When he found out that name was already trademarked, he dubbed the burger and his diners, “Big Boy.”

Samuel Cole opened the first restaurant in America in 1734. He noticed an opportunity on a major stagecoach trail in Boston and called his establishment an “ordinary,” or “tavern.”

Naming it simply, “Cole’s,” the new restaurateur set  his place apart from the inns of New England by concentrating his energy on preparing and service good to hungry patrons.  Traditionally, food was just a necessity for visitors who stayed overnight at inns.

The hamburger got its origins from a Swiss immigrant, John Delmonico, who was the first to serve “hamburger steak” ever, in the New York restaurant he opened in 1827. Delmonico’s broiled chopped steak dish eventually evolved into the hamburger.

San Francisco was the site of the world’s first cafeteria, established during the gold rush of 1849.

Denny’s first location was in Lakewood, CA.

Harold Butler opened a little donuts shop called “Danny’s Donuts” in 1953. The store took off like a rocket, with $120,000 worth of donut and coffee sales his first year. Butler expanded into breakfast, sandwiches and other offerings. Danny Donuts soon evolved into Denny’s.

Eric Clapton offered his guitar to the first Hard Rock Café, in London, as a joke in 1971. Soon The Who’s Pete Townsend donated his guitar, with a note: “Mine’s as good as his.” These were the first music artifacts that started the trend.  The first Hard Rock in America opened in Los Angeles in 1982.

Here are the locations of some notable American restaurants and fast food establishments: 

Taco Bell
(first location)
7112 Firestone Blvd
Downey, California

Burger King
3090 NW 36th Street
Miami, Florida

7567 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, Texas

Dairy Queen
(first store)
North Chicago Street
Joliet, Illinois

8602 Botts Lane
San Antonio, Texas

IHOP Restaurant
(now a “Mo’s Restaurant”)
4301 Riverside Drive
Burbank, California

State Street and 3900 South
Salt Lake City, Utah

(first restaurant)
400 N. Lee Street
Des Plaines, Illinois
(first hamburger stand)
1398 N. “E” Street
San Bernardino, California


Papa John’s
Jeffersonville, Indiana

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
711 N. Broad St.
New Orleans, Louisiana

257 East Broad St
Columbus, Ohio

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