An Arizona man once set out to visit all of what’s left of the A&W restaurants with carhops.
He came across his Mecca in Lodi, the birthplace of the franchise founded over 90 years ago.
“We’ve had our restaurant featured on different (television) shows,” said Annette Knight on Thursday.
Since 1995, she’s been part owner of the A&W All-American at 216 E. Lodi Ave. Over the years, Knight has witnessed her fair share of visitors, from Arizona to Southern California.
“They’ve actually made it a point to come here,” she said.
One of the highlights is Cruise Night, held every Thursday night – 6 to 9 o’clock – from April through October. Much like the heyday of the 1950s and ’70s, muscle cars along with other classic and new vehicles are showcased at A&W.
Knight indicated that due to the size of the crowds no carhop service is available during this time.
There was a time when the A&W franchises outnumbered McDonald’s.
That was in the 1970s. Before the lawsuit and franchisee discontent and inconsistencies in the operation that hampered the chain, causing branches to close down soon after.
A&W was founded by Roy W. Allen and Frank Wright. Hence, and their initials produced the company name.
Allen opened the modest business that year at 13 W. Pine St. in Lodi.
He setup a temporary stand to celebrate the homecoming of World War I. Only a plaque remains on this site, dedicated in 2001, reading: “On this site – One hot day in June of 1919 Roy Allen served the first frosty mug of creamy A&W Root Beer in Lodi, CA.”
Two weeks later, Allen put his first store at this very site, selling a frosty mug of the delightful beverage for 5 cents.
In 1922, Allen and officially teamed up with Wright. They branded A &W Root Beer.
A year later, they opened a drive-in restaurant in Sacramento. This is thought to be the country’s first “drive-in” featuring “tray-boys” for curb side service, according to the official website (www.awrootbeer.com).
By 1933, A&W could be found in more than 170 outlets in the West and Midwest. After World War II – no new restaurants were opened, understandably, due to the government’s rationing of sugar not to mention shortage of manpower – business picked up as over 450 more restaurants opened nationwide.
This was the 1950s, when drive-ins were as popular as ever and A&W was one of the few nationally established chains.
By 1960, A&W had more than 2,000 restaurants, including Canada, Guam and the Philippines.
In 1971, the root beer went from the drive-in to the grocery shelf thanks to a beverage division that canned and bottled the soft drink for distribution.
A&W has undergone various changes over the years. The restaurant chain was previously owned by Yum! Brands Inc.
The company also owns Long John’s Silver, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. That explains why most A&W stores opened before 2011 share space with, say, KFC.
The restaurant chain is now owned by A Great American Brand and still produces a variety of hamburgers and hotdogs coupled with cheese curds and chicken.
A&W has about 1,200 stores serving 16 countries and territories.