A&W Restaurants, Inc., is a chain of fast-food restaurants distinguished by its draft root beer and root beer floats. A&W's origins date back to when Roy W. Allen opened a walk-up root beer stand in Lodi, California, in 1919. Allen's employee Frank Wright partnered with him and founded the first A&W restaurant in Sacramento, California in 1923. The company name was taken from the surname initials of partners Roy W. Allen and Frank Wright. The company became famous in the United States for its "frosty mugs", where the mug would be kept in the freezer prior to being filled with root beer and served to the customer.
Beginning to franchise in 1925, today it has franchise locations throughout much of the world, serving a typical fast-food menu of hamburgers and French fries, as well as hot dogs. A number of its outlets are drive-in restaurants with carhops. Previously owned by Yum! Brands, the chain was sold to a consortium of A&W franchisees, through A Great American Brand, LLC, in December 2011.
A&W restaurants in Canada have been part of a separate and unaffiliated chain since 1972.
In June 1919, Lodi, California, Roy W. Allen opened his first root beer stand. In 1923 A&W began when Allen and Frank Wright opened an A&W drive-in restaurant in Sacramento, California, combining both of their initials for the name, and selling the root beer from Allen's stand. Curbside service was provided by tray boys and tray girls. In 1924, Allen purchased Frank Wright's stake in the business. In 1925, Allen began franchising the root beer, while the franchisee added the other menu items and operated at their discretion. This may have arguably been the first successful food-franchising operation. Allen sold the company in 1950 and retired.
In the expansion years of the 1950s and 1960s, franchisees were signing 20 or 25 year contracts under the older model. The chain went international in 1956, when A&W opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Montreal, Quebec, Canada. By 1960, A&W had 2,000 retail stores. In 1963, the chain opened its first store on Okinawa. In the following years, the chain branched into other foreign markets, including the Philippines and Malaysia.
Dale Mulder opened up a Lansing, Michigan, A&W franchise in 1961. Mulder added to his menu in 1963 the bacon cheeseburger after a customer made repeated orders for bacon to be added to his cheeseburger. Thus A&W is credited with inventing the bacon cheeseburger.
In 1963, the company was sold again followed by another sale in 1967 to United Fruit Co. conglomerate. AMK Corporation purchased United Fruit in 1970. Then AMK formed United Brands Company to hold A&W.
In 1971, A&W Beverages Inc.—a beverage subsidiary—began, supplying bottled A&W products to grocery stores. The bottled products rapidly became available nationally.
In the 1970s, A&W had more stores than McDonald's. with a peak in 1974 of 2,400 units. Oshkosh, Wisconsin franchise manager Jim Brajdic said: "Problems back then, including a lawsuit, franchisee discontent and inconsistencies in the operation, caused the chain to flounder and branches to close." A&W moved to a modern style franchise agreement which introduced royalty payments and new standards. However, as their 20 or 25 year original agreements expired, many franchisees refused the revised terms.
A&W in the 1980s began offering the Third Pounder to compete with McDonald's Quarter Pounder. The Third beat the Quarter in taste test and was less expensive. All of this was cited in the marketing of the burger. However, customers assumed that the Third Pounder had less meat than the Quarter Pounder, thus refusing to buy it.
In 1982, A. Alfred Taubman purchased A&W and placed under Taubman Investment Co. Taubman only purchased the restaurant company and not A&W Beverages. The chain dropped to less than 500 locations in the mid-1980s. A freeze on issuing franchises was put in place.
A new format concept, A&W Great Food Restaurants, was developed. Ten corporate-owned locations were opened to test the concept, which was a sit-down, upscale, family theme restaurant with a large salad bar and homemade ice cream.
In 1986, the company was headquartered in Livonia, Michigan and Mulder became CEO and president. The freeze was lifted and a push occurred in 1986 that added 60 franchise units. In 1989, A&W made an agreement with Minnesota-based Carousel Snack Bars to convert that chain's 200 stores (mostly kiosks in shopping malls) to A&W Hot Dogs & More. Some A&W Hot Dogs & More are still operating.
In 1995, Taubman sold A&W to Sidney Feltenstein. A&W merged with Long John Silver's to form Yorkshire Global Restaurants based in Lexington, Kentucky. Yorkshire in 2000 agreed to test multi-branded locations with Tricon Global Restaurants. By March 2002, the Yorkshire-Tricon multi-branding test consisted of 83 KFC/A&Ws, six KFC/Long John Silver's and three Taco Bell/Long John Silver's and was considered successful by the companies.
In the late 2000s, A&W added franchises with a nostalgic look and modern technology. They have a carhop design with drive-thrus and some have picnic tables.
In March 2002, Tricon Global announced the acquisition of Yorkshire and name change to Yum! Brands.
A&W opened its first outlet in Bangladesh on 15 December 2010. There are currently two outlets; one in Dhanmondi and another in Gulshan.
Most A&W stores that opened in the U.S. in recent years were co-branded with another of Yum!'s chains—Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
In January 2011, Yum! Brands announced its intention to sell A&W along with Long John Silver's. Citing poor sales for both divisions, Yum! planned to focus on international expansion for its remaining brands, with particular emphasis on growth in China. In September 2011, Yum! announced that it would sell the chain to A Great American Brand, a consortium of various A&W franchisees in the United States and overseas. The sale was finalized on December 19, 2011, under the leadership of returning CEO Kevin M. Bazner.
In October 2013, A&W opened its first new concept restaurant, A&W Burgers Chicken Floats. The new concept focuses on fresh made-to-order food and heavily emphasizes customer service. The menu features burgers made with fresh beef and a choice of toppings, hand-breaded chicken tenders, all beef hot dogs, and several sides.
As of 2013, the chain consisted of more than 1,200 restaurants, 350 of which were international stores in ten countries and territories.
In 1963, A&W introduced four choices of hamburgers and their corresponding Burger Family members: Papa Burger, Mama Burger, Teen Burger, and Baby Burger. Each burger had a wrapper featuring a cartoon image of the corresponding character. Many locations featured fiberglass statues of the family in front of their stores. The Papa Burger consisted of two 1/8-pound beef patties, with two slices of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and A&W's proprietary sauce (similar to Thousand Island dressing), on a sesame seed bun. The Mama Burger was the same, only with a single 1/8-pound patty and a plain bun, while the Teen Burger had a single 1/4-pound patty and included slices of bacon (also served on a sesame seed bun). The Baby Burger was made with one 1/8-pound beef patty, ketchup, mustard, and pickles, served on a plain bun.
Rooty, the Great American Root Bear, originated in Canada in 1974 and first appeared in the United States in 1976. Throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, Rooty was the face of A&W, both the bottled drinks and the restaurant chain, on television and print advertising. His presence all but disappeared in the late 1990s, but in 2011, under new ownership, Rooty has come out of retirement. He has since been featured in print ads, on A&W's website, as the voice of their official Twitter account, and in a variety of YouTube and Vine videos. In 2013, Rooty became the first mascot to have an official Linkedin profile, which was quickly shut down as Rooty was not considered "real" by the authorities at Linkedin.
In 1998, the characters from the comic strip "Blondie", including Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, were licensed for use at A&W franchisees as part of an "All American Food" campaign.
In the 1960s, a character named Chubby Chicken appeared on all Chubby burgers.
In the spring of 2013, A&W introduced its first new product in several years: a six-ounce version of its soft-serve blended dessert treat. Mini Polar Swirls were the first product to be launched on Vine. The following summer, 250 of A&W's restaurants began hand-breading their Chicken Tenders, moving towards higher-quality menu items and expanding their chicken category. In April 2014, the Hand- Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich was added to the menu as a limited time offering, along with a campaign to create the world's longest branded hashtag. In June 2014, A&W launched two new flavors of its Polar Swirl dessert treat: Sour Patch Kids and Nutter Butter.