Harold and Helen Kite opened the very first Burger Queen in Winter Haven, Florida in 1956. The next few years saw growth of several more locations throughout Florida, In 1961, James Gannon along with his business partners John and George Clark bought the franchise rights and expanded in to Kentucky.
Louisville was the home of the first Bluegrass state location and would ultimately become the corporate home of the company.
April 1969 saw the opening a franchise at 460-462 Main Street in Danville, Kentucky, and, due to the fact that the Danville papers are easily searchable, the majority of the information I was able to find came from this location.
The Danville Burger Queen was a big hit from the jump. This little blurb was posted two weeks after the opening in Danville in The Advocate-Messenger on April 27, 1969:
BURGERS ARE SELLING FAST IN DANVILLE!
Over 1,000 hamburgers, though the count really can’t be estimated, have been served at the Burger Queen Restaurant since its opening at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, according to a report Friday from John Bowling, manager-owner of the new establishment.
The eating place, located at 462 Main Street in Danville, caters to a great many high school and college students in the area, as well as to those who work in downtown Danville. during . the day. Hamburgers are not their only business,” as many other items, designed to appeal to all age groups, are offered.
The doors are opened seven days a week at 8 a.m., and coffee and turnovers are served until the grill opens are 10 a.m. Closing time is 1 1 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
The large sign in front of the building will be available for as much advertising as is possible for non-profit organizations, such as women’s clubs and church groups. Any group wishing to have an announcement displayed is asked to contact Bowling at 236-8371.
A native of Nelson County, Bowling has lived in Louisville for the past 15 years. His wife, who is still in Louisville at the present time, will join him here later. Aside from all business matters, Bowling has expressed a desire to thank the people of Danville for the All-America welcome they have given him here.
More locations popped up around Kentucky throughout the year.
In 1970, American Dairy Queen, Inc., operators of Dairy Queen, filed suit against Burger Queen for infringing on 14 of Dairy Queen’s trademarks by using the word “Queen” in it signs and advertising. The chain would continue on undeterred.
The suit asked the court to restrain Burger Queen from further use of the word “Queen”, and asked that all advertising containing the word be destroyed and to pay damages for the trademark infringement. Burger Queen would continue to fight the lawsuit throughout the 70s.
1971 saw the birth of a new mascot for the company, Queenie Bee. The smiling bee with a little crown would be used prominently throughout the decade in print and on items in the restaurant.
By the end of the decade the business was in dire straits. Poor business practices and over-expansion caused extreme financial stress. As reported to The Courier-Journal in Louisville on March 21, 1982:
As many business managers know all too well, reporting a profit doesn’t necessarily mean a firm is healthy.
Druther’s reported profits in recent years. But in the process, it was spending more than it took in. “Since 1976,” (CEO Thomas L.) Hensley says, “this company has been in a negative cash position every year.” To make up the difference between cash revenues and expenditures, the company borrowed increasing amounts of money:
Year Net income Net new debt
1977 $581,000 $970,000
1978 $335,000 $2,279,000
1979 $1,061,000 $1,000,000
1980 $98,000 $1,867,000
Bankruptcy loomed. Things had to change
The following article ran on February 15, 1981 in The Advocate-Messenger:
Burger Queen to change name to Druther’s
By JOHN T. DAVIS
What’s in a name? A whole lot if you own a Burger Queen restaurant and you’ve spent a million dollars for advertising, charitable contributions and other promotional activities to establish the name ‘Burger Queen” as a benevolent force in the community.
So when the owners of the two Burger Queen restaurants in Danville were told by Burger Queen headquarters in Louisville that the franchise chain was going to change its name to “Druther’s,” the Danville owners John Hancock, Alan Burns and John Bowling thought the matter over very seriously.
“We realized we’d spent an enormous amount of money to get the name established in Danville and to be a part of the community.” Burns said.
But the planners in headquarters believed that the restaurant needed a new name for the 1980s, a name that would reflect the family atmosphere and diverse menu of the restaurants and wouldn’t limit them to the “burger” image.
“It’s hard to sell fish or a salad bar out of a place with burger’ in the name,” Burns said. “Druther’s doesn’t mean anything. People just come in a see what you’ve got.”
When the first Burger Queen opened in Danville in 1969, the name was appropriate because “burgers” were the mainstay of the restaurant’s menu Since then, however, the menu has expanded to include chicken, “taters,” a complete breakfast line, batter-dipped fish, salad bar, soup, chili and other items.
“The name, ‘Burger Queen,’ was real good in 1969 because it told you just about what we had burgers,” Burn said. “But it doesn’t accurately convey that whole menu now.”
THE NAME. “Druther’s,” was recommended to Burger Queen by the New York consulting firm, Lippincott-Margulies, the same company that told Humble Oil Company to change its name to EXXON.
Teresa Jennings, advertising manager of Burger Queen, said the company wanted a new name that would not limit its ability to expand the menu. It also wanted a name that did not actually mean anything to the customer, she said.
The only thing Druther’s comes close to meaning is a preference for something, Ms. Jennings said, as in “If I had my d’ruthers.”
Extensive surveying was done, outside of the Burger Queen sales area, to determine public response to the new name, Ms. Jennings said. “We wanted a name we could build an image around,” she said, “somewhere between fast-service and sit-down, between McDonald’s and Sambo’s. We’re just upgrading the restaurant’s image. We’re not changing the style of the restaurants.”
ALTHOUGH THE CHANGE will take place in early June and will include new uniforms, new paper products, new signs and a new logo, the owners of the Danville restaurants want to emphasize that the changes will stop there.
“Nothing else is going to change,” Burns said. “The same three local people own it and continue to run it. The same people will continue to work here. The same people who have been concerned about community involvement, community service will still be here.”
And those long-standing, faithful customers of the Danville restaurants may continue to eat at “Burger Queen,” Burns said. “To some people we will always be Burger Queen,” he said. “But with our new customers, the name won’t limit us.”
REACTION TO THE CHANGE from operators of three other Burger Queen restaurants in this area varied from enthusiasm to skepticism. Jo Abbott, manager of the Burger Queen in Lancaster, said she believes the change to Druther’s will draw in new customers.
“The name, at first, didn’t ring a bell,” she said, “but after I went to all the meetings and they explained everything I realized it would give us something different. Now, I just can’t wait.”
Ms. Abbott said she is on the committee that is selecting the company’s new uniforms and she believes they will “go over really well.”
Larry Kelly, owner-operator of the Stanford Burger Queen, is not so enthusiastic. “It’s going to cost a lot, and I just hate to see it,” he said.
Kelly said 98 percent of the his restaurant’s customers are local people, and they know what Burger Queen has to offer. “I could sit here today and tell you the name of every local customer who comes in here,” Kelly said. But even Kelly admits that the Burger Queen headquarters may be on the right track and the name change “might go over ”
“The company has got more invested than us franchises,” he added. “They should know what’s going on. ” Michael Hatfield, manager of the Liberty Burger Queen, had similar reservations about the change “We don’t like it, not in the least,” Hatfield said. “We feel it will be a mistake.
“It’s out of our hands,” he added. “But if It does what they say it will, it will help us get away from the ‘burger’ image.”
Ms. Jennings said, generally, the reaction from franchise owners has been good, and all the plans for the name change will be presented at a chain-wide meeting in Florida in March. She is convinced the change will help the local operators.
“We think it’s to his advantage,” she said. “It’s building his image. If he wants to advertise fish and chicken, it will help not have the burger image.”
The change of name also brought a change in mascots. Queenie Bee was replaced by a folk-singer named Andy Dandytale.
At the time of the name change there were 171 Burger Queen/Druther’s locations. The rebranding nearly bankrupted the company, as well. Continuing the earlier report from The Courier-Journal,
There were some legal reasons for wanting a name that couldn’t be confused with other restaurants. But a stronger reason was that hamburgers represented less than 25 percent of the chain’s business when the name change was announced.
“There was too much emphasis on burgers” in the old name, Hensley says. “We knew we had to be able to pay for that name change” in 1981. Operations were holding up well as the year got under way and the final go-ahead on changing over Burger Queen units to Druther’s was made near the end of March.
In September 1990, Druther’s International Inc. became an operator for Dairy Queen and converted most of its then 145 restaurants to Dairy Queens. The company is still active.