The Largest Fast Food Chains In the United States

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on May 30 2017 in World Facts

A fried chicken sandwich, a common staple of fast food restaurants.
A fried chicken sandwich, a common staple of fast food restaurants.

The fast food sector in the US is unlike any other in the world regarding size and number of market players. Fast food establishments typically sell food prepared quickly and in bulk. Drive-through is popular features with these establishments as they enable customers to purchase food swiftly and conveniently. Numerous fast food joints in the US have standardized their products to form franchise with operations across the vast nation as well as across the globe.

10. Panera Bread

The Panera Bread bakery-cafés number nearly 2,000 in the country. The company’s history dates back to 1987 when Ken Rosenthal founded St Louis Bread in Kirkwood Missouri. The company was bought by the Au Bon Pain Company which renamed it Panera, a Latin term for breadbasket. The franchises sell varieties of bread, tea, coffee, cold sandwiches, soups, and salads. The company’s current headquarters are in Sunset Hills, Missouri and its annual revenues exceed $2 billion.

9. Pizza Hut

The title of the world’s largest pizza restaurant chain is held by Pizza Hut. The founders of the company, Frank and Dan Carney, opened the first outlet in 1958 using $600 borrowed from their mom. The restaurant was incorporated the following year in Kansas, and the first franchise began operating in Topeka, Kansas. By 1969, the chain expanded to Canada, and it became a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc in 2015. Its headquarters are in Plano, Texas and it has approximately 7,600 franchises in the US.

8. Chick-Fil-A

The Chick-fil-A fast food franchise traces its history back to 1946 when Truett Cathy founded a diner named the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Atlanta. Following the success of the dinner in the Hapeville suburb, Cathy expanded to the Atlanta area. From 1967, Cathy began setting up the restaurants in malls. The chain is currently headquartered in College Park, Georgia. Most of its outlets which are over 2,000 franchises are located in the US.

7. Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts was the brainchild of William Rosenberg, who opened a restaurant selling coffee and donuts. The restaurant, then named Open Kettle, was a hit in Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1950 it was renamed Dunkin’ Donuts, and began selling franchises in 1955. The outlets primarily sell baked goods such as donuts and bagels and a variety of beverages. There are about 7,200 Dunkin’ Donuts establishments in the US.

6. Taco Bell

Taco Bell traces its history to a hot dog stand founded by Glen Bell in 1946. He was 23 years of age, and he named the stand Bell’s Drive-in. It was located in San Bernadino, California where he also opened Taco-Tia, a stand which sold Tacos. He founded Taco Bell in 1962 in Downey, California and sold the first franchise two years later. The company has its current headquarters in Irvine California and operates an estimated 5,670 locations in the US. Its main products are tacos, nachos, and burritos.

5. Wendy's

Wendy’s is ranked as the world’s third largest hamburger outlet with over 6,000 locations across the world. Its first outlet opened its doors in Columbus, Ohio where it was founded by Dave Thomas. Thomas had worked in restaurants for most of his life, and a partnership with Colonel Harland Sanders and Phil Clauss saw him own four KFC establishments. He sold the restaurants in 1968 and founded Wendy’s, which he named after his daughter. The franchise proved successful, and it was soon operating branches outside the country. Its headquarters are situated in Dublin, Ohio, and the primary products sold are hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries, and salads.

4. Burger King

In 1963, a restaurant named Insta-Burger King began running in Jacksonville Florida. It was founded by Keith J. Kramer and Mathew Burns, who used a device called the Insta-Broiler to cook burgers. The organization branched out to other locations in the US, but by the 1964, the company’s performance began to decline. The entrepreneurial duo of James McLamore and David R. Edgerton purchased the organization and renamed it, Burger King. By the time it was bought by the Pillsbury Company in 1967, the franchise had outlets in more than 250 locations in the country. Today, the franchise is the nation’s second-largest burger chain. Its headquarters are in Miami, Florida. The number of Burger King establishments in the country are estimated at 7,231.

3. Subway

The founder of Subway, Fred Luca, established the restaurant in 1965. He opened the shop as a way of paying for his college education. Dr. Peter Buck lent Fred a $1,000 loan to start the shop, and they later became partners in the business. The first shop began operating as Pete’s Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Connecticut and it took on the name Subway in 1968. Its current headquarters are situated in Milford, Connecticut. The primary product served by the outlets is the submarine sandwich. Approximately 26,646 Subway stores operate in the US over the 44,834 in the world.

2. Starbucks

Starbucks is not only the top coffee franchise in the US but in the world as well. Its history dates back to March 31, 1971, when the first outlet opened in the Pike Place Market, Seattle, US. Three University friends, namely Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegl came up with the idea of selling high-quality coffee beans after observing Alfred Peer, a coffee roasting entrepreneur. The one store soon grew to 6 stores in Seattle, and Howard Schultz purchased the chain in 1987. The franchise is headquartered in Seattle, Washington and operates an estimated 13,277 locations in the US. Some of its main products are the caffe latte, whole-bean coffee, hot and cold drinks, and snacks.

1. McDonald's

The McDonald’s began operations on May 15, 1940, in San Bernardino, California. Two entrepreneurs, Maurice and Richard Donald, founded it as a barbecue restaurant. The entrepreneurs implemented the fast food concept and created a system which they began franchising with another establishment in Phoenix, Arizona. The system appealed to Ray Croc, a salesman who incorporated the franchise in 1955. The franchise went public in 1965 with headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. An estimated 14,146 McDonald’s outlets operate in the US, selling a range of products including hamburgers, French fries, cheeseburgers, milkshakes, and chicken products. Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, and Maryland rank among the top states with the highest number of McDonald’s outlets. McDonald’s will move its global headquarters in 2018 to Chicago.

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