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Global Economy

In the homeland of fast food

To be honest, the first fast-food hamburger chain wasn't in California, it was in Kansas. But that was more of a slip. Many of today's fast food restaurants, some of which are also successful worldwide, were founded in California. "It's a big state with many different nationalities," says George Geary, explaining this phenomenon. "If something isn't successful here, then it doesn't stand a chance in the rest of the USA either."

Everyone eats it, nobody likes to admit it

Geary is an author, lecturer and chef. He has published 14 books with recipes and restaurant guides so far. Hardly anyone admits going to the local burger joint, says Geary. However, since he has been dealing with the history of Californian fast food chains, he has admitted that he sometimes eats junk food from the system gastronomy.

"Everyone has eaten at a drive-thru," Geary says. "And that's another point that's a shame. We're going to the big fast food chains that we know, rather than going to a small restaurant that's run by its owners and that's probably a lot better."

It tastes the same everywhere in the world

The fast food restaurants emerged mainly between 1930 and 1960, when massive investments were made in California to expand the freeways. Lifestyle became increasingly mobile. In no other state has this been so perfected as on the US west coast. "Many of today's chains have neglected their company history," says Geary. "When I was working on the book, for example, I had big problems getting historical photos."

Even the first McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino, built in 1940, is no longer standing. The world's largest ice cream parlor chain, Baskin Robbins, which now belongs to Dunkin Donuts and has more than 5,600 branches worldwide, had a similar experience. "The ice cream tastes the same everywhere in the world," says the book author and chef, describing Baskin Robbins' business model. "In some countries they even serve beer, which is not possible here in the USA."

Franchise model has prevailed

The first location of the burger roaster Carl's Junior no longer exists either. The explanation is simple: Most of the restaurants were family businesses back then. But in the 1950s, the franchise idea became more and more popular. You could become a licensee. McDonald's is the most famous example here with almost 40,000 restaurants in 118 countries. Another California franchise export hit is The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffeehouse chain.

"They were founded in Southern California – in the 1960s," says Geary. "Then they spread to the whole country and expanded into Arab countries and Asia. Franchise ideas are now being adopted from California, especially in the Middle East, because there is a lot of money there."

A place for the trends

But there are also notable exceptions. One of them is In & Out Burger. A fast food restaurant established in 1948 with 358 outlets. In & Out is only available in the western United States, it is not a franchise but still family-owned. "They only have fresh ingredients," says Geary, explaining In & Out's recipe for success. "There's nothing frozen like McDonald's. Tomatoes, potatoes, the beef: everything is fresh there."

Everyone looks to California when it comes to setting trends, says Geary. Pizza restaurants, where you assemble your own pizza and then take the unbaked pizza home to put in the oven, are on the rise.

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