San Francisco’s Planning Code adds an additional level of review to any chain store within the city limits. The definition of chain store, which applies to several types of businesses, including take out food, states that if a location has eleven or more retail sales establishments located in the United States, maintains two or more of the following features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized facade, a standardized decor and color scheme, or standardized signage, it is subject to this additional planning department review.
This is all to protect the small business sector, and also helps to explain why in San Francisco’s 49 square miles, there are only five McDonald’s restaurants, one Wendy’s, one In-N-Out Burger and ten Burger Kings.
The concept of the fast food burger was introduced to the American public in 1921 when White Castle opened the first major fast food chain in Wichita, Kansas. The concept, however, didn’t really take off until after WWII with America’s new found prosperity.
One of these post WWII pioneers was John Hider. In 1944 Hider tore down a house at the corner of South Van Ness and 18th in San Francisco to put up Whiz Burgers. Whiz was only the third hamburger stand in San Francisco, after the Tic Toc and Jets, both of which are gone now. Hider sold hamburgers for 19 cents, but he still made a profit as they only cost 7 cents to make.
He served his burgers from a simple building that is nothing more than a kitchen with a walk up front, parking all around and tables for outdoor eating. The Whiz, and places like it, gave teenagers a place to hang out, share fries, shakes and friendship all while changing the American diet and the concept of the sit down meal.
When built, the architecture of these walk-up restaurants was based on the love of the American automobile, and other than unique neon signs, they were almost always devoid of any local peculiarity.
The buildings were simple square boxes with glass fronts and sloping roofs. The large panes of glass allowed you to read the oversized menus that hung on the back wall and incorporated an order and pickup window. The large overhanging sloped roof kept the weather off those lining up for service.
In 1953 architect Stanley Meston first incorporated the two golden arches into this very design on a Pheonix, Arizona McDonald’s.
Across town on Ocean and Lee Avenue is Beep’s Burgers. The present owner Sing Khan Vang believes that Beep’s was opened around 1960. With its rocket ship sign, he may be right: Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard both went into space in 1961.
Whiz Burgers is now owned by John and Tony Kim. They not only proudly offer a classic menu of fish, veggie and beef burgers but have added some Asian flair to the menu as well, with Chicken Teriyaki and a fabulous mango shake. Beep’s offers eight different types of teriyaki bowls. Thanks in part to San Francisco planning codes and their emphasis on helping independent small businesses, both joints continue to change the concept of fast food and the American diet. The architecture, however, hasn’t changed: these buildings were built for function rather than style, and to that end they are still serving their purpose after all these years.
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