If you were ever a kid looking for a great fast food experience, I surely hope you made your way to Burger Chef at least a few times.
Because I’m here to tell you … Burger Chef was the best of them all when it came to hot-junk-food kid havens.
Showbiz, Chuck E., McDonald’s, Burger King … you can have them all.
Nothing will ever compare to Burger Chef in my now-old and addled mind.
Here are just five of the many reasons why Burger Chef was the greatest …
Man, if you were going to eat a fast food hamburger in the 1970s, it had to be from Burger Chef, and the reason comes down to one word … steam.
As in, these things were steam-infused treats the likes of which you won’t find outside some ancient Roman bath houses.
The buns were like fresh-from-the-oven donuts without the holes and without the sugar.
The meat was thick and meaty and dripping with meat juice and, well, drippings.
The toppings were soft and steamy and delicious.
It was damn near perfect, at least to single-digit-age me.
Cellophane Burger Wrapping
Much of that steamy goodness owed to the ingenious packaging of said burgers … namely, they came encased in a thin, shiny, crinkly pocket of cellophane that somehow didn’t melt under the heat of the always-hot burgers.
And they were emblazoned with the Burger Chef logo — a chef’s hat with “Burger Chef” forming the base. The combination of the audio and visual of the package mixed with the aroma and taste of the food itself to engender a strong Pavlovian response.
Even today, the faraway rustle of sheer plastic wrap makes me sit at attention like a dog begging for his Gaines-burgers.
The Works Bar
“Have it your way,” encourages one of today’s major burger joints. For awhile, it was their calling card, right along with their painted-on grill markings.
But you know who let you have it your way a long, long time ago?
Yeah, that would be Burger Chef.
Way back in the 70s, when it took an act of the congressional gods to change anything on a fast food menu item — what do you mean you don’t want pickles? — the Chef gave you control.
That came courtesy of their Works Bar, which offered up all the fixin’s you could want — pickles, tomato, lettuce, onions, ketchup, mustard — and let you control how much of each you slathered on.
Burger Chef pickles, by the way, were among the best of all-time, too.
Look here — I was an early adopter of the Happy Meal.
I mean, my mom and I went to town to buy groceries once a week during the summers when I was a kid, and we usually grabbed some Mickey D’s and headed over to the park.
I remember distinctly that sweet June day in 1979 when the local McDonald’s exploded with color announcing the new kids’ meal, and I just had to get one.
It was awesome, too. Still is, in my estimation.
But the Happy Meal was a late, late pale imitation of the best in the business … the Burger Chef Fun Meal.
Man, the Fun Meal was so much … fun!
Each meal had a burger, drink, and dessert, but it was the presentation that sent me to the moon.
Always timely and seasonal, each Fun Meal came in (or at least with) a box that folded open to reveal a food tray and a standing backdrop. The food holes in the tray had cardboard knockouts that were actual things in and of themselves — baseball cards, coins, records, frisbees … you know … things.
Themes ranged from baseball in the summer to vampires at Halloween to the old west in off times.
And I’ll tell you what … I’d trade all my Happy Meal toys for the chance at one more Fun Meal!
Burger Chef and Jeff
Right, I know — you need a clown or an animatronic bear or a creepy king to sell your burgers.
But you really don’t.
Burger Chef knew a mascot might help them appeal to kids, but they (thankfully) didn’t have much in the way of examples to follow on that front.
So they opted to create two simple cartoon characters — Burger Chef (who woulda thunk?) and Jeff.
As you might imagine, Burger Chef was the chef mastermind behind the whole operation, and Jeff was his trusty juvenile sidekick. Together, they undertook all manner of adventures, and we got to hear about them on Burger Chef commercials through the years.
Simple and effective, with not a single creepy jester in sight.
Though, to be fair, the ground beef duo did have a sort of motley crew of friends that included Cackleburger the witch, Burgerini the magician, Burgerilla the talking ape, and Count Fangburger the vampire.
For my money, they were the best fast food crew ever assembled. You know, with all due apologies to the young folks working at our local eateries today.
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