10 best NC fast food innovations
randomly compiled by Brian Clarey
North Carolinians love their fast food — we spend between $500-$700 per person annually, one of the highest averages in the nation. And no wonder. Turns out we have a history of fast food, with Hardee’s the biggest purveyor to come out of North Carolina. Hardee’s started in Greenville in 1960, by Wilbur Hardee, who lost controlling interest in the company in a poker game. It’s first signature burger was the Huskee, which was octagonal shaped, just like the first stores.
Despite having a name with slightly racist connotations — Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was a turn-of-the-century African-American tap dancer best known for his performance alongside Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm — Bojangles’ has survived since 1977, when it began as a chicken-and-biscuits concern in Charlotte. Now it has more than 500 locations nationwide.
Vernon Rudolph founded the Krispy Kreme chain in Winston-Salem in 1937, after acquiring a secret recipe for yeast doughnuts from a baker in Buffalo, NY and selling them by bicycle in Paducah, Ky. The first Winston-Salem store was on South Main Street in Old Salem. But in the past few years, the red light in the window, signifying fresh, hot doughnuts, can be seen in almost every state, as well as Canada, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan.
Maybe not the biggest hamburger chain in the country, Cook Out is one of the best, founded in Greensboro with locations across the state and in Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia. We love Cook Out’s burgers, shakes, chicken sandwiches and even it hot dogs. But the thing we like best about Cook Out is that they consider a corn dog to be a side item.
The first Golden Corral opened in Fayetteville in 1973, begun by two men who were denied franchising licenses from other restaurants with the motto, “It’s not that good but there’s plenty of it.” Kidding. Initially a steakhouse and home-cooking menu evolved into salad bars, carving stations, elaborate dessert selections including a chocolate fountain and made-to-order seafood.
Andy’s/ Hwy 55
After getting fired from a fast-food restaurant in 1991, Goldsboro man Kenny Moore took his last $500 and opened his own. The result was Andy’s Burgers, Shakes & Fries, recently renamed Hwy 55. Besides the usual fare, the place is known for the Big A Challenge: a burger made of six half-pound patties, a side of fries and a large drink. Finish it in 30 minutes or less, and it’s free — and you’ll get your name on their website.
Biscuitville began as Mountainbrook Fresh Bread & Milk in Burlington, owned by Maurice Jennings. In the 1960s he decided to start making pizza, opening a small take-out chain called Pizzaville. To keep the ovens busy in the mornings, he started making biscuits. When the biscuits started outselling the pizza in 1975, he made all the restaurants into Biscuitvilles.
C. Warner Stamey learned the craft of pit barbecue in Lexington, then brought it to Shelby, where he fine-tuned it and them went back to Lexington to become one of the first Stamey’s in 1938. The first Greensboro Stamey’s, a drive-in on High Point Road, opened in 1953.
Smithfield’s Chicken & Bar-B-Q
Smithfield’s was named not for a family, but for a town in the eastern part of the state where the first location opened in 1964. Now with 25 locations, all in North Carolina, little has changed. They’ve got fried chicken, barbecue, shrimp and Brunswick stew. Besides really sweet tea and some sides, that’s about it.
Besides being a trove of fast-food history, North Carolina is also the birthplace of Pepsi Cola, invented in New Bern in 1898 and initially marketed as a health drink, and Cheerwine, begun in 1917 in Salisbury by a Kentuckian with a recipe from a St. Louis flavorist.