LA restaurants bring the architecture of old fast food buildings to life

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In May, business owner Daniel Dai took over a longtime Wienerschniztel at 7434 Garvey Avenue in Rosemead and converted it to his third Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho location; he runs two other stores in Rosemead and Alhambra. “It was a good choice for us,” Dai says. He notes that although the space is small, just 432 square feet, it was the perfect size for his low-key sandwich operation with ample storage and refrigeration. Moreover, it was sold to him at a good price.

Not having to make many structural changes to the building – just a coat of fresh white paint on the roof in shades of ketchup and mustard and the installation of the shop’s logo with criss-crossing baguettes – Dai was able to open his restaurant within one month of signing the lease. .

Architect Robert McKay designed the Alpine-style buildings of Wienerschniztel.
Vienna Schnitzel

Some architectural designs from fast-food giants are unforgettable, like the towering bucket with Colonel Sanders’ face at Kentucky Fried Chicken or the large cube hovering above Jack in the Box. It’s this very visual appeal that makes it so visible when new restaurant owners take over fast food outlets and turn them into different eateries while keeping the iconic structures intact. While restaurateurs need to think about how to reimagine these archetypal buildings into something their own, there are many benefits to opening in a fast food shell: integrated drive-thru, cheaper rental costs, prime locations giving on the street and parking. a lot.

Wienerschniztel’s iconic A-frame structure became a fixture in Southern California when the design debuted in its third location in Compton over 60 years ago. Architect Robert McKay, who was also the mastermind behind Taco Bell’s hacienda-style stores, designed the hot dog chain’s Alpine-style buildings. Outside of the restoration realm, the pitched roof design element gained popularity between the 1950s and 1970s, as it was a relatively inexpensive, turnkey design for people building homes. holiday with increased disposable income at the time. Wienerschniztel phased out the A-frame design in the mid-1970s, as it was no longer fashionable.

Much like Wienerschnitzel, other fast food outlets have changed their architectural designs over the years to stay relevant – and relics of what remains are being repurposed by new business owners. Since KFC’s debut in the 1950s, most of the fried chicken chain’s locations had a similar look: a mansard roof with a large bucket perched on a metal pole as signage. But in 1989, KFC franchisee Jack Wilkee commissioned architect Jeffrey Daniels (a Frank Gehry protege) to update the look of his location on Western and Oakwood Avenues in East Hollywood. The result was a two-story deconstructivist design that played with Googie architecture. Los Angeles Times reported that it was the “first architecturally avant-garde Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in the United States, and the famed franchisor’s first break from its own rigid formal tradition”.

Grand opening of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in 1965.

Grand opening of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in 1965.
Steve Young

The popularity of Googie’s futuristic architecture from 1945 through the early 1970s also played a role in the introduction of Jack in the Box cubic signage. San Diego architect and artist Russell Forester, who designed the chain’s locations in the 1950s, placed the geometric box on a tall metal pole to attract motorists to the Jack in the Box drive-thru . Pioneer Chicken, another nostalgic favorite, opened in Echo Park in 1961 with its must-have sign featuring its mascot Pioneer Pete holding a whole chicken as he drives a chuck. The fried chicken chain once had 270 locations, but has fallen to just two. Many of its old outposts had been converted to Popeyes; in essence, it was one chain of chickens taking over another.

Although times and tastes may change, these eye-catching fast food structures have proven to be durable – sometimes replaced by multiple companies over the years. From old Wienerschnitzels to KFC and Jack in the Box locations, here’s how local business owners are transforming these bygone buildings into something their own.


626 Hawaiian BBQ & Boba

626 Hawaiian BBQ & Boba in Baldwin Park.

626 Hawaiian BBQ and Boba at Baldwin Park.
Wonho Frank Lee

Only slight physical changes have been made to this former Wienerschnitzel location, namely a blue awning and an imposing sign bearing the company name. The menu delivers on the brand’s promise with kalua pork, Spam musubi and boba drinks. Before 626 Hawaiian BBQ & Boba opened in 2014, the restaurant was home to at least three Mexican restaurants. 4386 Maine Avenue, Baldwin Park, CA 91706.

Cafe Tierra Mia

Tierra Mia cafe in Pico Rivera.

Tierra Mia cafe in Pico Rivera.
Matthew Kang

Tierra Mia Coffee specialty coffeehouse has nearly 20 locations throughout California, but the Pico Rivera outlet is perhaps the most memorable. Taking on a now-closed KFC, the outer bucket is designed to look like a coffee mug covered in the Tierra Mia logo. 9220 Slauson Avenue, Pico Rivera, CA 90660.

House of the Brazilian plate

Home of the Brazilian plate in Torrance.

Home of the Brazilian plate in Torrance.
Matthew Kang

Home of the Brazilian plate in Torrance.

At Brazilian Plate House, the old Wienerschnitzel shell has been lacquered in vibrant green and white. Since opening in 2016, the hot dogs have been replaced by more upscale fare, grilled picanha steaks and shrimp skewers. 4509 Torrance Boulevard, Torrance, CA 90503.

king of china

King of China in Anaheim.

King of China in Anaheim.
Farley Elliot

Shawn Tang took over this outpost of Pioneer Chicken in 1991 for its prime location and turned it into a fast-food restaurant serving chow mein and combo meals of fried rice with broccoli and beef and chicken on the side. ‘orange. At the time, city building codes prohibited Tang from altering the restaurant’s original sign. So he got creative and painted it yellow with “China King” engraved on it in red wonton characters. “People mostly think it’s a map of China, but it’s really funny because it’s not,” Tang explains. “I kinda understand that.” Squint hard enough at the current signage and you can still make out the shape of the old Pioneer Chicken wagon. 3456 W. Lincoln Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92801.

Tommy’s Original World Famous Burgers

Tommy's World Famous Original Burgers at Eagle Rock.

Tommy’s World Famous Original Burgers at Eagle Rock.
Wonho Frank Lee

Chili is still served at this former Wienerschnitzel location in Eagle Rock, but it’s now smothered on burgers, hot dogs and tamales under another fast-food chain name: Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers. The brand, which has been in business for over 75 years, still uses the iconic drive-thru that runs through the now red and white A-frame. It’s not the only Wienerschnitzel that has become Tommy’s – another is located in Burbank. Similar to Pioneer Chicken, this is another example of an iconic restaurant taking over the location of another iconic restaurant. 1717 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041.

Boy burgers #5 and Don Carlos #6

Boy's Hamburgers #5 and Don Carlos #6 in Anaheim.

Boy’s Hamburgers #5 and Don Carlos #6 in Anaheim.
Farley Elliot

On West Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim, the old Pioneer Chicken sign still has the same shape but has been replaced by two restaurant names. The top half reads “Boy’s Hamburgers #5” with the logo of a boy wearing a baseball cap holding a burger, while the bottom half reads “Don Carlos #6” with a picture of a cactus and the words “authentic mexican food”. 2601 W. Lincoln Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92801.

Sr. Alberto Mexican cuisine

Sr. Alberto Mexican cuisine in Covina.

Sr. Alberto Mexican cuisine in Covina.
Matthew Kang

Sr. Alberto Mexican cuisine in Covina.

When Sr. Alberto Mexican Food replaced an old Jack in the Box in the 2000s, the owners redesigned the towering signage of the box’s structure with their own branding featuring the restaurant’s name written in cursive with a sombrero atop of the letter A. The burrito and taco spot, which serves customers around the clock, continues to use the fast food chain’s drive-thru. 905 N. Azusa Avenue #2643, Covina, CA 91722.

Mexican Taco & Co.

Mexican Taco & Co. in San Gabriel.

Mexicali Taco & Co. in San Gabriel.
Wonho Frank Lee

Chef Esdras Ochoa and his partner Paul Yoo took over a former Wienerschnitznel in San Gabriel to open a suite at their Chinatown Mexicali Taco & Co. location in 2020. “When I saw this place, I liked it because it It was a unique space location that was self-contained, not in a strip mall, and had 14 parking spaces,” Yoo said.

Before Mexicali moved in, the space was painted orange and served Chinese jianbing. Yoo and Ochoa painted the A-frame a fiery red, a nod to the color of their original location. Instead of corn dogs, this place is now home to the Ochoa style of northern Baja dishes, including vampiro quesadillas and Cantonese style al pastor. Note: This Mexicali Taco & Co. location is now closed but the Chinatown restaurant remains open. 1811 S. San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel, CA 91776.

1811 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, CA 91176

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