How Famous Fast Food Restaurants Got Their Names

Plucked from a dream, an old map, a daughter's birth certificate—that's how the names of some of the most famous fast-food restaurants came to be.

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Whataburger food on a tray
Whataburger via Facebook


For the creator of the famous A-frame burger shack, bigger was simply better. In the mid-20th century, there was nary a patty bigger than four inches. But Harmon Dobson dreamed of a square five. A burger so grand, in fact, that it would make one exclaim, “What a burger!” And his chain’s name is an homage to that dream. Next time your dining out—learn the 8 most common habits fast food employees secretly dislike.

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Exterior of Taco Bell fast-food restaurant with sign and logo.
Shutterstock / George Sheldon

Taco Bell

Turns out, the name of this popular Tex Mex joint has absolutely nothing to do with the literal bell you see on its logo. Instead, Taco Bell received its name from its owner, Glen Bell, who originally founded Bell’s Drive-In and Taco Tia in 1954. It wasn’t until 1962 when the name was changed to “Taco Bell.” Here are 8 more things you likely didn’t know about Taco Bell.

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Sign of In-N-Out Burger is an American regional chain of fast food restaurants
Shutterstock / meunierd


Founder Harry Snyder wanted to introduce California locals to a true drive-thru burger experience by installing a two-way speaker he developed in his garage—this way, patrons wouldn’t need to leave their car, and could customers could simply drive in and out. Don’t have an In-N-Out nearby? Try our copycat recipes at home.

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Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock


In 1946, there wasn’t much chicken at The Dwarf Grill in the suburbs of Atlanta. Later the restaurant became known as The Dwarf House, with signage including the Chick-fil-A logo we know it today. Truett Cathy created the simplest of sandwiches (chicken and two pickles on a bun) in 1964, and eventually, the Dwarf bit fell off as the empire grew. Here’s the secret of why that sandwich is so incredibly good.

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Shake Shack
Shutterstock / DW labs Incorporated

Shake Shack

Do you remember the iconic end scene from Grease where Sandy and Danny sing “You’re the One That I Want”? One of the carnival rides that they shimmy on was called—you guessed it—Shake Shack. And that’s precisely what inspired restaurateur Danny Meyer when he started his restaurant in Madison Square Park. Make these Shake Shack copycat recipes at home.

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The sign above an entrance to a Wendy's fast food restaurant in downtown Manhattan.
Roman Tiraspolsky/Shutterstock


Ever since he was a boy, Dave Thomas knew he wanted to have a restaurant. And after 20 years in the biz, he did just that, opening the first Wendy’s in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. Wendy was the nickname of one of his children, Melinda. But he wasn’t playing favorites—he experimented with all five of his kids’ names before settling.

Did you know the Wendy’s logo includes a hidden message? Find out what it is!

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People walk by McDonald's restaurant in Chicago.


In 1954, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald had a small but successful eponymous burger joint in San Bernardino, California. But it was the opportunistic Ray Kroc who bought the restaurant and the name, built the system around it, and made it the global powerhouse that it is today.

This is what the McDonald’s menu looked like the year you were born.

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Domino's Pizza store
Shutterstock / Scott Kenneth Brodie


In 1960, brothers Jim and Tom Monaghan bought a Ypsilanti, Michigan, pizza shop called DomiNick’s. After some drama and subsequent rising success of the business, the original owner decided to retain the rights to the name. With a looming deadline for an ad in the phone book (remember those?), it’s rumored that a delivery driver named Jim Kennedy came up with Domino’s Pizza.

Domino’s is one of the oldest chains in the U.S. Think you can name the others?

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chipotle sign
Keith Srakocic/Shutterstock


It was a bit of a eureka moment when founder Steve Ells came up with the name Chipotle. “It was just like a light bulb went off,” he told Bloomberg. While others close to him said it was obscure or too hard to pronounce, he stuck with it. And now, for the burrito-hungry, the name is on the tip of their tongue. For a real treat, try our Chipotle copycats, including their famous barbacoa.

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Exterior view of Subway Restaurant
Settawat Udom/Shutterstock


In 1965, after med school didn’t work out, Frank DeLuca and his friend Peter Buck opened Pete’s Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Conn., setting a goal to have 32 locations in 10 years. The sandwich slingers changed the name to “Pete’s Subway” a few years later. But in 1974, with just 16 locations throughout the state, they decided to franchise the business in an attempt to meet their goal. The name? Simply, Subway. And the rest is history: Now, it’s the biggest restaurant chain in the world!

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Sign Starbucks Coffee.
Grand Warszawski/Shutterstock


The story of how Starbucks got its name literally starts with “st.” When co-founder Gordon Bowker was brainstorming name ideas with some friends, an ad agency colleague declared that he thought words starting with “st” were powerful. The group later came across an old map that included a town called Starbo. The name instantly reminded Bowker of the Moby Dick character, Starbuck, and thus an empire was born. Thirsty? Try our Starbucks copycat recipes.