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The Most Popular Fast Food Restaurant the Year You Were Born

There once was a time when you couldn't grab a Big Mac for lunch, or a Caramel Frappuccino on your way to work. But by the 1950s, quick and cheap eats had exploded onto the restaurant scene. Find the country's most popular fast food chains below!

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The oldest operating McDonald's restaurant in the world in Downey, Los Angeles, CaliforniaShutterstock / Allard One

McDonald’s, 1950–1954

McDonald’s is the original fast food restaurant, and has dominated the fast food industry throughout history. It was actually founded in 1940 but really began to take off in the early 1950s! It might be because McDonald’s introduced its best-selling menu item in 1949: French fries. Before that—only potato chips were available.

Here are 8 more surprising facts about McD’s.

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Traditional KFC restaurant sign.Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Kentucky Fried Chicken, 1955–1963

Kentucky Fried Chicken was founded by Harland Sanders in 1955. With a market dominated by burgers, KFC’s chicken and its “Original Recipe” of 11 herbs and spices was an instant hit! The well-known “finger lickin’ good” slogan came about by accident, though. When a local KFC commercial showed a man licking his fingers in the background, a viewer called in to complain. The Kentucky Fried Chicken manager responded: “Well, it’s finger lickin’ good!”

(You can make chicken that’s better than KFC—here’s how.)

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A Hardee's restaurant location at night.Shutterstock / William Howard

Hardee’s, 1964–1969

Wilbur Hardee opened the first Hardee’s in 1960. The menu in 1964 shows hamburgers for 15 cents, fries for 10 cents and milkshakes for 20 cents. (What a deal!) Eventually franchised, there were over 200 locations in the United States by the end of the 1960s. To set Hardee’s apart from McDonald’s, the Hardee’s buildings were designed in a hexagonal shape with a pointed roof. Some Hardee’s burger patties were also hexagonal!

Hardee’s is hot again today—thanks to trendy new menu items.

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Close up on Wendys fast food sign.Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

Wendy’s, 1969–1972

The first Wendy’s opened in 1969 and dominated fast food into the 1970s. It was unique thanks to its square hamburger patties and the introduction of a salad bar in 1979. The famous Frosty was one of the original items on the menu in 1969, and is still one of Wendy’s best-selling products today. Remember the famous Wendy’s commercial with an elderly woman exclaiming, “Where’s the beef?”

This is what Wendy looks like in real life.

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Exterior view of a Taco Bell restaurant in Mountain ViewShutterstock / Paul Sakuma/AP/REX

Taco Bell, 1973–1977

Believe it or not, Taco Bell started as a hot dog stand! But then Glen Bell realized there was an opportunity in the market for Mexican food, and started selling tacos for 19 cents. He didn’t have many competitors for fast food tacos, and there were 325 restaurants by 1970. Taco Bell still dipped its toe in the bun food world a couple times, without much success. Remember the Bell Beefer, which was similar to a Sloppy Joe?

You can have Taco Bell at home with our best copycat recipes—though there’s no recipe for the Bell Beefer.

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Burger King restaurant exterior.Shutterstock / Ken Wolter

Burger King, 1978–1980

McDonald’s continued to dominate the fast food burger world during the ’70s and ’80s, but Burger King gave ’em a run for their money in the late ’70s. Burger King hired former McDonald’s exec Donald N. Smith in 1978. He restructured the company and began to market more to children, to compete with McDonald’s Happy Meals. By 1980, company sales were up 15 percent!

See what’s on the secret menu at Burger King.

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Exterior view of Subway RestaurantSettawat Udom/Shutterstock

Subway, 1980–1982

Subway—which used to be named Pete’s Super Submarines—was founded in 1965 by Fred DeLuca. The restaurant started to gain popularity in the late 1970s, and by 1982 the company claimed to be the largest “sub chain” in the United States. Unlike other fast food chains, Subway uses fresh meats and vegetables on their sandwiches, allowing it to lead the way in healthy fast food meals. (Don’t want a footlong? You could order “The Snak”, Subway’s original name for the 6-inch sandwich.)

See how Subway became the world’s most popular restaurant chain.

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Domino's Pizza sign over the shop with the signature domino by the writingShutterstock / Michaelasbest

Domino’s, 1983–1985

At its beginning in 1960, Domino’s was called DomiNick’s. It was renamed Domino’s Pizza in 1965, shortly after franchised pizza restaurants began to open. Thanks largely to its delivery service, Domino’s was the fastest-growing pizza restaurant in the United States by 1985. Today, Domino’s 100,000 deliverymen drive 10 million miles a week and deliver 400 million pizzas a year!

Try these 16 pizza joint copycat recipes.

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A Pizza Hut restaurant offers fresh pizzas to eat in the restaurant as well as to carryout at one of the chain's restaurants.Shutterstock / George Sheldon

Pizza Hut, 1986–1990

Pizza Hut and Domino’s have been rivals since their beginnings, and Pizza Hut is usually the winner in both number of restaurants and overall sales. But Domino’s dominated when it came to pizza delivery. Pizza Hut didn’t introduce a delivery option until 1986, and it paid off right away. In 1989, Pizza Hut even delivered pizzas to the White House when First Lady Barbara Bush threw a pizza party!

Skip the delivery—here are some amazing pizzas you can whip up at home.

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Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts servedPere Rubi/Shutterstock

Dunkin Donuts, 1990–1995

“America Runs on Dunkin'”, but that wasn’t always the case. Founded in 1950, Dunkin Donuts used to be a small coffee shop called Open Kettle. It franchised and exploded in popularity because they were known for offering 52 kinds of doughnuts, when a mere four or five options was the norm.

You’re going to love our best doughnut recipes!

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Sign Starbucks Coffee.Grand Warszawski/Shutterstock

Starbucks, 1995–2000

It wasn’t too long ago that Starbucks only had 4 locations. But Starbucks went public in 1992 and got crazy popular; it quickly became the largest coffee chain in the world. By 2000, there were 3,500 Starbucks—putting them at a growth rate of more than 4,000 percent. That’s the growth you get with all-day access to caffeine!

You can make Starbucks drinks at home. Here’s a copycat recipe collection.

Erica Young
Erica is a freelance lifestyle writer with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Her favorite recipes are quick, easy and something her kids will actually eat. When she's not writing you'll find her organizing a closet, roaming the aisles at Target or nursing her third Diet Coke of the day.
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