Business

This was the day the first Burger King opened in Miami. But where was the Whopper?

A Burger King in the 1950s.
A Burger King in the 1950s.

Miami never tasted Burger King before this day in 1954.

On Dec. 4 of that year, the first location of a reorganized company opened on Northwest 36th Street and 30th Avenue.

But where was the Whopper?

Not born yet. The fast-food chain’s hallmark burger wouldn’t debut at this location for another three years. But there were basic burgers and fries and soda.

Burger King was actually born Insta-Burger King in Jacksonville the year before. But new owners moved the company to Miami and opened the first Burger King location, not far from Miami International Airport.

The company’s logo was red and white then, and the restaurant featured red arches on the roof, an architectural flourish that would span the 1950s and ‘60s.

Since then, Burger King has expanded across the country and the world, rolled out new menus with all sorts of tasty or wacky food (Mac n’ Cheetos or holiday-themed black buns, anyone?), and gone through a couple of mascots (remember Herb?).

At one point, Burger King even tried fancy dinner service, with cloth-covered tables, candlelight, popcorn appetizers, and shrimp platters.

But when it came down to it, people just wanted their drive-thru burgers and fries.

Here is a look back at some of the history and early milestones of this Florida fast-food company:

Burger King Buyout.JPG
A Burger King location. Damian Dovarganes AP

The early years:

1954 - James W. McLamore and David Edgerton co-found Burger King of Miami, which later becomes Burger King Corp. McLamore and Edgerton’s first restaurant, at 3090 NW 36th St., sells 18-cent broiled hamburgers and 18-cent milkshakes.

1957 - Whopper sandwich is introduced, selling for 37 cents.

1967 - Pillsbury acquires Burger King for $18 million. Company has 274 restaurants with 8,000 employees. 1975 - First European Burger King opens in Madrid. Drive-through service introduced.

1977 - Burger King opens in Hawaii, putting restaurants in all 50 states.

1985 - Breakfast debuts nationally with the Croissan’wich as the key product.

9658080114.JPG
Founder James McLamore in 1979.

August, 1996: Death of the founder

To the world, he was a restaurateur who built a fortune with his creation of a sandwich called the Whopper and a fiefdom called Burger King. But to his adopted community of Miami, James W. McLamore was better known, and revered, as a businessman who was a caring humanitarian, a wealthy person who dearly loved tropical foliage, and an untiring leader of worthy causes.

McLamore died Thursday at age 70, a few months after he learned he had developed lung cancer. Hardly an institution in the city, from the Orange Bowl to the University of Miami and the United Way, was untouched by McLamore’s energy, vision and charity.

He was once part of a partnership that purchased an interest in the Miami Dolphins. And as chairman of the foundation that runs WPBT-Channel 2, he conceived the idea that would become “The Nightly Business Report,” one of the most successful programs in public television history.

“His death marks the bleakest day in our lives,” the McLamore family said in a statement. “But instead of grieving, we want all who knew Jim to rejoice in what he did and the legacy he leaves behind. No doubt, he would have wanted it that way.”

His wife, Nancy, said: “Jim had so much love in him that it was truly contagious. He made friends wherever he went and they remained his friends for life. People were drawn to my husband because of his intense desire to make his community a better place. He loved Miami and wanted to show others what made it so great.”

Across South Florida, the grief of McLamore’s death was palpable. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think Jim was the greatest,” said Leonard Miller, chairman of Lennar Corp., where McLamore was a director. “Jim, in my view, embodied the best of what you could possibly want as a business and civic leader.”

Miller also served with McLamore on the UM board of trustees. McLamore was a longtime chairman of UM’s board, despite being a Cornell University graduate himself.

“He had no degrees or allegiances, but he really pushed himself into the success of the university,” Miller said. McLamore did so well — surpassing a $400 million fund- raising drive by more than $100 million — that the university’s trustees bent the rules that restricted a chairman’s tenure to two years, Miller said.

McLamore served more than nine. At a luncheon at UM’s Faculty Club this year, UM President Tad Foote kept referring to McLamore as “our chairman.” Reminded that the Burger King founder had left the post in 1990, Foote said, “To me, he’ll always be the chairman. He’s the guy who hired me.” Foote told The Herald that leaders of McLamore’s stature are hard to replace.

“We’ve lost a great friend, but also a genuinely great man,” he said. “He was gentle and strong and a tremendous leader in a quiet but enormously effective way. Jim had a way of getting people to do things without them even knowing he was trying.”

Despite an unquestioned reputation for kindness and generosity, colleagues add that McLamore could be a challenging associate. At Ryder System, where he served on the board, Chairman Tony Burns learned to expect highly detailed questions from McLamore, who headed both the compensation and audit committees.

“He was exceptionally intelligent and also very tenacious,” Burns said. “He really watched things closely. He would never stop until something was finished, and then he’d follow up.”

Read Next

That tenaciousness benefited Miami in myriad ways, Burns said.

“He was relentless in his support of community causes,” he said. “I’m a better human being, my family is better and Ryder is better because of Jim McLamore.”

It came as a shock to McLamore and his family when a doctor examining him for recurrent chest congestion discovered a malignancy.

“I have not smoked in 25 years,” McLamore told a friend, shortly after he learned of his plight in early April. Intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Miami’s Sylvester Cancer Center failed to stop the spread of the disease.

McLamore’s community involvement mushroomed after he and business partner David Edgerton sold their substantial Burger King stakes to Pillsbury in 1967. After its sale to Pillsbury, and that firm’s subsequent acquisition by the British-based Grand Metropolitan, McLamore continued to serve as a director or consultant to the chain.

He also was a power and respected leader in the National Restaurant Association, a trade group in which he served as president.

“I named my flagship sandwich for him — Big Mac,” Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, once quipped. Dave Thomas, the founder of the Wendy’s chain, remembers McLamore as “a fierce competitor and a good friend.”

McLamore was president of the National Restaurant Association when Thomas first met him.

“We were opening our 40th Wendy’s, in Chicago, and I asked him if he would cut the ribbon. He did -- and we have been friends ever since,” Thomas said. It was McLamore’s volunteer work, however, rather than business achievement, that left an indelible stamp on his adopted home town.

“Jim McLamore left his mark on this community. During the years as his friend, his commitment to a better Miami was unparalleled.” said Alvah Chapman, former chairman of Knight-Ridder, which owns The Herald. It was love that brought McLamore to South Florida. In 1947, he married Nancy Nichol, daughter of a prominent Miami doctor.

Read Next

They met at Cornell. McLamore was a U.S. Navy trainee, and the self-described “best third-string quarterback Cornell ever had.” At Cornell, he boarded with a professor, Herbert Whetzel, who gave his young student the task of caring for the garden. It sparked a love of horticulture that McLamore never lost.

That interest eventually led him to a leadership role at Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Gardens, where he served as president. The flowering-tree section of the facility recently was renamed the McLamore Arboretum in his honor. Brinsley Burbidge, director of Fairchild, said he often was struck by McLamore’s command of both bold foresight and minute details of the garden’s delicate ecosystem.

“At one level, he would talk with the true fervor of a visionary about vistas across acres of land, and seconds later the exact pressure of the irrigation system would occupy the whole of his attention,” Burbidge said. McLamore didn’t see many tropical plants in his early years. He was born in New York City in 1926, and raised by his grandmother after his mother died when he was 6.

He was an avid reader, preferring Horatio Alger stories, biographies of robber barons and books about America’s greatest fortunes. The sagas of success stories instilled in him a competitive drive that shaped his life.

“Play to win” became one of his favorite sayings. When he trekked to Miami in the mid-1940s, visiting Nancy’s family during Christmas break, he saw his future.

“She took the train, but I didn’t have enough money for a ticket,” McLamore recently recalled to a friend. “So I hitchhiked from Ithaca. By the time I reached Fort Lauderdale, I knew that this was the area where I wanted to live.”

Though he would later reap millions of dollars from the sale of Burger King, McLamore didn’t begin at the high end of the food service industry. After graduating from Cornell in 1947, he ran a YMCA cafeteria in Wilmington, Del. He later bought a 14-stool Wilmington restaurant, whose sale financed his move to Miami.

Read Next

Arriving in Miami in February 1951, he was impressed by the crowd at the Brickell Bridge restaurant. He purchased the place. That summer, however, the crowds dwindled, and McLamore had learned a painful lesson about the city’s then-seasonal economy.

“I almost went broke,” he later conceded. A few blocks from that Brickell location, David Edgerton was managing a restaurant in the Howard Johnson hotel. It offered 15 cent burgers and shakes.

Their friendship evolved into a business venture, with Edgerton convincing McLamore the future was in beef. McLamore came aboard in 1954.

The operation was called Insta Burger King.

“After I flubbed around for a year, I got him into it,” Edgerton recalled Thursday. “Then we sort of fumbled around for about five years.” Indeed, the business almost didn’t make it. At one point they turned to truck-trailer magnate Harvey Fruehauf, who provided a $65,000 loan. “Harvey’s investment saved us,” McLamore later said.

For his $65,000, a relatively small sum in big business terms, Fruehauf got a 60 percent interest. In 1957, McLamore launched the Whopper, an oversize broiled burger that gave the chain an edge on the competition and, to this day, is Burger King’s most recognizable product.

Edgerton said the Whopper actually was created after they visited a place called Whatta Burger in Gainesville. It was packed, while the Burger King outlet down the street, which served smaller patties, was abandoned. “I said, ‘Jim there’s got to be something there,’ “ Edgerton said.

Back home in Miami, Edgerton designed the broiler that cooked the Whopper, and an American corporate giant was born.

“I was the off-the-wall guy, and he was the stability,” Edgerton said. “He was the perfect partner.”

May 1985: A new Whopper

bar00 whopper biz ho.JPG
The Whopper Bar Paul Morris Paul Morris

Burger King, the No. 2 fast-food chain, will roll out a newly formulated Whopper in the next month. It will have more patty and less bun, which will give the Miami-based company a meaty answer to Wendy’s query of last year, “Where’s the beef?”

The remodeled Whopper will weigh in with more beef than Wendy’s single burger. “I’d love to have Wendy’s ask that question now,” said Burger King president Jay O. Darling.

Burger King will put 4.2 ounces of meat in the new Whopper, compared to 3.6 ounces in the old Whopper, 4 ounces in Wendy’s single burger, 4 ounces in McDonald’s quarter pounder and 3.2 ounces in McDonald’s Big Mac. But the price will remain the same: an average of $1.45.

IMG_the_king.JPG_2_1_182EP730.JPG
The mascot. Evan Agostini Getty Images

Burger King began overhauling the Whopper two years ago and started $500,000 worth of market tests on the new product last January. Darling said the transformation is part of an effort to push the sales-per-restaurant average above those of its chief rival, No. 1 McDonald’s. Burger King restaurants bring in an average $1 million each vs. more than $1.2 million at McDonald’s.

“This is an important step in the direction of making per- store-sales equal to McDonald’s,” Darling said. “But we are constantly testing things to make our flagship sandwich even better.”

Burger King, with 4,000 restaurants, controls 10 percent of the nation’s fast-food market. It had been losing market share until the Battle of the Burgers advertising campaign started in 1982 and sharply reversed the decline. McDonald’s has 20 percent of the fast-food market with 8,000 restaurants and Wendy’s has a 6 percent market share with 3,000 restaurants.

Read Next

The new Whopper bun will be pared from five inches in diameter to 4 1/2 inches. The flame-broiled burger will stick out from underneath the bun, which is no longer flat and round, but rather shaped like a sesame seed-covered Kaiser roll. The bun’s makeup also has changed, but like Coca-Cola, Burger King won’t reveal the formula.

The cheese on the Cheese Whopper has changed as well. It has a stronger cheddar flavor. For calorie-counters, though, what the new Whopper saves in bread, it more than makes up in meat. The calorie count will rise from 650 to 670 calories per sandwich. James McLamore, who co-founded Burger King in 1954 and originated the Whopper in 1957, said his pride is not bruised by the change. “I think it’s real positive,” McLamore said. “I think the boys have come up with a winning formula. When you can see the hamburger patty outside of the bun, it adds to the anticipation of eating the sandwich. The basic ingredients of the sandwich (lettuce, two tomatoes, onions, four pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise) are still unchanged.”

August, 2014: A combined company

IMG_Burger_King_Tim_Hort_4_1_AI3KTVJH_L93210184.JPG
Canada’s iconic coffee chain, Tim Hortons, and Miami-based Burger King joined forces, but operate as independent brands. Sean Kilpatrick AP

Burger King struck an $11 billion deal to buy Tim Hortons that would create the world’s third-largest fast-food company and could make the Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain more of a household name around the world.

Executives said the two chains will continue to be run independently, however, meaning Burger King customers shouldn’t expect to see Tim Hortons coffee or doughnuts popping up on menus.

“There’s no plans to mix the products or do co-branding,” said Daniel Schwartz, CEO of Burger King and a principal of 3G Capital, which owns a majority stake in the hamburger chain.

The corporate headquarters of the new company will be in Canada; the Burger King unit will remain in Miami.

Burger King stressed that the deal wasn’t being driven by a desire to take advantage of the country’s lower tax rates, but by the international growth possibilities of Tim Hortons.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called for Americans to boycott Miami-based Burger King for the so-called inversion move to reduce corporate taxes.

Consumers posted negative comments on the company’s Facebook page. “I’ve eaten my last whopper,” Oscar G. Echeverria wrote on Burger King’s Facebook page. Laurel Hutch wrote: “Another American Company that doesn’t want to pay its fair share of taxes. Bye Bye Burger King ... BOYCOTT!!!”

  Comments