The History of Big Boy and Why the Restaurant’s Return to Wisconsin Is So Exciting

For 37 years, Big Boy was a Sconnie staple, and now we can finally taste those double-decker burgers again.

Big Boy statue; Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Double-decker lovers rejoice: the classic fast-food diner Big Boy is set to return to Wisconsin, after 26 years of absence.

The midwestern Americana-style food joint, whose last location in Milwaukee on W. Capitol Drive closed in 1995, will reportedly return this summer at the former location of Jerry’s Old Town Restaurant in Germantown, according to a post by Walt Kaufmann, who happens to run the “Milwaukee Remembers Big Boy!” Facebook group

“BIG BOY is officially coming back to Wisconsin later this summer! The first of numerous BIG BOY franchise locations in Wisconsin is scheduled to open up in mid to late July 2021 at the former Jerry’s Old Town Restaurant in Germantown.”

Though the last Milwaukee location may have shuttered in the ’90s, memories still remain. Those who grew up with Marc’s Big Boy in Milwaukee may fondly remember pulling up to the restaurant; a statue of a suave boy holding his iconic two-patty, three-bun original, and warmly beckoning them inside. The Milwaukee community has continued to honor the restaurant in the years following its absence through “Milwaukee Remembers Big Boy!,” which has amassed more than 5,000 members who love to tribute similar burgers at local restaurants and even hosted a one-day reunion featuring the beloved menu items.

As the checkered-overall-wearing prodigal son makes his return to the area, here’s what those who didn’t grow up around the food joint need to know.

 

 

Big Boy began in 1936 as a Glendale, California burger joint named Bob’s Pantry. The restaurant first gained popularity when founder Bob Wian sliced a burger bun into three sections and placed two patties in-between, creating the first double-decker, or “big boy” burger. This burger, still considered the signature dish of the franchise, became an instant hit, and led to Wian renaming the restaurant to “Bob’s Big Boy.” Big Boy soon gained attention nationwide, and in 1952, the Elias brothers became the first to open up a franchise for the company in Hazel Park, Michigan, more than halfway across the United States.

For all the success Big Boy enjoyed in California, the restaurant became an even bigger hit in the midwest. By 1964, the brothers had opened 100 “Elias Brothers Big Boy” restaurants across Michigan and Ohio. In 1958, the first location opened in Milwaukee.

Big Boy double-decker system; Photo via Wikimedia Commons

While the Elias brothers brought Big Boy to the midwest, and eventually bought the rights to the company in 1987, several different entrepreneurs and companies operated Big Boy franchises across the country, including the Marc’s franchise from Milwaukee. Founded by Ben Marcus and Gene Kilberg, the franchise operated throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, with as many as 64 locations in its heyday. This ownership gave the franchise a uniquely local charm, and helped to cement the Michigan-based joint as a Milwaukee fixture.

In its many years in Milwaukee (and throughout the country), Big Boy had a specifically family and kid-friendly charm; from becoming inextricably linked to the Beatles after a visit from the band in 1965, to the long-running “Adventures of the Big Boy” comic strip, to an emphasis on quick and friendly customer service, the franchise more than made a name for itself. Not to mention the iconic dishes, such as the double-decker topped with American cheese with special sauce and the famous strawberry pie that has inspired countless copycat recipes.

But nothing gold could stay. Beginning in 1989, the Marcus Corporation that owned the Marc’s Big Boy Corp renamed itself to Marcus Restaurants Inc., and began distancing itself from the Big Boy image. By 1995, seeking to prioritize other entertainment and dining ventures, the Marcus Corporation closed the last remaining Big Boy in the state on West Capitol Drive. 

Big Boy comic strip; Photo via Wikimedia Commons

That’s why, after 26 years (and just in time for the company’s 85th anniversary), the news that Big Boy might be returning to the area came as such a shock. The new Germantown location is set to celebrate the company’s 85th anniversary on June 17, with 85-cent “big boy” burgers, live music, and more. So, whether you’re a long-time fan or newcomer, you’ll still have a chance to welcome this iconic brand back to the area like it was only yesterday.

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