Post by Steve Pope Post by Tim May
(TMI, I know, but there was a Carl's Jr. across the street from Intel's
headquarters in the 70s, at the corner of Central Distressway and
Kiely/Bowers, and inasmuch as nothing else was nearby, it was a treat
to eat there when I was working on the lab on Saturdays and Sundays.
Many good memories, actually.)
It's still there. It's also almost still true that nothing
else is immediately nearby, the exception being a sort of deli-sandwich
and (I think) Korean place with an expansive menu, I would guess lunch
only (although I don't know that explicitly), tucked into an otherwise
industrial building north side of Walsh.
Carl's Jr. was not bad in the 70's, since back then industrial-grade
beef and other food ingredients was more recognizable as food.
This is a good insight. I have long-wondered if my taste in burgers
(which remain one of my favorite foods to prepare at home---for lots of
reasons) has changed a lot in 30 years or if food quality for chains
(Mind you, I've already said I like In-N-Out.)
I can remember a dismal time for burgers when venturing away from home,
say on a road trip from the Northern Virgina area down to, say,
Richmond or Luray Caverns or up into Pennsylvania, generally meant an
endless procession of "Stuckey's" (a chain apparently similar to
Crackerbarrel) and dodgy burger places that often served-up dry, gamey
mystery meat. And on two long drives across the country from San Diego
to D.C. and back, horrible memories of terrible fast food in backwaters
off the Interstate.
Many food analysts have pointed out that the revolution of the 1960s in
fast food chains was to give some _consistency_ in fast food. While
many great little diners were probably out there, casual travellers had
almost no way to find them. And so a lot of burgers were just in
diners, some good, some made with expired meat. We survived, but
burgers on the Interstate were not something we looked forward to.
(How many travellers even to the South Bay would expect that a small
chain with plastic sheeting as window coverings would be a pretty good
place for a burger? And yet this is what Kirk's Burgers was, to those
who knew. Or Burger Pit, a mostly-gone small chain.)
So when by the late 50s my family could get good, consistent burgers at
Jack-in-the-Box (and our local one was #2 in the history of the chain,
on the shores of San Diego Bay, before Sea World was built), we went
there. And why in the early 60s, with Burger Queen and Burger Chef (two
real chains in the D.C. area....one of them even made an appearance as
an ad account in "Mad Men"), we had places where the burgers tasted
pretty good and were inexpensive.
Even by the 1980s, I thought of the chain burger places as serving
pretty decent food. Yeah, even by then I could cook a better burger at
home, with my choice of fixings, but convenience was a factor. (My
girlfriend at that time and I like to make a ritual of a Sunday dinner
"splurge" at a local Bob's Big Boy in Santa Clara. Kind of pricey for a
huge burger with iceberg lettuce salad and fries and a drink for $5.99,
but a real treat. This tells you all why I set my budget "norms" where
Enter the gourmet burger. Yeah, usually bigger and better. But at about
twice the price. I didn't even go much to the places like Kirk's in the
late 80s, as the prices were so high. (And mostly I was picking Chinese
or Thai food over burgers.
Around this time I noticed huge drop-offs in how crowded the main fast
food places were. Today, of course, it's pretty common to pass a
McDonald's and see only several cars in the parking lot (unless next to
an In-N-Out, as it's the Overflow Parking Lot) A big change from the
Today, my hunch is that labor costs dominate and everybody is forced to
use lower-quality product. The high-end burger places really can't
afford to use beef that costs them $10 a pound, so they cut corners on
the quality. When the most-uneducated burger flippper is making the
mandated minimum wave, the low-end burger places are forced into a race
to the bottom to return even a slim profit margin. And the low-end
places resort to using "reconstituted beef products."
(The same is true of KFC and other chicken places. A bucket of KFC in
the 1960s was filled with large, meaty, juicy pieces. Today,
shivelled-up pieces of mstly cartilage and skin. And with an emphasis
on "formed" patties, nuggets, and "meat-based wing products.")
It'll be interesting to see if the "robot burger places" that are being
talked about (in several cities) will be able to serve up a
better-quality burger for a good price.
Of course, unemployment of millions of burger flippers will likely be
an issue the Social Justice Warriors will be ranting about.