One of the country’s oldest fast-food burger chains, Kewpee Hamburgers, once had hundreds of restaurants throughout the Midwest – and their crazy square burgers maybe helped inspire one Kewpee lover to start his own chain.
Founded in 1923 in Flint, Michigan and originally called Kewpee Hotels Hamburgs (only A&W and White Castle can claim to be older), the Kewpee Hamburger chain was named after the “Kewpie” characters created by the artist, writer, and cartoonist Rose O’Neill. Starting in 1909, O’Neill’s little cherubs (named Kewpies because they resembled little Cupids) became so popular in the funny papers that they spawned what amounted to early merchandising – Kewpie dolls, made famous first as paper dolls and eventually as prizes at fairs and carnivals. The little guy (girl?) also became the mascot of Kewpee Hamburgers, cherubically standing watch over the front of each shop.
With their square patties and super-thick shakes, Kewpee’s grew from just a few shops in the 1920s to nearly 400 during the early 1940s. Spreading across the Midwest from its first home in Flint, Michigan, people loved the food and cute mascot alike. But during World War II, beef became harder and harder to come by, and most of those shops closed their doors. Along the way they had instituted some of the very first curb-side delivery, an early version of the drive-in that eventually morphed into the drive-thru.
The story of Kewpee’s also includes one tale (maybe apocryphal) about a much younger burger chain started by Dave Thomas in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. Kewpee fans say that Dave grew up near a Kewpee’s and was so in love with those square burgers and malted shakes that he decided to start his own restaurant chain. If true, little Wendy’s dad maybe owes some success to that Midwestern cherub.
But true or not, give that girl a Kewpie Doll!