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How 8 Famous Fast-Food Restaurants Got Their Names

Updated: May 24, 2020

Plucked from a dream, an old map, a daughter’s birth certificate—that’s how the names of some of the most famous fast-food restaurants came to be.

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Las Vegas - Circa December 2016: Chick-fil-A Retail Fast Food Location. Chick-fil-A Restaurants are Closed on Sundays III
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock


In 1946, there wasn’t much chicken at The Dwarf Grill in the suburbs of Atlanta. Later the restaurant became known as The Dwarf House, with signage including the Chick-fil-A logo we know it today. Truett Cathy created the simplest of sandwiches (chicken and two pickles on a bun) in 1964, and eventually, the Dwarf bit fell off as the empire grew. Chick-fil-A lovers, here’s what’s really in their secret sauce.

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This photo shows a Whataburger restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. The iconic Texas restaurant chain will not allow the open carrying of guns on its properties, taking a stand against a new law legalizing the practice
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For the creator of the famous A-frame burger shack, bigger was simply better. In the mid-20th century, there was nary a patty bigger than four inches. But Harmon Dobson dreamed of a square five. A burger so grand, in fact, that it would make one exclaim, “What a burger!” And his chain’s name is an homage to that dream.

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SPENCER , WISCONSIN, October, 16, 2015 Wendy's Restaurant Sign on a Storefront Wendy's is an international food chain of stores and was founded in 1969


Ever since he was a boy, Dave Thomas knew he wanted to have a restaurant. And after 20 years in the biz, he did just that, opening the first Wendy’s in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. Wendy was the nickname of one of his children, Melinda. But he wasn’t playing favorites—he experimented with all five of his kids’ names before settling. Get a look at the first-ever locations of 8 of your favorite fast-food joints.

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BURIRAM - DECEMBER 4 : McDonald's in Thailand, Corporation is the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, during the day hours on December 4, 2016, Buriram, Thailand.
Chatchai Somwat/Shutterstock


In 1954, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald had a small but successful eponymous burger joint in San Bernardino, California. But it was the opportunistic Ray Kroc who bought the restaurant and the name, built the system around it, and made it the global powerhouse that it is today.

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Domino's pizza fast restaurant, Copenhagen
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In 1960, brothers Jim and Tom Monaghan bought a Ypsilanti, Michigan, pizza shop called DomiNick’s. After some drama and subsequent rising success of the business, the original owner decided to retain the rights to the name. With a looming deadline for an ad in the phone book (remember those?), it’s rumored that a delivery driver named Jim Kennedy came up with Domino’s Pizza. Find out what the most popular fast food restaurant was the year you were born.

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Indianapolis - Circa February 2016: Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurant. Chipotle is a Chain of Burrito Fast-Food Restaurants III
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock


It was a bit of a eureka moment when founder Steve Ells came up with the name Chipotle. “It was just like a light bulb went off,” he told Bloomberg. While others close to him said it was obscure or too hard to pronounce, he stuck with it. And now, for the burrito-hungry, the name is on the tip of their tongue. Find out the 18 secrets Chipotle employees won’t tell you.

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BANGKOK, THAILAND - MARCH 17 : Exterior view of Subway Restaurant on March 17, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. It is one of the fastest growing franchises in the world, with 43,035 restaurants.
Settawat Udom/Shutterstock


In 1965, after med school didn’t work out, Frank DeLuca and his friend Peter Buck opened Pete’s Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Connecticut, setting a goal to have 32 locations in ten years. The sandwich slingers changed the name to “Pete’s Subway” a few years later. But in 1974, with just 16 locations throughout the state, they decided to franchise the business in an attempt to meet their goal. The name? Simply, Subway.

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Melbourne, Australia - February 23, 2017: Starbucks Coffee is an American chain of coffee shops, founded in Seattle. The 385 Bourke Street store is inside the Galleria shopping mall.
Nils Versemann/Shutterstock


The story of how Starbucks got its name literally starts with “st.” When co-founder Gordon Bowker was brainstorming name ideas with some friends, an ad agency colleague declared that he thought words starting with “st” were powerful. The group later came across an old map that included a town called Starbo. The name instantly reminded Bowker of the Moby-Dick character Starbuck, and thus an empire was born. Before they settled on “Starbucks,” though, they considered going with “Pequod,” the name of the ship in Moby-Dick, too! Next, look back at the fast-food scandals that rocked the industry

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home