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A & W Rootbeer


Since 1919 


     One hot day in June of 1919, in Lodi, California, an entrepreneur named Roy Allen mixed up a batch of creamy root beer and sold the first frosty mug of this delightful beverage for one nickel. Now, many years later, A&W Root Beer is still made fresh daily and sold at hundreds of A&W Restaurants in USA as well as other countries, with an international headquarters in Malaysia.

     Allen purchased the formula for his root beer from a pharmacist in Arizona. To this day, the unique blend of herbs, spices, barks and berries remains a proprietary secret. With the success of his first root beer stand in Lodi, Allen soon opened a second stand in nearby Sacramento. It was there that what is thought to be the country's first "drive-in" featuring "tray-boys" for curb side
service, opened up.

     In 1922, Allen took on a partner, Frank Wright, an employee from his original Lodi location. The two partners combined their initials - "A" for Allen and "W" for Wright and formally named the beverage, A&W Root Beer, Three units were opened in Sacramento, then on to other northern and central California locations and to the states of Texas and Utah.

     In 1924, Allen bought Wright's share of the business to actively pursue a franchise sales program. He had the name, A&W Root Beer and the A&W logo legally trademarked with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.

     By 1933, the creamy beverage was such a success that Allen had over 170 franchised outlets operating in the mid-west and west. To ensure uniform quality for the namesake beverage, Allen sold A&W Root Beer concentrate exclusively to each franchise operator. His profits were derived from the sale of the concentrate and a nominal license fee.

     During World War II no new restaurants were opened and despite governmental sugar rationing and employee shortages (both results of the war), most A&W units remained successful. After the war the number of A&W restaurants tripled as GI loans paved the way for private enterprise to flourish.

     In 1950, with over 450 A&W's operating nationwide, founder Roy Allen retired and sold the business to an aggressive Nebraskan named Gene Hurtz, who formed the A&W Root Beer Company.

     The post war era - the rapidly recovering economy and popularity of the automobile, provided the right environment for Hurtz's company to prosper.

     Drive-in's were becoming increasingly popular and A&W had the privilege of being one of the few nationally established drive-in restaurant chains. By 1960 the number of A&W's had swelled to over 2000.

     The first A&W restaurants outside of the U.S. opened in 1956 in Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada. The Canadian division eventually became a wholly owned
subsidiary of A&W and in 1972, was sold to Lever Brothers, LTD., an international conglomerate.

     In 1963, the A&W Root Beer Company was sold to the J. Hungerford Smith Company, the firm which had manufactured A&W Root Beer concentrate since 1921.

     In that same year, the first overseas A&W Restaurant opened its doors. Located in Guam, the international division quickly expanded to the Philippines.

     Three years later, both A&W and J. Hungerford Smith Company were purchased by United Fruit Company of Boston. In 1970, United Fruit was acquired by The AMK Corporation, who formed the new corporation, United Brands Company.

     Within this structure the A&W Root Beer Company adopted a new trademark, changed its name to A&W International, Inc. and began the process of becoming a full-fledged restaurant and food service organization.

     America loved the taste of A&W Root Beer. So, in 1971, United Brands formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, A&W Beverages, Inc., for the purpose of making A&W Root Beer available on the grocery shelf. First introduced in Arizona and California, the cans and bottles of A&W Root Beer was an instant success. Retailers nationwide were soon carrying the product.

     In 1974, A&W Beverages, Inc. introduced A&W Sugar-Free Root Beer and their goodwill ambassador, The Great Root Bear (pictured above). This life size, loveable mascot has been charming children and adults at grand openings, parades, fairs and community visits ever since.

     A standard core menu for the restaurants was introduced in 1978. It was the first time in A&W History that there was a consistent menu offering. And, it was at this time that A&W Restaurants, Inc., the wholly-owned restaurant franchise subsidiary was formed.

     The corporation launched a new restaurant concept in 1978, The A&W Great Food Restaurant. A modern up scale concept, these facilities featured fresh 1/3 and 1/2 pound 100% pure beef hamburgers, salad bars, ice cream bars and of course A&W Root Beer in a frosty mug.

     In 1982, A. Alfred Taubman, a developer of shopping centers and real estate, purchased A&W Restaurants, Inc.

     Also, by mid-decade, the international division of A&W Restaurants had expanded its operations into seven Southeast Asian countries. A corporate office located in Malaysia continues to be the home of A&W's international operations.

     This re-invigorated environment soon reaped big rewards in the form of an agreement to convert over 200 Carousel Snack Bars of Minnesota restaurants to "A&W Hot Dogs and More" restaurants - a relationship which continues to thrive today.

     Then in December of 1994, Sagittarius Acquisitions, Incorporated, headed by Sidney Feltenstein purchased A&W Restaurants, Inc., from the Taubman interests.

     The new ownership, backed by the investment company, Grotech Capital, grew with Feltenstein's long history of industry experience. (Feltenstein is a former Executive Vice President of Marketing for Burger King Worldwide and a one time key executive with Dukin' Donuts.) Continually growing, Sid Feltenstein fueled the purchase of Long John Silvers in 1999.

     In 2000 Yorkshire Global Restaurants, became the parent company for A&W and Long John Silver's. In 2002 Yorkshire Global Restaurants, was acquired by Tricon Global Restaurants. To reflect the acquisition the company was renamed Yum! Brands.

     A&W Root Beer was originally sold through curb side service in drive-in restaurants and not bottled until 1971, which leaves the early collectibles to be glass mugs. In 1919, a plain glass mug was used without letters or words. The A&W name was not yet used. In 1921, the letters "A&W" appeared embossed on the glass mug and in 1948, the red and black "bullís eye" logo was introduced.

Pictured is an assortment of mugs, and pictures of early A&W stands, one of which is shaped like a barrel.

Information for this article was obtained from the companyís website.
From The Soda Fizz Magazine, March-April 2004 issue.
Copyright © The Soda Fizz Magazine - Reprint by permission only.

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