Southern California’s influence on the 100 year old fast food restaurant business – Daily News

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Fast food has been a favorite as far back in time as we can go. Our ancestors might have invented it while Neanderthals were on prehistoric animals’ menu. A quick bite on the run comes to mind.

Fast forward to ancient Italy

In 2020, Italian historians at the Pompeii Archaeological Park said about 80 fast-food eateries have been found at Pompeii. Last year had the first time a hot and food drink eatery — known as a thermopolium — was completely uncovered.

Pompeii was founded in the sixth century B.C. and a bustling city until it was covered in volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

American eruption

Since we’re talking fast food, we’ll get to the meat of the story quickly. Modern fast food took off in part because of the highways built in the U.S. in the 1950s and was a response to the American on-the-go lifestyle.

Many historians consider the first American fast-food chain to be White Castle, which opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921. White Castle brought Henry Ford’s assembly line to the kitchen. Every inch of the grill was used to give customers a quick and exact experience each and every time.

Fast-food fans know that many of these chains started right here in California. We’ve come a long way in 100 years, but the idea to maximize efficiency with fast food is still the same.


McDonald’s menu timeline

In 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald opened McDonald’s Barbecue in San Bernardino, the first McDonald’s restaurant. The restaurant, a drive-in with carhop service, would lead to the largest chain in the world.

Here are some of the longest-featured items on McDonald’s menu, listed by year of national debut. Not all listed.

Who eats fast food

A 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study looked at who eats fast food and how often. The study surveyed adults on whether they ate at a fast-food or pizza restaurant over the previous 24-hour period. The graphics show the percentage of adults who eat fast food “any given day.”

RELATED STORY: See the evolution of fast food in Southern California with this timeline

RELATED STORY: How fast food history was made at these 12 Southern California sites

Sources: CDC, Smithsonian,,, restaurant websites

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