How did a shirtless 6 year old boy in overalls become one of the most recognizable icons in American Pop Culture?
I recently spoke with David Crawford, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Big Boy Restaurants International LLC, to find out a little history about the establishment and the boy behind the beloved brand.
Andy: Nothing pulls folks off the road quicker than the sight of a Bob’s Big Boy Statue adorned in the familiar red & white checkered overalls serving up an Original Double Decker. How did the name and the image come to be?
David: I’ll give you the short version which goes back to 1937 at the original 10 seat coffee counter restaurant in Glendale California named Bob’s Pantry, and owned by Bob Wian.
There was a group of local high school jazz band members who came in regularly, and urged Mr. Wian to come up with “something different” then the regular fare. Mr. Wian complied and created what would become the very first double decker hamburger. He then wanted to come up with an appropriate name and was initially set to call it the “Fat Boy” before fate walked through the door in the form of 6 year old clean up boy Richard Woodruff. Mr. Wian greeted the child who swept up the place with a hearty “Hey there Big Boy,” and the name for the burger stuck and was born right there on the spot.
Andy: Timing is everything! Can you elaborate a little on the actual look of the Bob’s Big Boy logo?
Dave: The first Bob’s Big Boy design resembled Richard Woodruff in that he was drawn up without a shirt on. It wasn’t until 1956 when a designer from nearby Warner Brothers studios came up with the version closer to what your familiar with today wherein Bob is wearing a t-shirt with his overalls proudly holding up high the Original Double Deck Hamburger.
Andy: You mention nearby Warner Brothers Studios which leads to my next question; Does Bob’s Big Boy attract many celebrities? I seem to recollect the likes of Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart coming through in the Hollywood Heyday.
Dave: I’m not sure about Gable & Bogart, but Bob Hope was a regular heavy hitter from old Hollywood among many others. The Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank (the oldest remaining location) has it’s share of famous fans and people who work in the entertainment industry make up a large percentage of regulars. This is mainly due to the proximity of the Movie and Television studios in the area and with Bob’s being open 24 hours, you’ll get film crew, writers & actors coming in all the time. Specifically you have The Tonight Show a stones throw away and Jay Leno frequents the extremely popular Friday night Car shows. Drew Carey frequently stops in after filming The Price is Right and Miley Cyrus & the Jonas Brothers are regulars too.
Andy: Ok, now I want to get back to the Bob’s Big Boy statue that pulls folks in off the road. Are they all the same size and/or is there one in particular that is the biggest Big Boy in the world?
Dave: That’s a good question. They come in three different sizes of 4′, 6′, & 12′, and depending on what part of the country and city a restaurant is in, zoning laws determine what each location can and cannot use. If zoning prohibits a statue from being on the outside, usually the 4′ models end up on the inside. In addition to the different sizes, there are also uniquely designed statues. Probably the most unique is the Big Boy outside the Norco, California location which has Bob wearing a Cowboy hat and boots. You may also remember seeing Dr. Evil escape the Earth in a Bob’s Big Boy statue in Austin Powers International Man of Mystery.
I also need to add that we have live Big Boy mascots that get plenty of attention too. You can find them outside the restaurants waving at passerbys and shaking hands and taking pictures with diners on the inside.
Andy: I was going to ask about the live mascots but you beat me to it. I’m curious because I actually adorned a few mascot costumes in my day (Nestle Quick Bunny, The Pizza Noid, and Mountain Dew Man to name a few). The mascot, statues, and even the architecture and interiors of the restaurants all seem to bring a rich retro feel. Even before you take a bite, you’re feeling that old time comfort in a Bob’s Big Boy!
Dave: That’s exactly the goal we want to accomplish for our customers. Many of the original and older locations still have the same design and architecture from the 40’s and 50’s and the decor of the newer locations have a similar look and feel of that era. Then when you add the original menu of classic comfort food and friendly customer service to the mix, you’ve got the complete nostalgic, diner inspired restaurant that makes coming to a Bob’s Big Boy so memorable.
Andy: It’s easy to see why you’re at the top in the marketing department because I really need to leave now and go make a new memory at the nearest Bob’s Big Boy!
Thanks to Dave for the history lesson on an American Roadtrip Institution today, and if you’re looking for a mouth watering breakfast or a better burger, check out the official Big Boy website for a location near you.