American Roadtrip had the pleasure of grabbing Sandi McKenna and Rick Griffin, the producers & hosts of Midlife Roadtrip TV, for a few quick questions about food, travel, adventure, and chipping away at bucket lists.   

ART:  How did you end up being the co-host of a television program about travel & food?  Did you grow up in a family that took you on many adventures that inspired you?  Fulfillment of a dream that you worked hard for or fell in your lap?

Sandi: I grew up in a family that went somewhere just about every weekend.  My dad had a 32 foot motor home that rarely sat idol.  When we weren’t traveling, we were talking about where we would go next.

Fast Forward … Rick & I met on Twitter during a conversation with mutual friends/television producers about travel, video production and Bucket Lists!  We met in person when we were in the same city and decided to shoot a pilot episode.  The rest as they say is history!

Rick:  My family would only take one vacation per year, usually a long road trip to the beach or the mountains where we would camp in a tent or a trailer.  Since we traveled so infrequently, every trip was a big deal to me and made me want to travel more.

As a video producer, I had a vision for the show but I had no budget to hire real talent so I had to cast myself as one of the hosts.

My dream has long been to have a job where I travel, eat and meet interesting people.  Our hard work in building Midlife Road Trip into the brand that it is today is the fulfillment of that dream.

ART:  Fantastic to be living that dream guys!  Have most of your travels been in the USA or have they taken you worldwide?  I know it’s probably impossible to nail it down, but what city and/or country would you say has been the most memorable & why?

Sandi:  We have no borders when it comes to traveling.  The world is indeed our oyster.  In the U.S., I loved Alaska’s inside passage.  We were a week without visiting a town and the landscape was spectacular.  Overseas, Italy has a special place in my heart.  I love the people, the culture and yes, the food!

Rick: Our travels have taken us worldwide!  Each journey is special in its own way.  I had 3 incredible moments just last year: witnessing literally hundreds of humpback whales feeding, breaching and spouting water for several hours in Alaska’s inner passage was surreal; riding mules down the highest sea cliffs in the world in Molokai, Hawaii was exhilarating; and experiencing Rome for the first time with my daughter who had just graduated from college was unforgettable.

ART:  Like I said, fantastic to be living the dream…wow!  While on a roadtrip do you ever enjoy a good fast food joint?  Give us a few examples.

Sandi: Food is my favorite thing about a road trip and I love stopping along the way at local mom and pops.  For example we found an amazing pie shoppe in Duluth, GA that I dream about to this day!  Of course, In and Out, Pinks are a must on the west coast, Pizza & Bagels on the east coast, Italian Beef at Portillo’s in Chicago.  The list (and cravings) go on and on!

Rick: While on a road trip, I always prefer to eat what the locals eat at some mom and pop place that that is unique to that particular location.  I love getting a muffuletta from Central Grocery in New Orleans, chili slaw dogs from The Varsity in Atlanta, fried pies from the Fried Pie Company in Gainesville Texas, fried green tomatoes from Magnolia’s in Charleston, SC.  I could go on and on but you just asked for a few examples.

ART:  I want your jobs.  Ok, tell us about some of the most interesting people you have met during your travels, be it celebrities or regular old people who left a lasting impression on you for whatever reason.

Sandi:  We have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people in our travels.  A couple years ago we did a 7200 mile road trip across the United States for U.S.A. Today & Rand McNally to find the Most Patriotic Small Town in America.  In the process we met true American heroes and I was so humbled by these selfless folks and all the sacrifices they made for our freedom.  We have also run in to our fair share of notables, from Sting to Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods host, Andrew Zimmern.  And then of course, locals the people who live and work in the cities and towns we visit.  They are who give us the real sense of what a destination, a community is really like.

Rick: While on the Best of the Road Rally in 2012 we met a couple of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who were truly two of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.  We’ve met a few celebrities along the road as well like Mark Burnett (creator of Survivor, the Apprentice etc.), Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel, jazz great Dave Koz, Kelsey Grammer, Geraldo Rivera, and Sting.  But it’s “ regular people” doing things that they are passionate about who impress me the most.

ART:  Many folks cannot afford to travel extensively, so can you offer some advice on how to hit the road on a budget?

Sandi:  Do your research.  When booking your trip, bundle your air, car and hotel to save.  Also look for last minute deals, especially on cruises.  Use your smartphone wisely and download apps to help you in your search.  Some will save you money and others time.  Some of my favorites that I routinely use are Tripit (for air travel notifications) Expedia (for booking) Rosetta Stone (for foreign language phrases) Skype (to keep in touch with family and friends back home) Hootsuite (to stay connected with all my Twitter friends) and Uber (for transportation).

Rick: There are lots of ways to safe money when traveling.  Instead of a hotel, you can stay at a hostel or a campground.  Instead of flying, take a train or a bus.  Instead of dining out, take food with you. Instead of taking a taxi, walk or take public transportation.  Some of these alternatives can actually enhance your travel experience. Also, do your research.  There are great deals to be had especially if you can be flexible as to when you can travel. Off-season travel is always less expensive.  We often save a lot of money with Expedia that allows us bundling your air, hotel and car rental, or by booking last minute deals. Other apps like Yelp, Foursquare and Scoutmob can help you find restaurants and attractions offering special deals.

Great deals Rick!  And thanks to you and Sandi for sharing some of your experiences and expert advice.  Now you can cross off “interview with American Roadtrip,” from your bucket list.

Be sure to tune into Midlife Roadtrip TV, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter too.




Super 8 was started by Dennis Brown in 1972. The original room rate was $8.88, hence the brand name Super 8. The first Super 8 was opened in 1974 in Aberdeen, SD. It was built near a Holiday Inn with just some drawings made by Rivett as blueprints. The stucco exterior with an English Tudorstyle was inspired by Rivett’s father-in-law, who was a stuccoer; the English Tudor style and placing of Super 8’s near Holiday Inns was an established procedure for setting up new Super 8’s for years to come. The first franchise was sold in 1976 and established in Gillette, Wyoming. By 1978 Super 8 stretched from the state of New York to the state of Washington and was no longer just a Midwestern United States company.

In 1981, groundbreaking for the 100th Super 8 Location began in Aberdeen, SD; the birthplace of Super 8. In 1993, Super 8 opened its 1,000th property in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. By 2001, Super 8 Motels had more than 2,000 motels worldwide. As of May 2014, the company website listed 2,392 hotels worldwide. As per the 2006 company reports, Super 8 had 2,039 properties open with 123,982 rooms in the US and Canada.


hamburgerinnHAMBURER INN

Chances are you have been to the Hamburger Inn. It might not have been this exact one, but chances are you have one in your hometown. Maybe your grandfather used to take you there on Saturdays, or maybe it was your favorite place to sneak out to during lunch breaks at school. You remember the place.  It wasn’t much to look at from the outside. It probably wasn’t much to look at from the inside either, but that really didn’t matter.  Your sense of smell and taste were all you really needed to remember the Hamburger Inn. While there are several joints around the country named “Hamburger Inn,” much of the artwork in our collection is modeled after one affectionately called “The Original Hamburger Inn No. 1,” in Portsmouth, Ohio.  Sadly, this Hamburger Inn is no longer open, although local businessmen are working to revive the concept. Until that time when it is brought back to life, enjoy the memories, or perhaps a visit, to the Hamburger Inn of your past.  



In 1950, entrepreneur Harmon Dobson worked with Paul Burton to found a hamburger company.  Dobson’s goal was to “make a better burger that took two hands to hold and tasted so good that when you took a bite you would say ‘What a burger!'”

With its first restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas the are mainly known for its distinct A-framed orange-and-white stripe-roofed buildings. The first A-frame restaurant was founded in Odessa, Texas and is now a historical landmark. Today, there are still over a dozen of the A-frame stores in operation which are apart of the over 735 Whataburger stores across the Southern United States region.


steakshakeSTEAK ‘N SHAKE

Steak ‘n Shake was founded in Normal, Illinois in February 1934, by Gus Belt. He converted the combination gas station and chicken restaurant that he owned (Shell’s Chicken) into a hamburger stand. The original building at the intersection of Main Street and West Virginia Avenue was damaged by a fire in the early 1960s, but it was repaired and its dining room expanded. Steak ‘n Shake’s slogan “In Sight It Must Be Right” originally referred to Belt’s practice of wheeling a barrel of T-bone, sirloin, and round steaks into the public area of his restaurant, then grinding them into burgers in front of his customers.

This practice was intended to reassure customers of the wholesomeness of the product; at that time, ground beef was still viewed with some skepticism by the general public, based on the likelihood of its having deliberate impurities introduced into it. This practice of grinding the beef in public also helped assure his customers of the veracity of Belt’s “Steakburger” claim because they could see for themselves that he was grinding steaks into the hamburger meat. Later, patrons were assured that Steakburgers were still made from these ingredients “at our own commissary” for shipment to the restaurants, where the open grill line remains “in sight” to customers.


The Travelodge brand, was one of the first motel chains in the United States opening its first location in San Diego in 1940.  During its early years, Travelodge emphasized itself as a budget motel chain that offered functional accommodations at rates lower than other chains by shunning fancy frills in favor of functional amenities such as comfortable beds, free TV and room phones, carpeted floors, in-room coffee pots and swimming pools.

Targeting families with children, it is best known for its mascot Sleepy Bear, a half awake teddy bear wearing a sleeping cap with his name, a robe with the Travelodge logo, and slippers.  Some time ago, Travelodge would give a free toy plush bear to any child staying in the Sleepy Bear Den room, of which every Travelodge had at least one.  These rooms were decorated with Sleepy Bear material with lampshades, comforters, curtains and posters themed after Sleepy Bear.  Extras included a VCR in which children’s films could be rented in the lobby.

Today there are over 345  Travelodge locations in the United States.

wafflehouseWAFFLE HOUSE

On Labor Day 1955, Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner opened the first WAFFLE HOUSE in Avondale Estates, a suburb of Atlanta. The first restaurant quickly established the WAFFLE HOUSE tradition of providing the friendliest service in town. Customer loyalty developed and the business grew steadily. A second WAFFLE HOUSE was opened in 1957, and by 1961 there were four locations.

As more restaurants opened in Georgia and neighboring States, the “Yellow Sign” soon became an iconic landmark along city streets and interstate highways across the Southeast. WAFFLE HOUSE now serves 500,000 customers a day and 148 waffles every minute!

Remaining true to the philosophy of “better before bigger,” WAFFLE HOUSE looks forward to making the next generation of customers and associates part of the family.



If you’re an age to remember tourist camps, Burma Shave signs, and two-lane blacktops – or even gas lines, Pinots and crackling AM radio – chances are you remember the sprawling Stuckey’s empire:  A venerable roadside oasis – and a highway heaven of souvenirs, cold drinks, hot snacks, and pecan candy – marked by the pitched roof and teal blue shingles.

Who could forget the pecan divinity, flavored pecans, and most of all the celebrated Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll, a heavenly inspired creation of Mrs. Ethel Stuckey herself?  Based on a secret mix of powdered sugar, white molasses, and roasted nuts, that mouth-watering miracle of fluffy white sweetness covered in its own deep coating of crushed select pecans became the soul and spirit of the store and the number one reason for families to stop….well, along with using the restrooms, gassing up the car, and having a snack and a soft drink, of course.

Soon after founding, however, Stuckey’s became more than a pecan log roller.  From the late 30’s to early 70’s the teal blue roof was as famous then as the golden arches are today. Sadly, in the last 70’s, the empire began to dwindle when Stuckey’s was purchased by a large corporation and became trapped in a time warp.  Of the 350-plus locations operating in our heyday, the number dropped to fewer than 75.  But that was then, and this is now.

Now, with a Stuckey back at the helm and over 200 franchised locations on the interstate highways spanning 19 states from Pennsylvania to Florida in the east and to Arizona in the west, they are bigger and better than ever.

Those who remember the Stuckey’s of yesterday will smile with approval on the Stuckey’s of today.



Originally called the Parkette, in 1952 it became Parkette Big Boy Shoppes.  In 1954, a public contest for a new name resulted in Parkette becoming Shoney’s, which was also a reference to founder Alex “Shoney” Schoenbaum.  Shoney’s was a charter Big Boy franchisee and by 1984 became the largest franchisee operating 392 Shoney’s Big Boy units.

Shoney’s dropped its relationship with Big Boy in 1984, as well as the Original Big Boy sandwich, in order to expand into neighboring states where other franchisees owned the trademark.  Today, Shoney’s is a privately held casual dining restaurant chain that operates primarily in the Southeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic states of the United States.

As of early 2011, there were approximately 230 company-owned and franchised Shoney’s restaurants in 18 states, stretching from Maryland to Florida in the east and from Missouri to New Mexico in the west.



A Long Beach, California-based soul food restaurant chain founded by Herb Hudson, a Harlem native, in 1975.  It is best known, as the name states, for serving chicken and waffles, both together and separately, although they do offer more traditional menu items as well such as delicious greens, Mac and Cheese, hot water cornbread, and red beans and rice.

Soon after it opened, Hudson had friends in Motown and television such as Natalie Cole who would spread the word to other celebrities; Redd Foxx would tell his audience that he went there.  The Los Angeles Times refers to Roscoe’s as “such an L.A. institution that people don’t even question the strange combo anymore.”  The New York Times refers to it as a “beloved soul food chain.”

The original location in Hollywood remains popular with celebrities.



Ramada Inn was founded in 1953 by longtime Chicago restaurateur Marion W. Isbell. Ramada opened its first hotel on U.S. Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1954 and set up its headquarters in Phoenix, where the chain built the Sahara Hotel on North 1st Street downtown in 1956 (which later became the Ramada Inn Downtown) and a 300-room Ramada Inn in the 3800 block of East Van Buren in 1958 that would become the chain’s flagship property and headquarters. Mr. Isbell, like his contemporary, Kemmons Wilson, the founder of the Holiday Inn hotel chain, devised the idea of building and operating a chain of roadside motor hotels while he was on a cross-country trip with his wife, Ingrid, and their three children. On that trip, Isbell noted the substandard quality of roadside motor courts along US highways at the time. He saw the possibility in the developing market for a chain of roadside motor hotels conveniently located along major highways which would provide lodgings with hotel-like quality at near-motel rates plus amenities such as TV, air conditioning, swimming pools, and on-premises restaurants.


Pure Oil Company was founded in 1914 and sold to what is now Union Oil Company of California in 1965. The Pure Oil name returned in 1993 as a cooperative (based in Rock Hill, SC since 2008) which has grown to supply 350 members in 10 Southern states.

By 1917, operations in Europe ended. Also, Beman Gates Dawes and his brothers, whose Columbus-based Ohio Cities Gas Company had begun in 1914, made an offer of $24.50 a share for the company. Dawes was building an Oklahoma refinery, and Pure Oil had production capabilities there which would benefit his company. The Pennsylvania company accepted the offer and made $22 million in profit on the sale.

By the 1960s, sales were $700 million a year, and Pure Oil ranked as one of the country’s 100 largest industrial companies. Over 1,000 worked in the Chicago area. The headquarters at that time were in the northwestern suburb, Schaumburg, in a building which is now a campus of Roosevelt University. The company motto was “Be sure with Pure.”



Strangely, HoJo’s roots trace back to a small, orange-roofed soda fountain in Massachusetts, circa 1925. It was there that Howard Johnson invented a secret formula for the most delicious chocolate and vanilla ice cream ever. The ice cream became so popular and demand grew so much that Johnson had to open more stores and share his creation with the world. Thus, HoJo helped pioneer the franchise business model.

But he wasn’t satisfied just providing tasty cold treats. His parents had always told him that no matter where he went in life or how much money he made, being happy was what was most important. So HoJo wanted to pass that wisdom on to the masses and give them something that would REALLY make them happy. And what makes people happier than vacations? Nothing!

So in 1959, Howard Johnson and his son set-out on their mission to create comfortable, affordable and friendly hotels with unmatched amenities that would serve both vacationers and business travelers alike. Johnson knew his success depended on each location maintaining the same high quality standard of service people could expect in his ice cream shops. So each property was given an orange roof to signify the brand’s quality and serve as a reminder of where it all began.

Johnson’s hard work, rigid belief in quality service and unyielding commitment to making his guests feel at home has resulted in a globally recognized brand that continues to spread happiness to this day. And with more than 500 hotels operating in more than 14 countries, a happy HoJo location is never far away.


mrsteakMR. STEAK

Mr. Steak was an American steakhouse restaurant chain started in 1962 by James A. Mather in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The chain operated 278 restaurants throughout the United States at its peak. The chain saw a decline in the 1980s when it attempted to diversify its menu options, drawing focus away from the steak in favor of fish, salads, and chicken.

The Kansas City area locations were purchased by Paul Consiglio in the 1980s, and the corporation went bankrupt in 1987. Some locations in Michigan were converted in 1991 to a new chain called Finley’s, which retained most of the Mr. Steak menu; other Mr. Steak restaurants were gradually closed off by the mid-1990s.

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George Foster had acquired the Dairy Queen franchise for California, but was unable to use the name in the state because of its strict dairy laws. That didn’t stop him from introducing soft serve ice milk products to Californians. He built over three hundred franchised retail outlets which marketed ice milk soft serve products and other refreshments. He then sold the Fosters Freeze franchise to Meyenberg Milk Products. Meyenberg produced large amounts of evaporated and sweetened condensed milk for domestic and foreign Federal relief programs, as well as for industrial food production uses. The acquisition of the Fosters Freeze product name was a good fit for Meyenberg. During the summer months when milk production increased, the company processed and sold its excess milk in the form of Fosters Freeze ice milk products to its franchisees.

After 65 years in the business, Fosters Freeze has 88 locations in California as of 2015.

Some of the company’s earliest locations in California included Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. The Palo Alto location, across the street from the Stanford University campus on El Camino Real, remains virtually unchanged since c. 1950. The oldest locations are often historic landmarks. In its beginnings it was bigger than McDonald’s, Del Taco, and other chains. The Fosters Freeze franchise in Hawthorne, California is known to be the location at which Beach Boy band member Dennis Wilson saw the girl in the Thunderbird he sang about in his song titled “Fun, Fun, Fun.”



In 1950, Bill Rosenberg opened the first Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Quincy, Massachusetts.  Dunkin’ Donuts licensed the first of many franchises in 1955.

Dunkin’ Donuts is the world’s leading baked goods and coffee chain, serving more than 5 million customers a day.  Dunkin’ Donuts sells more than 70 varieties of donuts and more than a dozen coffee beverages as well as an array of bagels, breakfast sandwiches and other baked goods.

At the end of 2012, there were 10,500 Dunkin’ Donuts stores worldwide, including more than 7,000 franchised restaurants in 36 states.

daysinnDAYS INN

Days Inn was founded in 1970 on Tybee Island, Georgia by Cecil B. Day, a real estate developer who later achieved note as a prominent Christian philanthropist. The name was thought up by Day’s friend Mannin Purvis of Savannah, Georgia who was the head of advertising for the Savannah Morning News. This first Days Inn has been purchased and renamed. Through the 1970s hotel guests could take home a paperback Bible (usually the ABS Good News Bible New Testament) from their guest rooms for free.

During the chain’s early years, many Days Inn’s featured Tasty World Restaurants and Gift Shops, along with on-site gasoline pumps to sell unbranded fuel to motel guests at lower prices than nearby Texaco or Exxonstations.[3]

Days Inn of America Inc. began franchising hotels in 1972 and within eight years created a system of more than 300 hotels in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.


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dairyqueenDAIRY QUEEN

The phenomenal story began with the 10-cent sale of a then unnamed product on August 4, 1938, in Kankakee, Illinois. A father and son partnership in Green River, Illinois, had been experimenting with a soft frozen dairy product for some time. They convinced friend and customer Sheb Noble to offer the product in his ice cream store in Kankakee, Illinois. On the first day of sales, Noble dished out more than 1,600 servings of the new dessert within two hours. Noble and the McCulloughs went on to open the first Dairy Queen store in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois.

Back then, food franchising was all but unheard of, but the new product’s potential made it a natural for such a system. When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, there were fewer than 10 Dairy Queen stores.  However, shortly after the war, the system took off at a pace virtually unrivaled before or since. With only 100 stores in 1947, it grew to 1,446 in 1950 and then to 2,600 in 1955. Today, the DQ system is one of the largest fast food systems in the world, with more than 6,000 restaurants in the United States, Canada and 18 other countries.

Although much has changed in the world and in the DQ system through the years, one constant has remained: DQ restaurants are still, and always have been, the place to find kids’ sports teams celebrating a victory, business people on their lunch break and families taking time out to enjoy great food and soft serve treats. And success for the DQ system is as simple today as it was in 1940.



“In Muskogee, Oklahoma, I saw an unusual sandwich called “corn-dog.” This sandwich was a wiener baked in cornbread. The corn-dog was very good, but took too long to prepare. The problem was how to cover a hotdog with batter and cook it in a short time.

In the fall of 1941, I told this story to a fellow student at Knox College whose father was in the bakery business, and then gave it no further thought. Five years later while in the Air Force stationed at Amarillo Airfield, I received a letter from my fellow student, Don Strand. To my surprise he had developed a mix that would stick on a weiner while being french-fried. He wondered if he could send some down that I could try in Amarillo. Having plenty of spare time, I said ‘yes.’

Using cocktail forks for sticks, the U.S.O kitchen in which to experiment, we made a very tasty hotdog on a stick, that we called a “crusty cur.” They became very popular both at the U.S.O. in town, and at the P.X. on the airfield. My friend continued to send mix and we continued to sell thousands of crusty curs until I was discharged – honorably – in the spring of 1946.

We decided to sell them that spring. My wife did not like the name “crusty curs.” Through trial and error and discarding dozens of names, we finally decided on the name “Cozy Dogs.”

Cozy Dogs were officially launched at the Lake Springfield Beach House on June 16, 1946, and debuted at the Illinois State Fair later that same year. The first Cozy Dog House was located on South Grand between Fifth and Sixth Street in Springfield. In 1949, Cozy Dog Drive In was born; built on “Route 66″ South Sixth Street.  In 1996 Cozy Dog moved to its current location, where Sue (Ed’s daughter in law) Josh, Eddie, Tony & Nick (Ed’s grandsons) continue on with the business right next door to the original location.


burgerchefBURGER CHEF

Burger Chef was founded in 1954 in Indianapolis, Indiana by the inventors of flame broiled technology.  This technology, first used by Burger Chef is what Burger King still uses today.  During its rapid expansion to over 1,000 locations, Burger Chef was second only to McDonald’s in terms of locations.  The burger icon was a constant innovator in the fast food industry, highlighted by being the first to offer customers a combo: 15 cent hamburger, 15 cent soft drink, and a 15 cent milkshake.

The chain also changed the fast food industry by allowing customers to dress their burgers at the “works bar” and offering Funmeals which contained stories, games, and small toys.  In 1977, one of the games that came with Funmeals was a Star Wars’ Darth Vader card game after the first Star Wars movie!

In 1982, Burger Chef was purchased by Hardee’s and only the locations that were competitively close to an already established Hardee’s were allowed to keep their name for a couple of years.  The other locations had their name changed to the parent company, Hardee’s.  Most eventually changed their name to Pleaser’s with the last Burger Chef changing its name in 1996.

Still craving a Burger Chef experience?  Hardee’s has on occasion rolled out the old Burger Chef marquee burger – the Big Shef.  Or check out Schroeder’s Drive-In located in Danville, IL.  Schroeder’s was originally a Burger Chef and has not changed from its roots, offering much of the same menu and works bar from its original Burger Chef days.



In 1936, Bob Wian sold his prized DeSoto Roadster to purchase a small hamburger stand in Glendale, California. He named it Bob’s Pantry.

One night in 1937, a regular customer requested something different for a change. Bob went to work and the first double-decker hamburger was born. Customers couldn’t get enough of Bob’s new creation. One fan in particular was a chubby six-year-old boy in droopy overalls.

He would often help Bob sweep up in exchange for a free burger. In honor of his young friend, Wian decided to name the better burger the Big Boy®. Another regular customer, a movie studio animator, sketched the now famous character on a napkin.

The rest is history!