Some fifteen years ago he would have eagerly leveled the place to build a high rise had preservationists not stood in his way, winning the designation of the oldest Bob’s Big Boy in America as a California Historical Point of Interest.
Today MacDonald strives to preserve the Bob’s Big Boy legacy, viewing the Burbank location as a local treasure. It’s also a family heirloom. The restaurant was built in 1949 by his father, Scott MacDonald, who leased the restaurant and the land around it to Bob Wian, the founder and creator of the Bob’s Big Boy Chain.
After MacDonald’s plans to build a 20-story high-rise on that location were trumped by the historical designation, he took over operations of the restaurant in 1993 going from working in construction and development to becoming a franchisee for the first time.
MacDonald was quick to make significant improvements to the place returning to fresh made patties instead of frozen ones, adding an exterior patio, rehabilitating the tower sign, remodeling the dining room, reintroducing “Car Hop” service on Saturday and Sunday nights; and having the classic car show in the parking lot on Friday nights.
The idea was to restore the place to its glory days of the 50’s. The vintage building, designed as a drive-in, features immense signage, and speaks of the city’s history of romance with the automobile.
MacDonald’s incursion into the restaurant business leapfrogged into other franchises. Aside from the Bob’s Big Boy location in Burbank, he also owns and operates ten Baja Fresh locations on the West Coast and in Virginia and Maryland, as well as five Panera Bread locations from Santa Monica to Torrance.
For the 60th anniversary celebration of the Bob’s Big Boy iconic restaurant where The Beatles, James Dean and Bob Hope all stopped to eat, the place is also getting a “green” makeover. A new 26 kW Canadian Solar photovoltaic panel system installed by HelioPower, allows Bob’s to generate a portion of its own electricity. A “Sixty and Solar” celebration will take place in September and patrons are encouraged to film their best memories of the restaurant to be displayed on the website www.sixtyandsolar.com.
History of the Big Boy Chain
In 1967 Marriott Corp. bought the chain from Wian, and operated it until 1987. During that time most of the 125 Bob’s in Southern California were converted to Coco’s or Carrows.
In 1987 one of the larger franchise operators, Elias Brothers, moved the headquarters of the company to Warren Mich. and took over operations until declaring bankruptcy in 2000. Following the bankruptcy, the chain was sold to its current owner Robert Liggett Jr., who renamed the company Big Boy Restaurants International. The company is the franchiser for more than 455 Big Boy Restaurants in the United States and Canada, including the Burbank location. Big Boy Restaurants International is not affiliated with FRISCH’S Big Boy Restaurants, which also own the rights to the Big Boy name, and operates 87 Big Boy restaurants, and franchises another 28 to other Big Boy operations.
Question: You used to hang out at the coffee shop slurping “the world’s thickest malts” and eating burgers with your high school buddies. Looking back now, what most surprises you about celebrating the 60th anniversary of Bob’s Big Boy?
Answer: I guess that I’m 61 and I’m still here. We did this on our 50th anniversary, made a big deal of it, poured 190 tons of sand out there, and I can’t believe 10 years have gone by since then and here we are again.
Q: You had a beach party in the parking lot to celebrate the 50th anniversary. What do you have planned for the 60th?
A: I thought we’d do something again to conmemorate it, tie it in with the community. This time we used a different tie-in medium, that being solar installation, so we decided to go “Sixty and Solar” and see how that works. We’re now joining the 21st century with solar power. We put 132 solar panels out on the car port. The structure was there so why not? So we’re kind of celebrating that our fossil fuel print has been diminished by 10 percent. September 24th is the “flip the switch” ceremony.
For a PDF of the full interview, click here.