1091 Savannah Highway
Today: Area adjacent to Ashley River Baptist Church
Yesterday: Burger King, 1965-1980s
On the menu: Whopper, 40 cents (May 9, 1970)
Charleston was a Hardee’s town when Joe Hawken opened the area’s first Burger King at St. Andrews Shopping Center, then in the midst of a massive spruce-up project. Hawken, a salesman, had officially retired a few years earlier, but an executive at the fledgling fast food chain persuaded him that Charleston was the ideal setting for Whoppers.
“The man said Charleston, S.C., was the hamburger heaven of the Southeast,” recounted The Evening Post soon after. “That people in Charleston ate more burgers than the Commies eat rice in China; that fortunes were virtually lying around, waiting to be picked up.”
Hawken, who claimed he never ordered a burger when he could get a steak, discovered his friend in Miami was right. Before the 1960s were out, five of Burger King’s 250 stores were located in the Charleston area.
Burger King got its start in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1953 as Insta-Burger King, a McDonald’s facsimile with a broiler in the kitchen. A pair of Miami franchisees was so taken with the char-broiling concept that they bought the company in 1959, growing it across the South before selling to the Pillsbury Company in 1967.
In Southern markets, Burger King was so popular that Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox expressed interest in buying two stores. (Although Maddox was best known for violently and unlawfully trying to keep African-Americans out of his restaurant, Burger King was one of the few advertisers in The News and Courier’s 1965 help wanted section that didn’t specify whether job applicants should be black or white.)
Williard Peterson and Alex Kosma were the leading franchisees in the Charleston area, opening the nation’s 1,000th Burger King in 1973 at 7 Cherry St. “The way the chain is growing, there is tremendous opportunity,” a Burger King executive who celebrated the milestone at the Mills Hyatt House said.
Today, Burger King has more than 15,000 locations around the world.
— Hanna Raskin