Though it enjoyed its greatest success in the Louisville area, Burger Queen started in Florida in the late 1950s. In 1963, Louisville businessman James Gannon along with brothers George and John Clark, purchased the franchise rights to open a chain of Burger Queen restaurants in their hometown.
An original Burger Queen in Sarasota, Florida circa 1959
The Florida restaurants were quite popular and widely recognized for their iconic neon signs designed by John V. Cinchett, an element that was not brought north by Gannon and the Clarks, unfortunately. The Kentucky outlets, however, introduced the mascot Queenie Bee as well as the signature big burger, the Imperial. The Louisville businessmen would eventually purchase the Florida operation, with the units in the Sunshine State operating until 1980.
A Burger Queen's neon signs were well recognized in Central and Western Florida
At its height, the chain boasted over 170 locations in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Tennessee, as well as Florida. Unlike Indianapolis-based Burger Chef, Burger Queen’s growth was modest.This may have also been due, in part, to a conflict with another fast-food chain, the similarly named Dairy Queen.
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Founded in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois, Dairy Queen had become one the largest fast-food chains in the U.S. by the end of the 1960s, and though it started as an ice cream stand, had gradually introduced hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and other hot food items to its menu. In 1973, it filed an injunction against Burger Queen, forbidding the smaller chain from selling milkshakes, milk, or any other dairy products.
Those restrictions aside, the menu at Burger Queen continued to grow throughout the ‘70s as there was a growing desire within the company to break out of the hamburger chain mold and become something bigger yet unique.
There were deals to be had at Burger Queen
In 1981, a name change was undertaken. Burger Queen became Druther’s Restaurant to better reflect the chain’s offerings which now went beyond burgers to include chicken, fish, and salads. Queenie Bee was retired as Andy Dandytale became the chain’s mascot. While still popular, Druther’s didn’t see the bump in sales and popularity it was looking for.
In 1990, Druther’s became, ironically, a Dairy Queen franchise operator and converted all of its locations to the DQ brand. A single Druther’s restaurant, a former franchise, still operates in Campbellsville, KY.