I am one who loves a good food fight. I relished in the Frisch’s-Busken Pumpkin Pie Wars of the early 2010s. I loved the Pizza Wars and the Burger Wars of the 80s. I’m fascinated by the current national fast food chicken sandwich war under way, which Gold Star Chili recently entered. These wars have been going on since fast food really took off in the 1950s. And for a marketeer like myself these wars offer case studies on how to articulate your business’ value prop to a laser thin edge.
One short lived food war raged in the Summer of 1959 against the then burger powerhouse of Frisch’s. By 1959 there were many knockoffs of the Big Boy in Cincinnati. Everyone was trying to ride the burger coattails of our most successful startup chain. There was Bailer’s Big Momma, the Grossburger, the Big K from Klawitters in Delhi, the Country Boy from Country Kitchen, the Big Tucker from Tucker’s in OTR, the Big Sandy from Sandy’s, the Big Carter, the Big Tom from Bluejay’s, the Jumbo Burger from Parkmour, The Big Barney from Red Barn, the King Burger from Neff Jenkins in Norwood, and many more.
Bailer’s Big Momma had already even released its Poor Papa, a fish sandwich to gain some of the Friday Catholic meat-abstaining market from Frisch’s who was advertising the crap out of their popular fish log sandwich that summer. It would be another two years before Rob Gruen, a small franchisee in Monfort Heights for a new burger joint called McDonald’s would successfully release the Filet-O-Fish to take on Frisch’s.
In 1959 Frisch’s added a new gun and a new logo to its burger arsenal, the Brawny Lad, a steakburger. A new Big Boy donned in Scottish kilt and bobby hat marketed this new burger. Man, they were taking on the Cincinnati meat and fish markets by storm. But no one thought to attack them from a different angle – a non-burger angle.
March in a small dairy bar in Madisonville called Kern’s. They were a small dairy bar on Madisonville in the heart of the business district on Madison Road that offered ice cream sundaes, sandwiches and shakes. In 1959 Madisonville was planning to celebrate its Sesquicentennial, with a large parade whose route was not far from the dairy bar. Even though there were two popular drive in Frisch’s near them – one a few miles away on Madison next to the Madison Bowl (now demolished used to be BBQ Review), and of course the OG Mainliner on Wooster, also only miles away – they had an idea as to how they could keep the kids, families and teenagers in Madisonville away from Frisch’s.
They built a Trojan horse they called the Devil’s Delight. They would not attack from the burger angle, but a sneakier way – through their super-popular ice cream sundae!! It was a “Come for the Devil’s sundae, stay for the burgers and sandwiches” approach. You know you want to. The Devil’s Delight was described as “a special dream of a square of devil’s food cake, a generous portion of vanilla ice cream, Kern’s delicious chocolate sauce, and a mountain (yes a mountain) of whipped cream, topped off with a maraschino cherry. All in a take home plastic cup. It was brilliant. The picture in their ad indeed showed a huge towering whip-topped mountain of fudge that was both taller and more delicious looking than the Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake. Oh my God, my mouth is watering. They offered an evil, nearly half off discount – reducing it from 49 cents to 29 cents – also half off of Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake price then. The deal lasted 5 days from June 24 to June 29, during the Sesquicentennial celebration.
I don’t have the sales receipts, but I can only imagine how successful this promo was for Kern’s and how it continued the popularity of a new rival to the Hot Fudge Cake. I couldn’t find any ads showing a price reaction from the local Frisch’s but I imagine they felt it too.
Today Frisch’s has a seasonal Peppermint Hot Fudge Cake, and a Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel instead of hot fudge. And I also give them kudos in their recent addition of a Mini Hot Fudge cake coming in at 300 calories, half of the 600 in the regular Hot Fudge Cake.
The early 50s architectural gem of Kern’s Dairy Bar amazingly still stands on Madison Avenue. Its last incarnation was as King’s Ice Cream stand, but it hasn’t operated in the last several years. But the structure still stands as a testament to how the little David can stand up to the Big Goliath with a little ingenuity. Hmmm the Big Goliath sounds like a good name for a double decker!!