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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2011
Flameout is a careful and well-researched look at an almost long-term success story. During the rise of the fast food industry, Burger Chef was neck and neck with McDonald's and others in the race for market share. But the ever-changing, out-of-touch management and mandates on the store-owned and franchised locations ultimately led to its downfall. The message is control and originality matter. This is an interesting and nostalgic look at a Midwestern institution.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
In Flameout, John P. McDonald tells the story of Burger Chef, the one burger company that outpaced McDonald's and could have taken its place at the top of the fast food heap. In 1971 there were 1,200 Burger Chef restaurants and less than 1,300 McDonald's restaurants. By 1982, what was left of Burger Chef was folded into the Hardee's chain and was no more.

I was particularly interested in this book because when I was a kid, the Burger Chef Fun Meal with Burger Chef and Jeff and all of the punch out things you could make with the tray/box were just about the best restaurant experience a little boy could have.

This could have been a very boring tale, but McDonald makes it interesting. He tells about the innovations that made Burger Chef from just a demonstration restaurant (it was designed to showcase the restaurant equipment manufactured by General Equipment) to the fastest growing restaurant chain in America. And, just as clearly, he details the leadership confusion that led Burger Chef to disaster.

This was a good read, especially for all of us fans of the Fun Meal!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2013
I'm one of the largest collectors of Burger Chef memorabilia and I really enjoy the history behind the Thomas family, how they ended up settling in Indiana, and how they went from the carnival business to building restaurant equipment to practically inventing the fast food business. The only drawback was the spelling errors, but that's normal for a first edition of a book.

The Burger Chef name is largely forgotten by anyone 30 or under but those of us who ate there or worked there remember the legacy left behind. Without Burger Chef we never would have the first workable milkshake machine, the first workable soft ice cream dispenser, the first gas powered flame broiler to cook 2,000 burgers an hour, the first double decker hamburger in fast food, the first fish sandwich, the first dinner platters (Mariner and Rancher), the first salad bar, the first Works bar, the first children's meal (Funmeal), and so much more. Without Burger Chef, we wouldn't have fast food!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2011
I picked up this book because I like reading about business and what makes them successful etc. Wow, this one caught me right from the start. These great innovators just went off their gut feeling when something did not work or was needed, they found a way to make it. I am more than half way done in the first night I picked it up. I did not bring it to the office with me since I knew I would be tempted to continue reading it.

Tells a great story with vital facts and documentation of the process. Also brings in the details of when the wheels started to fall off the cart.

Just a great story overall, makes me wish I were old enough to have known and eaten at the Burger Chef...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2013
As I grew up enjoying double cheeseburgers and breakfast at the now closed Pleasers restaurant in my hometown of Bedford, Indiana, I became interested in the Burger Chef chain, which I am just young enough to not remember. This book tells the fascinating story of how a couple of individuals started manufacturing ice cream equipment, then a flame broiling grill, which then nearly accidentally turned into a franchised chain of fast food restaurants starting in Indianapolis. Not only is it a story of the rise of this chain under localized ownership, but also how it began to flail slowly downward after the original owners sold their stakes in Burger Chef Systems, Inc. to General Foods, and how if you put the right amount of effort into something, it can become a financial success that can be sold to solidify your future. A great read, highly recommended to entrepreneurs and fast food fans alike.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2013
I can still vaguely remember eating at the Burger Chef in Traverse City, MI. Mostly for two reasons: They gave away the Star Wars posters which were my entire universe that year and their hamburgers always seemed to have too much mustard. I'm a sucker for anything that reminds me of childhood, so I was anxious to learn a bit more about their disappearance. Overall, the book was pretty interesting until the buyout by General Foods were it became a study in business minutiae. The other distraction was the non-linear narrative. As a whole the book was written on a timeline, but it would often jump back in time without much rhyme or reason. A re-edit would be an easy fix. Great for a quick read if nothing else.
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on February 18, 2014
In Flameout, John P. McDonald tells the story of Burger Chef, the one burger company that outpaced McDonald's and could have taken its place at the top of the fast food heap. In 1971 there were 1,200 Burger Chef restaurants and less than 1,300 McDonald's restaurants. By 1982, what was left of Burger Chef was folded into the Hardee's chain and was no more.

I was particularly interested in this book because when I was a kid almost every happy memory I had culminated with a visit to Burger Chef. Most of my fondest memories of friends and family had Burger Chef in it..... and then it was gone. With its works bar and make your own sundae, not to mention Star Wars and king kong ephemera it was about the best restaurant experience a little boy could have. It was killed by General Foods and vulture capitalism. Burger Chef went from a period of innovation and entrepreneurship to process and control. They lost their way.

This could have been a very boring tale, but McDonald makes it interesting. He tells about the innovations that made Burger Chef from just a demonstration restaurant (it was designed to showcase the restaurant equipment manufactured by General Equipment) to the fastest growing restaurant chain in America. Their equipment and innovations are now standard. And, just as clearly, he details the leadership confusion that led Burger Chef to disaster.

This was a good read. It made Frank Thomas and those who created Burger Chef real. Thank you Frank Thomas for giving me so many happy childhood memories.
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on April 21, 2015
John McDonald reviews the history of Burger Chef, my dad's favorite restaurant. The two big things I got from McDonald's book is that burger franchises were not a novel invention, there were dozens of franchisers in the 50's and 60's, and that the only way for the franchiser to increase profitability after expansion wanes, is to use the franchise agreement to screw over the profitable franchisees. This essentially warns the modern business aspiree that, firstly, whatever you want to do, you can probably figure it out and get good at it without the help of a franchiser. And secondly, if you do ignore the first advice, time is not on your side especially if you are good at what you do relative to the other franchisees.
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on May 22, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this fact filled history of Burger Chef. The simplicity of one man and his family business becoming the trend setter of today's multi-billion industry is amazing and once again proves that American enterprise is wonderful.
Thank you to the Thomas family.
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on April 3, 2014
This readable book describes the rise of one of the "Outliers"-- front runners in the fast food industry that eventually got blown past by the BIggie Burger houses. An interesting vignette in the history of fast food, though I found the book did not truly live up to its claim that it gives deep insight into the kinds of entrepreneurial forces that others could learn greatly from. Nonetheless it is an interesting story, and a fast read.
It does raise the interesting challenge of balancing autonomy of franchisees with control of corporate image.
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