The Retro Fast Food Chain That May Have Inspired Wendy's Square Burgers

All success stories start with a bit of inspiration, and those humble beginnings apply to big fast food chains, too. Wendy's, one of the most popular fast food chains in America (according to a YouGov survey), was launched by founder Dave Thomas on November 15, 1969. But Thomas had to have gotten the idea from somewhere, and legend has it that during his childhood years in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he used to visit a neighborhood burger joint that ended up inspiring Wendy's years later. Though it, too, is a chain, very few locations still exist, and if you want to get a taste of old-time burger nostalgia, you'll have to make your way to one of the five remaining spots, all located in the Midwest. 

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This chain, called Kewpee Hamburgers, has three locations in Lima, Ohio, one in Racine, Wisconsin, and another one in Lansing, Michigan. Its mascot is a Kewpie doll, which is what the chain is named after. And if you couldn't guess by the other part of the name, it's primarily known for its burgers, which, incidentally, are square-shaped like Wendy's. Kewpee was founded in 1923 in Flint, Michigan, and during its heyday in the 1940s, it had around 400 locations. 

Here's what Kewpee Hamburgers serves

Kewpee's menu is tight, and other than hamburgers and cheeseburgers, the chain serves fish sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, fries, chili, shakes, and just a few breakfast items. To me, small menus are usually a reliable indicator that a restaurant knows what it's doing, so I'm sure Kewpee puts out a mighty fine product. And despite the expenses of existing in modern times, the burgers are still extremely affordable.  

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A single cheeseburger will only set you back $3.45, and toppings like mustard, ketchup, pickles, onion, relish, lettuce, and tartar and cocktail sauce are all free to add to your sandwich. A double will run you $6.40 (still not too shabby), and an order of fries is $2.20. Plus, if you eat there, you have the added benefit of supporting a small chain that's been a part of American history for over a century. 

The one drawback of Kewpee, perhaps, is if you have a phobia of dolls, given its mascot. The Racine location even features an entire display of dolls, and if you're not a fan, you might just want to sit at the counter. That's probably where you'd find me, but I do have to say that my love for a classic cheeseburger will usually win out over any potential dining deterrents in the near vicinity.

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Nobody's quite been able to nail down the exact connection between Kewpee and Wendy's, because if Dave Thomas ever named Kewpee as an inspiration on the record, that documentation has been squirreled away in an archive somewhere. But it's hard not to connect the dots when Kewpee's burger patties are also square, don't you think?

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