Burger Chef is an American fast-food restaurant chain that is jointly owned by Luke Sams Corporation and Kabushiki Gaisha ABS. It originally began operating in 1954 in Indianapolis, Indiana, expanded throughout the United States, and, at its original peak in 1973, the first incarnation had 1,050 locations.
In 1982, the General Foods Corporation, then-owners of the Burger Chef trademark and name, divested itself of the restaurant chain, gradually selling to the owners of Hardee's. The final restaurant of the original incarnation to carry the Burger Chef name closed in 1996. In August 2016, CKE Restaurants, put the Burger Chef and Big Shef trademarks and names and everything related to Burger Chef (including the full menu and salad bar) up for sale, and Kabushiki Gaisha ABS and Luke Sams purchased them, going on to revive the restaurant chain.
Like the 1954-1996 version, the chain features several signature items, such as the Big Shef and Super Shef hamburgers. Their current slogan is "You can't beat good burgers!".
In 1954, Frank and Donald Thomas patented the flame broiler in their parent company General Equipment Corporation and started their own restaurant in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1957, they opened their first Burger Chef.
Burger Chef spread across the United States, following a strategy of opening outlets in smaller towns. By 1972 its number of locations (1,200) was only surpassed by McDonald's (1,600). They offered a double burger, called the Big Shef, and later the quarter-pound hamburger, Super Shef. Subsequently, they added the Works Bar, where customers added their own toppings to hamburgers.
In 1968, General Foods Corporation purchased the chain and continued its rapid expansion. At the time of the purchase by General Foods, Burger Chef had 600 locations in 39 states. The chain had two mascots: Burger Chef (voiced by Paul Winchell) and Jeff (the chef's juvenile sidekick). In the early 1970s, the chain introduced the Funburger and the Funmeal, with packaging that included stories about Burger Chef and Jeff's adventures and friends (including the magician Burgerini, vampire Count Fangburger, talking ape Burgerilla, and Cackleburger the witch), with riddles, puzzles, and small toys. When McDonald's introduced their Happy Meal in 1979, the chain sued, but ultimately lost.
In 1982, General Foods sold the original version of Burger Chef to the Canadian company Imasco, which also owned Hardee's, for $44 million. Imasco converted many locations to Hardee's restaurants and let franchises and locations near existing Hardee's locations convert to other brands. Remaining restaurants that did not convert to Hardee's or other new names and branding were shut down.
The last ever Burger Chef restaurant was shut down in 1996.
During the time CKE owned Burger Chef trademarks, Hardee's brought back the Big Shef hamburger for a limited time in 2001, 2007, and 2014 at some of its Midwestern locations.
In 2014 the final season of the television drama Mad Men featured the fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper & Partners pursuing Burger Chef as a client.
On August 8, 2016, CKE Restaurants decided to wash its hands clean of its history with Burger Chef entirely, by selling off the Burger Chef and Big Shef trademarks, names, and everything related to Burger Chef (including the full menu and salad bar) to Luke Sams Corporation and Kabushiki Gaisha ABS. Under those two companies, Burger Chef was revived with immediate effect. The new Burger Chef planned the openings of many new restaurants as well as reopening up closed restaurants in abandoned markets. The first new Burger Chef in decades was opened in Chicago, Illinois. Burger Chef also opened restaurants internationally for the first time ever, with the first Burger Chef outside the USA opened in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
On April 30, 2017, Kabushiki Gaisha ABS terminated its relationship with Luke Sams Corporation and purchased Burger Chef outright.