From its rather humble beginning back in 1953 in Champaign, Illinois when two music teachers from the University of Illinois, Don Hamacher and Jim Griggs opened a hot dog and root beer stand. Dog n Suds grew in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s to a point where it was one of the most successful fast-food franchises in the country.
Because of the success and expansion that Dog n Suds enjoyed in the mid 1970’s, the company attracted a great deal of attention and interest from numerous national regional competitive fast-food chains. In order to keep abreast of the financial requirements for continued growth and expansion, the management of Dog n Suds elected to merge with a smaller East Cost based organization that ran drive-ins, as well as made a bottled root beer product. After opening their first Dog n Suds unit, these two enterprising owners were approached by a wealthy dowager from Champaign who like their restaurant so much that she persuaded them to build her a restaurant like theirs, since “it was so good and looked like so much fun to operate”. Rapidly Hamacher and Griggs’ success became known in Central Illinois which led to them foregoing the teaching profession, and getting into the fast-food franchising business full time. Almost overnight Dog n Suds drive-in restaurants began springing up all over Illinois, and rapidly spread to the adjoining states of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Five years after opening their first unit, the national headquarters for Dog n Suds was established in Champaign, along with an extensive training center aptly named “Rover College”.
Dog n Suds’ growth was so phenomenal in the 1950’s that one of the larger national restaurant magazines called Dog n Suds “one of the soundest investments in the restaurant field, and one of the best, well-run franchise companies in the country”. Their growth continued at a fevered pitch over the next several years, necessitating the opening of regional offices throughout the United States as well as expansion of the field service staff in order to keep in the drive-in restaurant field. Early in 1970 the corporate headquarters were relocated to a suburban Chicago location in order to provide better accessibility to prospective franchisees and existing restaurant operators. In addition, a new central warehouse and an expanded training facility were added. By the mid 1970’s, Dog n Suds had grown to the extent that almost 600 units were in operation, which were located in 38 states and Canada. During its “glory days”, Dog n Suds was opening an average of 15 new restaurants each month. In addition, an extensive far-reaching remodeling program was instituted by Dog n Suds in order to keep abreast of new trends in electronic ordering, food preparation and beverage dispensing equipment. Many of the new and existing operators opted to the addition of inside seating facilities and year-around operations.
After assuming control of the organization, in a cost cutting measure, they decided to eliminate most of the field-service staff, and headquarters management necessary to provide field support and guidance, as well as the promotional support necessary to remain competitive in a rapidly growing fast-food restaurant field. They also elected to replace the proven Dog n Suds’ “World’s Creamiest Root Beer” recipe with a different root beer concentrate that had prevailed in the Eastern area of the country. This formula was not accepted by longtime Dog n Suds’ operators or customers. Over the ensuing decade, Dog n Suds drive-ins experienced a fallout in their numbers, and new restaurant openings vanished, as franchise operators witnessed many existing units going independent and abandoning their valuable corporate identity.
As a consequence of the management decisions on the part of the new East Coast owners of Dog n Suds, they soon decided to exit the Dog n Suds business and later sold their bottled root beer brand to an Atlanta based flavor trademark and valuable formulas to a small company locating in Michigan. It was indeed a “sad day” for the once prod and mighty Rover and Dog n Suds.
In spite of the decrease in restaurant locations throughout the country, those restaurants that remained in operation continued to prosper with increasing sales volumes and profitability over the ensuing three decades. This was particularly true in the case of Don VanDames’ thriving Dog n Suds drive-in located on Sagamore Parkway in Lafayette, Indiana. While continuing to update his facilities, he added a covered “deck-type” outdoor customer convenience facility just south of his existing drive-in building. This enabled his customers to partake in on-premise consumption from this large covered eating area on comfortable picnic tables as well as placement of orders from an installed speaker phone.
The one thing that became apparent immediately, was the fact that those unites which remained in operation continued to offer the standard Dog n Suds’ type of menu and more importantly featured Dog n Suds “World’s Creamiest Root Beer” served in frosted glass mugs. They were the types of restaurant which featured the original Dog n Suds’ 1950ish look as well as the original ROVER signage, and not the updated version which management elected to change in the late 1960’s.
With this fact in mind, and seeing the potential future of Dog n Suds late in 1991, Don and Carol VanDame and Associates elected to purchase the trademark and rights to the Dog n Suds identity. In a letter to the operators, Don and Carol advised that they had purchased the system to “protect equity in this trademark in order to reactivate the organization”. This was further emphasized by their statement that “we did not buy the system for the same reasons that our predecessors did. Though we have all learned that we cannot sit still, we must move ahead, or backwards, and we cannot move backwards any more than we have”.
In 2001 the VanDames started a new company, TK&C’s LLC, to license the Dog n Suds’ brand. In June of 2006 TK&C entered into an exclusive agreement with Clover Club Bottling Co. Inc for the bottling of the Dog n Suds Rootbeer.
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