Before McDonald’s and Burger King, Carrols was the burger chain where residents of the Rochester area got their fix of fast food.
McDonald’s has the Big Mac and Burger King has the Whopper, but Carrols has the Club Burger. Carrols also sold popular Looney Tunes drinking glasses that can be found in many local flea markets, with many more likely as family keepsakes.
Carrols moved to the Rochester Market in the 1960s, and at its peak had around 150 outlets, mostly in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. By 1977, all but one of Carrols’ restaurants were gone, engulfed by competition from the escalating fast food wars.
In its heyday, however, Carrols was the burger restaurant of choice for Rochester.
“As a pioneer of the fast food industry in upstate New York, Carrols flourished by being pretty much the only game in many cities,” Mike Meyers wrote in a Democrat and Chronicle article. from 1983. “When Carrols opened a restaurant in Buffalo in those early years, the city only had one McDonald’s.”
Herb Slotnick, a businessman from the Syracuse area, introduced Carrols to the masses. His plans for cheap and quickly prepared food were revolutionary in the region. Slotnick came up with the idea for similar burger stands that he saw in California.
“The burgers were 15 cents and the milkshakes 15 cents and the fries were a dime, so it was 40 cents for a meal,” Slotnick said in a 2010 article posted online by Syracuse.com. Other items on the menu included the fish sandwich with sea fillet and the crispy country chicken.
Carrols learned early enough that he couldn’t compete with the marketing power of his multibillion-dollar competitors. Burger King, for example, had nearly 10 times as many restaurants as Carrols, according to a 1975 report. McDonald’s had even more, and national powers took a big chunk of Carrols’ profits.
“In the early 1970s, Carrols restaurants were surrounded by McDonald’s and Burger King stores,” Meyers wrote in the 1983 article. He quoted Slotnick as saying, “I felt like I was being targeted by for sure. Every time we had a good location, Burger King would move in… It’s like Royal Crown (cola) competing with Coke and Pepsi. “
So Slotnick thought if you can’t beat them, join them. He struck a deal in the mid-1970s to turn his business into Burger Kings. Most of the old Carrols were converted, and the rest were gradually abandoned and closed.
The last surviving Carrol – at least in the United States – was on East Main Street in Batavia, which lasted until about 1981. .)
Philip Tooze of Stafford, in Genesee County, was a longtime general manager of the Batavia Carrols.
“I had just graduated from college when I started at Carrols in 1971, and I became managing director in 1975,” he said in December 2013. “We had a lot of people who came in. the last few years it was open just to have a Club Burger. It was a fun place. We were the last man standing. “
Tooze recalls serving free food to state police during the Attica prison riots in 1971 and help raise funds for the Batavia Marching Band. The Carrols were eventually moved to a Big Boy’s restaurant, Tooze said, and are now a Tully’s restaurant.
The switch was the financial boost the company, now Carrols Corp., needed. Profits rose and the stock price quadrupled, Meyers reported in 1983.
Carrols now has over 1,000 restaurants under the Burger King and Popeyes brands, according to the Carrols website, and is one of the largest Burger King franchisors in the United States.
Carrols and the Club Burger may be long gone, but they will long be remembered as a fast food favorite for years to come.
What happened to…? is an article about the old haunts of Rochester and is based on our archives.
Morrell is a Rochester-based freelance writer.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in January 2014.