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The History of A&W

A&W is named for its founders Roy Allen and Frank Wright. In 1919, Roy Allen purchased a root beer recipe and set up a root beer stand in Lodi, California. He opened his stand for the first time during a parade in honor of WWI veterans returning home. Allen served cold root beer in glass mugs for 5 cents. After continued success with his stand, he brought in Frank Wright in 1922. The two leased their first two root beer stands out to their first franchisees so that they could focus on expanding their endeavor into a restaurant in Sacramento, California. It’s important to note that the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacturing, selling, and transportation of alcohol, was passed in January 1920. This was a boon to Allen and Wright, as soft drinks became popular alternatives to alcoholic beverages; root beer was especially appealing due to the inclusion of “beer” in its name. A&W helped popularize root beer even after Prohibition ended and, in fact, each location made their root beer fresh daily until the early 2000s, when the chain briefly switched to using concentrate before switching back to freshly made root beer again in 2017. The chain also became quite popular for its root beer floats, which it still offers today. A&W became the first official franchise chain in America in 1925 and expanded throughout the U.S. before going international in 1956 when they opened their first Canadian location in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Notably, all A&W restaurants in Canada were sold in 1972 and since then, they have been owned and operated independently from A&Ws in the United States.) The chain also created another first — in 1963, A&W became the first restaurant chain to put a Bacon Cheeseburger on the menu, reportedly in response to customer requests and on the direction of then-chairman, Dave Mulder. In 1971, A&W Root Beer became available in bottles and cans and in 2003, the chain’s famous Cheese Curds were introduced. On June 20, 2019, A&W became the first franchise to turn 100 years old. While the chain has fewer U.S. locations than it did during its heyday in the 1960s, it remains a popular restaurant chain in America and is reportedly looking to expand again in the near future.

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