Back to all articles

The History of Red Robin

There is some controversy around how Red Robin got its start, as the building it began in had previously been a bar and was owned by several people at different times. In the 1940s, it seems that the business was known as Sam’s Tavern — reportedly, it was named after its owner, Samuel Caston. The story goes that Sam sang in a barbershop quartet and eventually named the restaurant Sam’s Red Robin after a beloved song. The original location was close to the University of Washington campus in Seattle and became a popular hangout for students. In 1969, Gerry Kingen purchased the restaurant and began expanding the menu to include burgers. In 1979, he sold Mike and Steve Snyder the rights to open the first Red Robin franchise in Yakima, Washington. Then the chain expanded with a Portland location and it continued to grow nationally from there. In 1994, the chain introduced their famous “bottomless” steak fries option. (Notably, guests can now also choose from “bottomless” garlic fries, sweet potato fries, or broccoli as well.) The chain is famous for its proprietary fry seasoning blend, which is known to be quite salty and contains several other ingredients, too, including dried cane syrup, dried garlic, paprika, yeast extract, and natural smoke flavor. In 2000, the Snyder Group merged with Red Robin and they opened the chain’s 150th restaurant together. In 2011, Red Robin tried launching a “fast-casual” chain called Burger Works, but it was shuddered just a few years later. In 2015, the chain was hit was a class action lawsuit that saw the company paying out $1.3 million to aggrieved workers over unfair pay practices. Despite this controversy, Red Robin remains a popular hangout for many people today and is still well-known for its burgers and “bottomless” fries.

Share this article

card showing the history of rocking chairs

Your go-to guide for weird history facts

Subscribe to the FREE daily email that makes learning about history fun.