Friday, December 23, 2022

The History of The Lone Ranger Restaurant

The year was 1969 and The Lone Ranger was saddling up for a ride out on a new adventure. The masked man would make the transition from television reruns to menu formulation, building and trademark design, equipment engineering and promotion for a chain of restaurants using The Lone Ranger name. Serving a 16-item menu consisting of hamburgers, fries, milk shakes and fried chicken, which also included the Sheriff's Steak Sandwich, and Saddlebag meals to go, the franchise gave producer Jack Wrather an opportunity to expand his investments beyond hotels, oil wells, and television stations. But the fast food franchise was a tough nut to crack and regardless of how attractive the "Quick Draw Drink Bar" was to customers, the initial proposal of opening 16 Lone Ranger restaurants in the Los Angeles market would quickly diminish to five and in less than two years close the saloon doors permanently. Few today even remember the chain.

The first was located at Wilshire Blvd. and Stanford Street in Santa Monica, to serve as a prototype. The 3,350-square-foot restaurant provided parking for 30 cars was designed by Jim Buckley of Wrather Corp., with Robert Brown as the architect and the Ray Wilson Company as the contractor. With city officials, PTA leaders, and Clayton Moore dressed as The Lone Ranger himself in attendance (along with Silver), the new red, white and blue Lone Ranger family restaurant had its grand opening on Friday, September 5, 1969. Both eat-in and take-out service was offered. 

Thousands of people of every age group attended the three-day celebration from September 5 to 7 to check out the colorful Western style building with its distinctive interior decor. One food critic compared the service as "admirable" but the food itself was nothing different from what could be found elsewhere, regardless of the fancy names such as Pronto Tonto Corn Dogs, Ranchburgers and Wild West Beans. Throughout the coming months, the staff was focused on refining operation techniques, perfecting the franchising plan, and preparing for additional sites for restaurants. Four additional Southern California locations were secured under lease agreements.

The second location had a grand opening in March of 1970 at Crenshaw Boulevard near Exposition Boulevard. The third opened at 20304 Hawthorne Blvd. in Torrance, California. The fourth was on the southwest corner of Beach Blvd. and Slater Ave. in the Ocean View sector of Huntington Beach, with a grand opening of May 2, 1970. There was one at Westwood, too. For Jack Wrather, the idea was more than a dream -- it was a chance to expand The Lone Ranger property nationwide with franchise offerings available by the summer of 1970.

President of the food franchise was Ralph R. Lanphar, a career executive in the fast food field, and formerly president of Shakey's Inc. For eight years he was with the Howard Johnson and Big Boy chains. But amidst all the attempts and money invested, the franchise could not reach out beyond the plains. 

Start-up costs for the food-franchise system were blamed in part for a decline of nearly 28 percent of the 1969 profits for the Wrather Corp., though sales rose over 20 percent. By August of 1971, executives at Wrather Corp. agreed that the restaurant was not a success. Named after the fictional cowboy hero was a novelty, but it would take more than a novelty to maintain a steady flow of sales. Before the end of August 1971, four of the five Lone Ranger fast-food eateries were operating with a loss, estimated at $2.7 million.   Before 1972, four of the five were shut down permanently. Within a year following, the fifth would close for good. After which, The Lone Ranger restaurant became a thing of the past. 

Today, surviving cups, napkins, and promotional materials are sought-after collector premiums. But one often wonders what George W. Trendle would have thought when he heard about the restaurant. Sadly, no paperwork has been found to verify his thoughts on the matter. At least Jack Wrather and his investors gave it the old college try...