The Boss and I watched the film The Founder the other night. It’s a 2016 film staring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the man who turned a drive-in restaurant into an international food icon and changed the eating habits of the world. In 1954, Kroc, who sold Prince Kastle milkshake mixers, went to San Bernardino, California to find out why a drive-in restaurant wanted to purchase six multi-unit shake machines — that would be 36 shakes at a time. The drive-in was owned by two brothers Maurice and Dick McDonald. After WWII they had come up with a revolutionary method of producing hamburgers, french fries, and milkshakes on an almost assembly line process, thus giving a customers their food order almost immediately. The brothers hired Kroc to be their franchiser. Kroc sold the concept, but butted heads with the brothers on almost every merchandising idea he tried to put into practice. The McDonald brothers were afraid of losing control of the business, and that’s exactly what happened. Although very hard working, they were naive and a bit rustic. Kroc was a super persistent and even cutthroat businessman whom some have even called unscrupulous, and while he had his ups and downs, he is the one who made McDonald’s the institution it became.
In Wichita, Kansas, Walt Anderson had been running food stands since 1915. He came up with a hamburger that would eventually be known as the slider. He opened three previous stands but in 1921 he was approached by a real estate salesman named Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram. Ingram was a regular customer and loved the burgers. Anderson had come up with the quick method of cooking the burgers. Ingram came up with the idea of the White Castle restaurant — clean, efficient and very profitable. One or two workers could cover the kitchen dining area, customers got their food “to go.” Ingram came up with the name White Castle to represent strength and purity. He also did the marketing and franchising. The third White Castle in the system was in downtown Indianapolis at Fort Wayne & Delaware (pictured here – it’s still standing), which was opened in 1927 and was in service until 1979, making it the longest continuously running fast food restaurant in history. Anderson came up with the concept but it was Ingram who sold and marketed White Castle and made it a bit of Americana.
As often as not, the inventor of a concept is not the person who gets the concept going or even benefits financially from its success. It’s very often a salesman or financial backer who gets the gold. John Pemberton created the formula for Coca-Cola but it was one of his financial backers, Asa Candler, a druggist, who marketed and franchised the drink. Pemberton died deeply in debt. Candler was the individual who started Coke on the road to being the world’s most popular soft drink. It’s the seller of an idea who gets the glory and the gold.
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