A&W Restaurants is a quick-service chain focused on burgers, root beer and floats that originally began as a roadside stand in 1919 during a parade honoring returning World War I veterans in Lodi, Calif. In 1922, one of founder Roy W. Allen’s employees, Frank Wright, joined him to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Sacramento called A&W for the two men’s last names.
A&W Restaurants quickly became known in the U.S. for its frosted mugs for root beer and root beer floats that were kept in the freezer prior to service. In 1926, the brand began franchising, spreading throughout the U.S., two years after Allen bought Wright out of the business. Franchising initially focused on the root beer specifically but spread to brick-and-mortar units before long.
Though not rooted in fact, A&W Restaurants are often credited with inventing the bacon cheeseburger in 1963 with a new menu item at one franchised location. In 1971, A&W Beverages Inc. was created to sell the brand’s root beer to grocery stores.
After several sales between 1963 and 1987, A&W was acquired in 1995 by the newly created restaurant group Yorkshire Global Restaurants along with Long John Silver’s. In 2002, Yorkshire Global Restaurants merged with Tricon Global Restaurants to become Yum Brands — parent to KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut — and later sold A&W to a group of franchisees in 2011 called A Great American Brand LLC. The transaction was led by present-day CEO Kevin Bazner.
In 2019, A&W Restaurants became the first franchise restaurant to turn 100 years old.
Key Data: A&W
Headquarters: Lexington, Ky.
Segment: Quick Service
Restaurant Segment: LSR Burger
Number of US Locations: 547
2020 Sales: $191.6 million
Source: Datassential Firefly 500
CEO: Kevin Bazner
Parent/Group: A Great American Brand, LLC