In 1936, Bob Wian opened an eatery in Glendale, Calif. His specialty? A double-decker hamburger.
Mr. Wian needed an image to promote his burgers. And when a chubby little boy in red suspenders walked in, Wian found it. The boy became the symbol for the new Bob's Big Boy restaurant (now called Big Boy outside of California). Wian styled his "Big Boy" with red-checked pants and suspenders, wavy hair, cherubic cheeks, and a happy grin.
With the help of the Big Boy statue, the restaurant gained popularity. The chain spread across the country under several different names, including Elias, Shoney's, JB's, and Frisch's. Marriott took over the chain in 1967.
The statue's appeal was so strong that a national customer survey in the mid-1980s - when the restaurants numbered 900 nationwide - voted to keep him in an 8 to 1 decision.
Over the years, the Big Boy has shed a few pounds and lightened his hair from dark brown to chestnut.
Today, the smiling symbol of Americana greets customers outside only about 600 Big Boy restaurants. The rest are in warehouses awaiting repair work or have been jettisoned.
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