Jack's Family Restaurants

Jack's Family Restaurants is a successful fast-food chain with more than 200 locations in Alabama and several neighboring states. It was founded in 1960 by Jack Caddell as a walk-up stand in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Originally known as Jack's Hamburgers, the first menu featured hamburgers and french fries, milk shakes, and "fish-on-a-bun." Many Alabamians grew up singing Jack's advertising jingle: "Jack's hamburgers for 15 cents are so good-good-good . . . you'll go back back back . . . to Jack's Jack's Jack's . . . for more more more!"

Benny LaRussa at Jack's Prior to establishing Jack's, Caddell was the owner the Pig Trail Inn, a barbeque restaurant and popular teenage hangout in Homewood. Inspired by the early success of the emerging McDonald's hamburger chain in the late 1950s, he decided to follow suit and establish Alabama's first fast-food chain. Within five years, Jack's had expanded to more than a half a dozen other locations in the Birmingham area, including Bessemer, Vestavia Hills, and Alabaster. Soon thereafter, Jack's expanded outside Birmingham to Huntsville, Anniston, Auburn, and Montgomery and even outside the state, with stands in Jackson, Mississippi, and Charleston, South Carolina. Its success was such that by the mid-1960s it delayed MacDonald's dominance of the Birmingham market.

All of the original restaurants were walk-up stands with orange and yellow vertical stripes on each side and signs that featured the name "Jack's" in separate white rectangles with the word "Hamburgers" appearing on a separate sign just below. By the late 1960s, most of these walk-up stands had been converted into larger dine-in facilities. The signs also were updated to a single red circle with the restaurant's name written at a slant in white inside the circle. The success of the early restaurants was enhanced by live commercials featuring the familiar Jack's jingle appearing during all of the afternoon children's programs within the Birmingham television market.

Jack's Hamburger Stand In 1970, a company known as Florida Capital purchased Jack's from Caddell. Jimmy Moreland, Florida Capital's CEO, spearheaded an aggressive expansion campaign between 1970 and 1978 that resulted in Jack's increasing from 17 to nearly 80 restaurants in four states. The company's expansion coincided with a period of massive growth among fast-food competitors that led to a serious downturn in business. As a result, many locations were forced to close in the early 1980s, particularly in south Alabama. The business soon rebounded, largely as a result of the efforts of wholesale grocery supplier Benny LaRussa, who had expanded his holdings from a single franchise purchased in the 1960s to a franchise territory of 13 restaurants by 1979. By 1988, LaRussa increased his franchise territory to 33 locations, even as other restaurants owned by the company were closing. LaRussa purchased the sole franchise rights to Jack's in 1989 from Florida Capital and began supplying his Jack's restaurants as well as a number of area Subway restaurants from his wholesale grocery business, Southeastern Food Merchandisers. Under LaRussa's leadership, 64 company-owned restaurants reached annual sales exceeding $50 million by the end of fiscal year 2001. This level of success was achieved with an emphasis on friendly service and a well-planned marketing campaign. By 2006, the number of restaurants had increased to 76, bringing the company close to its level of success of the 1970s. He continued the expansion to more than 150 stores until 2015, when the Jack's company was purchased by Canadian private equity company Onex Corporation. In 2019, Onex sold the business to private equity firm AEA Investors.

The typical Jack's restaurant today is an approximate 3,200-square-foot, freestanding facility with an average of 25 to 30 employees. Lunch is typically the restaurant's top revenue producer, with breakfast a strong second. Half of all sales are generated at the restaurants' drive-thru windows. In 2020, Jack's employed approximately 5,200 people and grossed more than $500 million in sales. The company is still headquartered in Birmingham and the logo now features its name in mixed case font on a smaller red circle. Contemporary lunch and dinner menus still feature hamburgers with such side orders as french fries, coleslaw, green beans, and mashed potatoes, as well as fried chicken and other entrees. The breakfast menu includes pancakes and biscuits served with sausage, ham, steak, bacon, egg, or cheese. Other current favorites include Blue Bell ice cream and milk shakes.

Further Reading

  • Burger, Frederick. "Southern Smiles." QSR Magazine (March 2001).
  • Hayes, Jack. "Jack's: Service With a Smile Brightens Fast-Food Chain's Future as It Reemerges as Southeastern Force." Nation's Restaurant News, January 28, 2002.

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