If there’s one thing almost all fast food chains have in common, it’s weird mascots. While some are modeled after real people or animals, there are still those few that we’re not quite sure about. What is Grimace, anyway? We’re diving in head first to find the real stories behind these strange, and sometimes creepy, figures.
KFC’s Colonel Sanders: Kentucky Fried Chicken’s famous face is actually that of a real man, Colonel Harland David Sanders. In 1930, Sanders was cooking for customers out of his own home while operating a service station in Corbin, Kentucky. Later, he opened the Harland Sanders Café and Museum and spent the next nine years perfecting his “secret recipe” for fried chicken, fried in a pressure fryer rather than a pan. As his success and popularity grew, he franchised “Kentucky Fried Chicken” in 1952. He also then developed his signature appearance, never appearing in public after 1950 without his trademark mustache and goatee, white suit and string tie that we know today.
Burger King’s The Burger King: Though Burger King has recently retired its famous mascot, we think the Burger King may be one of the creepiest. The King was first seen in a Miami, Florida store in 1955. The previously animated figure was later replaced by the “Marvelous Magical Burger King”, a red-bearded king who ruled the Burger King Kingdom and performed magic tricks. Eventually, he was simply known as “the King” and went though various transformations before landing on this strangely masked version. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before he was being called “the Creepy King.”
Little Caesar’s Little Caesar: Originally called Little Caesar’s Pizza Treat, Little Caesar has been making delicious pizza since 1959. In 1979, the pizza, hot dog, chicken, and shrimp chain introduced the famous “Pizza! Pizza!” catchphrase. Little Caesar is a toga-clad, sandal-wearing Roman ready to hawk pizzas and crazy bread at anyone that will listen, but very little else is known about this little guy.
Big Boy’s Big Boy: Formerly Bob’s Pantry, Big Boy got its name and its mascot one day when a chubby little boy walked into the fast food chain. “Hello, Big Boy,” the founder said, and a wide-eyed cartoon boy was born. Now with statues all over the country, Big Boy himself is something of a hamburger celebrity. That real boy died in 1984 at the age of 54, but his creepy caricature lives on.
McDonald’s Grimace: Ronald McDonald may be the leader of the bunch, but McDonald’s actually created an entire fantasy world called McDonaldland. The purple blob that we know as Grimace was first introduced in November 1971 as the “Evil Grimace,” originally with two sets of arms with which to steal milkshakes. Over time, he evolved into “a well-meaning simpleton whose clumsy antics provided a comic foil to Ronald McDonald.” The kid-friendly gentle giant even had his own Mcdonald’s VHS tape featuring his family members, but we’re still not quite sure what Grimace is.
Wendy’s Wendy Thomas: Wendy’s red-haired, freckle-faced girl is another real life person-turned-mascot. Melinda Lou “Wendy” Morse is the daughter of Dave Thomas, founder of the “old fashioned hamburger” chain. The then 8-year old is also the company’s namesake and has owned or co-owned more than 30 Wendy’s stores herself. Though she appeared as a cartoon since 1969, Wendy appeared on camera as herself in 2010.
Taco Bell’s Gidget: Gidget “The Taco Bell Chihuahua” was short-lived, but left a legacy with that famous one-liner. At least two dogs were used as models, and as popularity grew, Gidget toys were manufactured and distributed. The dog, who was sometimes depicted as a Mexican revolutionary in a beret or a bandido wearing a sombrero, was somewhat controversial for its Latin American stereotypes. After Taco Bell discontinued the mascot, Gidget appeared in other commercials and even as Bruiser’s mom in the Legally Blonde sequel. In 2009, Gidget suffered a stroke and was euthanized.
McDonald’s The Hamburglar: Alongside Grimace in McDonald’s McDonaldland world is The Hamburglar, who first appeared in 1971. The Hamburglar is McDonaldland’s first villian who, like any typical burglar, wears black and white stripes, a cape, and a wide-brimmed hat. He was originally called the Lone Jogger and spoke in only gibberish which later evolved into his famous “robble robble.” The object of his affection – and robbery? Why, hamburgers, of course!
Jack In The Box’s Jack Box: It doesn’t get much weirder than a round-headed clown in a suit. In his advertisements, Jack Box, or Jack, is shown as the CEO, founder and spokesperson for the fast food chain. Apart from his gigantic clown head, he pretty much looks like your typical working man. In the 1970s, Jack in the Box used only the clown head for mascot purposes, and though it was dropped in the ’80s, Jack came back full force as a “savvy, no-nonsense businessman.” Jack Box has been through quite a lot over the years, including being hit by a bus in a 2009 Super Bowl campaign – of course, once taken to the hospital, his big clown head did not fit into the CAT scan machine.
Quizno’s Spongmonkeys: Ok, this one is definitely the creepiest, at least we think so. What looks like either a rat after getting run over by a bulldozer or a discarded Picasso sketch is actually a “Spongmonkey,” which started as an Internet phenomenon and found it’s way into Quizno’s TV commercials. These little guys, with their large crooked teeth and oversized googly eyes, are what nightmares are made of. The kind of nightmare that wakes you up singing “they got a pepper bar.”