From handling a squad to running a restaurant, check out these 6 Veterans who made a name for themselves as restauranteurs.
Before starting the list, we’d like to highlight these three local veteran-owned restaurants.
6 Klicks Cafe in Helotes, Texas
This veteran-owned local cafe opened earlier this year, serving out juicy burgers, tasty fried catfish, and hand-battered onion rings. The owner served in the military for ten years and has derived the name from the unwritten rule of the servicemen, “I have your six,” which means I got your back. Inside the cafe, you can also find memorabilia from the military and remembrance of those who have fallen.
Compadres Hill Country Cocina in Boerne, Texas
Aside from its fast-selling barbecue, this veteran-owned restaurant is also known for its weekly national anthem performance in honor of those who serve the country performed by a retired Army band director with his trumpet. Like 6 Klicks Cafe, the Compadres also showcases tons of military memorabilia, ramping up a patriotic vibe as you dine in with its Mexican and Tex-Mex food.
Bubba’s Smokehouse in La Jolla, California
A smokehouse owned by a Navy veteran who got the barbeque concept inspiration from a buddy halfway through his service.
6 Popular Restaurants Owned By Veterans
The Veteran Behind the “Finger-Lickin’ Good Chicken” Restaurant
Exposed to hard work at an early age, Harland Sanders hopped from one job to another before he managed to open a small cafe in 1929 inside a gas station and cater to truck drivers. But before that, when he was 16, he falsified his age to join the Army as a Private Wagoner in 1906. He was deployed to Cuba for a year before being honorably discharged with the Army’s Cuban Pacification Medal. However, the iconic “Colonel” on his name isn’t a military rank but rather an honorific title bestowed by Kentucky governor Ruby Laffoon in 1935. His family-style cooking drew most of his customers, and by 1939 he discovered the recipe for his “finger-lickin’ good chicken” that would forever go down in history. The first KFC franchise was opened in South Salt Lake, Utah, in 1952, and when the original restaurant closed, Sanders toured the world as an official ambassador for the company until his passing in 1980.
McDonald’s 9th Franchise Owner in Des Plaines, Illinois
Before becoming a business magnate, Raymond Albert “Ray” Kroc sneaked into the American Red Cross at 15 during the Great War and became an ambulance driver alongside a fellow soldier who also lied about his age, Walt Disney. But both weren’t deployed overseas as the war ended not long after they enlisted. Kroc eventually returned to his hometown in Chicago and worked several jobs until he landed an opportunity to become a salesman for a milkshake mixer company in the early 1940s. By 1954, Kroc would stumble upon the McDonald brothers, Maurice and Richard, whose restaurants were gaining widespread notable traction for their fast-serving hamburgers, french fries, and milkshakes. Impressed, Kroc would soon franchise and open the ninth branch of McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois, in April 1955, and the rest was history. The veteran-turned-tycoon served as McDonald’s president from 1955 to 1968, as chairman of the board from 1968 to 1977, and senior chairman from 1977 until he died in 1984.
The Inventor of Chicken Sandwich was a WWII Veteran
Unlike his counterparts, S. Truett Cathy didn’t forge his age to enter service. Instead of going to college, Cathy enlisted in the U.S. Army and served during World War II until 1946. Soon after being honorably discharged, he opened a restaurant with his brother called the Dwarf Grill in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville. Together they created the chicken sandwich that later became the signature menu item for Chick-fil-A. The partnership would be short-lived, though, as his brother sadly passed in 1947.
Nevertheless, the restaurant skyrocketed as customers fell in love with the “quick-cooked boneless chicken breast.” In 1967, Cathy opened a separate restaurant dedicated to selling the sandwich, which eventually became Chick-fil-A. He ran the company until his retirement in 2013.
A WWII Marine Veteran Founded Taco Bell
Glen Bell served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a cook during World War II, and after the war ended, he opened a hot dog stand called Bell’s Drive-In in his hometown in San Bernardino in 1948. In 1951, Bell decided to sell his first stand to build an improved version, this time with hamburgers. While his second stand was under construction, the McDonald brothers also made their first fast food restaurant around the same area—which you already know that by 1955 a milkshake salesperson would heave the latter into one of the biggest fast-food franchises in the world. Recognizing a tight competition, Bell immediately thought of a niche that would separate his food from the McDonald brothers. Thus, the Mexican-style food. Next, he shifted to selling tacos and renamed his food stand to Taco-Tia, then El Tacos with four restaurants, and eventually Taco Bell. The first Taco Bell outlet opened in 1963 in Downey, California, and expanded to a couple more before Pepsi Co bought the company in the late 1970s.
Wendy’s Army Veteran Father
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Rex David “Dave” Thomas was among the first to enlist in the Army at age 18. With his culinary skills, he requested to be assigned to Cook’s and Baker’s School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Then, he was deployed to West Germany as a mess sergeant, responsible for preparing daily meals for 2,000 soldiers. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant before his honorable discharge in 1953. After his service, Thomas returned to Fort Wayne, where the KFC founder found him and offered him a job at his budding restaurant. Aside from this, Thomas also worked on tons of projects alongside Sanders, and when it was time for him to go solo, the young veteran ventured his luck in becoming a restauranteur himself. He briefly invested in a new restaurant before establishing Wendy’s (derived from one of his daughters) in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969, specializing in hamburgers.
Waffle House Was Founded By Two Veteran friends
Co-founders crossed paths in 1949 when Tom Forkner sold a house to Joe Rogers Sr. Both men served in the military—Forkner was an intelligence officer for the Manhattan Project and was a Ritchie Boy, while Rogers was in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a B-24 pilot—so when they met, they already had a common denominator. Plus, the fact that both were inspired by the success of another fellow veteran who franchised McDonald’s. So, they sat down and brainstormed, and by September 1955, the first Waffle House was opened in Avondale Estates, Georgia. What gave them the edge was the introduction of the 24-hour operation and a sit-down restaurant, initially intended to create a place for friends and neighbors, but soon multiplied and became a friendly place where anyone could grab a quick, affordable meal at any time.