|All images via MewDeep on Flickr|
By the late 60s, Johnny Carson was one of the biggest names on television, and The Tonight Show was being seen by 8 million Americans every weeknight. So I guess that somewhat makes sense that Carson teamed up with the Swanson family of the frozen food line to launch a restaurant franchise called Here's Johnny's! Carson served as Chairman of the Board for the company overseeing the chain, Johnny's American Inn, Inc. The restaurant offered 12 varieties of burgers, including one called "The Great Carnac" ("How big is it?" asked the menu) and a honey-fried chicken dinner called "Bird of Paradise." It was supposed to be an innovative chain that would deliver orders in half the time of the average fast food restaurant.
According to the above advertisement that appeared in Esquire, more than 300 restaurant franchises were purchased...but I'm guessing that far less than that actually opened. The best information I could find was that by 1970 there were 8 restaurants operating, mostly in the Omaha, Nebraska area.
A clue to why the chain closed may be in a court record I found online from 1974. An advertising agency sued Johnny's American Inn, Inc. for failure to pay over $78,000 in advertising fees. Who knows if they ever recovered the money.
Too bad no commercials or ads for the restaurants themselves currently exist online.
The Laugh-In restaurant chain sounds like it may have enjoyed slightly more success--someone even purchased a napkin and bag from eBay! I think it's interesting that the cash requirement for a Laugh-In franchise was more expensive than Carson's--one of these babies would set you back $45,000, while the Carson chain required around $28,000. The big question here is if these had a whacky theme (I'm imagining a customer saying, "Sock it to me!" when placing an order.) In keeping with the show's catchphrases, there was a "Bippy Burger" on the menu, "Fickle Finger of Fate" fries as well as an ice cream sundae called "Here Comes the Fudge." A commenter on another blog says they made the best onion rings of any fast food chain, and locations were primarily in Michigan and Florida. Like Here's Johnny's, they pretty much closed by the early 70s (right around the time the show itself went off the air) and barely made a blip on the pop culture history books.
The Laugh-In restaurants were owned by Chivers, the same company that launched Lum's, which was a more successful fast food chain.
Any of my readers ever eat at or remember Here's Johnny's or the Laugh-In restaurants?