Frenchies, oui, oui

It’s remarkable how people still pine for Frenchies of days gone by. Recipes for the most cherished of these, the Cheese Frenchie, a battered, deep fried cheese sandwich with a crunchy cornflake exterior, are all over the internet. It may have been modeled on the somewhat similar Croque Monsieur sandwich of France, explaining the name Frenchie.

Frenchies, sometimes spelled Frenchees, were the creation of King’s Food Host, a fast food chain catering to families and college students in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the chain’s units were located in the middle of the country, with headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska, where there were once nine units. The first – King’s Drive-In – was started by James King and Larry Price in 1955, on North Cotner in Lincoln. I wonder if the first one had telephones at each table that patrons used to send their orders to the kitchen?

King soon dropped out of the partnership but Price stayed with it until 1972 when he gave up control of the company for around $3 million. It had reached its peak size then, with about 100 company-owned stores and 35 franchised units. Reportedly it had units in Winnipeg, Canada, and 20 states, but I’ve only been able to identify 18: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

kingsfoodhostbrookingsSD1972785In King’s younger days around 1966 when it had only 35 locations in 10 states, it focused on building near universities. King’s were handy for students at state universities in Nebraska (Lincoln), Iowa (Ames), Wisconsin (Madison), and Colorado (Boulder), with new units under construction in Norman, Oklahoma, and Lawrence, Kansas. [pictured: King’s near South Dakota State University]

Larry Price, who graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University, had been a football assistant there and served on the university’s board of trustees. His first food service foray was as a teenager in 1934 when he ran a hamburger stand at the 1934 Nebraska State Fair. He was very likely the motive force behind the chain’s advertised principles. The company would not sell cigarettes nor allow patrons to tip lest servers “compete with each other for the tip to the extent that they appear greedy.” Price was disgusted when King’s new corporate managers installed cigarette machines because he believed it would encourage minors to smoke.

The Frenchies may have disappeared from the chain at some point or maybe simply dropped out of favor. They were heavily promoted as part of a nostalgia campaign shortly after King’s went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1974. Apart from Cheese Frenchies, King’s offered Tuna Frenchies [pictured], Hot Dog Frenchies, and Pizza Frenchies. Never having seen an actual Frenchie myself, I can’t picture what the last two varieties looked like. Apparently the Pizza Frenchie, which “joined the Frenchie family” in the dark days of 1974, was not a big hit. Nor were the 30% soymeal burgers which Larry Price, coming out of retirement to offer advice, persuaded the new owners to scuttle shortly after they were introduced to manage high beef costs.

None of these moves, nor others — the adoption of chicken in a box, frequent discounts, or red, white & blue decorating schemes — could save the company. The chain’s troubles started just after it went public in 1969 and began a rapid expansion drive. In debt for millions, it could not work out a satisfactory deal with creditors and never emerged from bankruptcy. Stock shares which sold for $14 each in 1969 dropped to a low of 50 cents after bankruptcy was declared. In 1978 a couple of business men from Minnesota and Wisconsin bought the remaining King’s outlets, which by then numbered only 17.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

26 Comments

Filed under chain restaurants, food

26 responses to “Frenchies, oui, oui

  1. There was a Kings Food host on Lincoln Blvd in Santa Monica in the 70’s it was then converted to a Perkins, I remember the phones in each booth.
    One in Tempe had model railroad looping throughout the dining area.

  2. Scooter Davis

    Ate at the King’s in Albuquerque on the west side of Wyoming Blvd just south of Constitution in the early 70’s as a little kid. LOVED IT! Great cheeseburgers and the onion rings were the BEST I’ve ever tasted. I thought the telephones at the tables were outta sight (to use the vernacular of the day). Thanks for posting this article, brought back a lot of good memories.

  3. Carolyn Laird

    Lord, today! I have leftover tuna fish, got to thinking about the Tuna Frenchies I had during two years in Norman, Oklahoma (1968 and 1969), went looking for a recipe and found this site. The reason I remember the TF is because up to that point in my life, I had hated tuna fish. I remember them being quite good…and greasy! Never had the Cheese Frenchie.

  4. Pingback: A Cathartic Bloody Mary & Cheese Frenchies: My First Wartburg Homecoming | Jeni Eats

  5. Don Wherry

    This took me back 40+ years, in a rush…

    There was one 2 blocks east of my apartment in Des Moines, where Keosauqua Way branched off SE from 19th Street, 1970-72.

    There was one in Cedar Rapids across 1st Avenue from Lindale Plaza (1968-74?), about where the Lone Star Steakhouse is now.

    I seem to recall there being another one in CR, maybe on the SE corner of Williams Blvd and 16th Street? (Never spent enough time over there to be real sure..).

    I wasn’t terribly impressed with their food, or their prices. Their interior decoration seemed as though it had to start from a generous-sized basketball court, with a high ceiling.

  6. Jim

    In the Denver area in the late 1960s there were three King’s: 599 West Littleton Blvd. (Littleton), 9600 West 58th Ave (Arvada), and 6111 West Colfax (Lakewood). The latter is the one my family would visit. Great memories. We kids would fight over who got to use the phone to place the order (“you got to do it last time!”). I still pine for the burgers, maybe the best I ever had.

  7. Jack

    Please, how did they make their onion rings?

  8. Nan

    There was a Kings in Littleton Colorado, too, not just in Boulder. Tuna Frenchees were our favorites, and we finally cobbled together a recipe through trial and error when I had a major craving for some during my first pregnancy. They didn’t turn out too bad, either. (We used cracker crumbs, not cornflakes).

    Loved the memories you brought back – many thanks

    Nan Hodge

    • Kim Hess

      Nan, I just read your King’s Food Host post on tuna Frenchees and would love your recipe. My family loved this place and miss it so much!! We lived in Nebraska and eventually moved to Colorado where we had one within 10 minutes from our home. Thanks for your post.

  9. Anonymous

    The Wood House in Bismarck, ND, is said to be a little-altered version of a former King’s location. Not sure if they have the Frenchie, but they do still have phone ordering. And far from serving part-soy burgers, they’re routinely win best burger in town in a competition sponsored by the local paper.

  10. Nice job of adding some information & jogging a few memories. I am not one that is so sure the “good old days” are all behind us, that everything was all that simple. Each era seems to have its good and bad & we all recall what we want to a certain extent, but just about everyone can recall there favorite foods and where it was to be found.

  11. Anonymous

    Steve Anyone from KC Mo and remember the King’s on Indep. Ave next to Katz?

  12. Cathy Indig

    The Cheese Frenchee was a hit in the Marshalltown, Iowa King’s Food Host in the 70’s when I was growing up. I don’t have a photo, but here is the recipe for the amazing Cheese Frenchee:
    6 slices white bread
    6 slices American Cheese (American Cheese is a must)
    1 egg
    1/2 cup milk
    3/4 cup flour
    1 tsp salt
    Kellogg’s Corn Flake crumbs
    Mayonnaise (real, not Miracle Whip)
    Oil for deep fat frying
    Make 3 sandwiches using 2 slices of American Cheese per sandwich. Spread Mayonnaise on bread slices. Cut sandwiches on the diagonal into triangles. Combine egg, milk, flour and salt. Dip the trangle sandwiches into the egg mixture, and coat with corn flake crumbs. Fry in deep fat at 375 degrees until golden.
    YUMMMMM!!! Enjoy!

  13. I grew up in Lincoln, Ne. Even met Larry Price several times who knew my Dad. The original Kings had the phones. I found Cheese Frenchies tasteless. Why fry a grilled cheese sandwich? Lincoln had the main restaurant office at 48th & O Streets (Letter “O”); then 19th & O; 40th & Normal (named for a long gone Normal college); 20th & Cornhusker Highway; Cotner Blvd at 66th Street. My Grandmother in Omaha liked to take us to the Kings at about 41st & Center near the Center Shopping Center. The phones were the best part. The food was standard.

  14. Jeff Hoefer

    Amigo’s location’s in Grand Island, NE are also Kings Food Host. They stiil have the original Cheese Frenchee along with Kings burgers etc

  15. I have been craving a cheese frenchies for awhile, I would like to make them but not sure how to make it. But I see here on your site they can be found here in Iowa, so I guess I need to take a rode trip to Waverly Iowa for one. Thanks

  16. St. Vital Kid

    Karen,

    The King’s on Pembina in Winnipeg was on the east side of the street in the block just south of Point Road. Kings’s was demolished around ’74 to make way for a Ponderosa Steak House. Swiss Chalet occupied the property in the 80’s and 90’s. When they pulled out, a local chain called “The Rib Shack” took over the restaurant and expanded it. Around the middle of the last decade, that restaurant was closed and bulldozed (along with most of the other businesses on that block) to make way for a (what else?) Shopper’s Drug Mart. I remember King’s food as being kind of mediocre, but the ordering by phone was really cool. My family went there a lot too back then.

  17. John Belz

    Many places at the home of King’s that still serve Cheese Frenchies. Grandmother’s, Don & Millie’s, and Kings Classic

  18. karen

    There was for sure a King’s Food Host in Winnipeg, Mantioba, Canada, as my family and I ate at it almost every weekend. It was on the south end of Pembina Highway somewhere. I have wondered for years where exactly it was, but Winnipeg has changed so much that I can’t remember.
    I do remember the food there was great. The chicken was fabulous!

  19. How can I be that I’ve never heard of these I ask myself. Thank you for this wonderful introduction.

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