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History has it that A&W, founded by Roy Allen on June 20, 1919 in Lodi, CA, hit its peak in the number of restaurants they operated as being around 1960-63, around more than 2,000 units in operation at the time. History also claims A&W as being the first company to have a franchised system of restaurants (beating McDonald's by nearly 25 years), which came about in 1924 after Allen bought out his company's namesake partner of some three years, Frank Wright, in order to achieve such an idea. In 1950, Allen retired, selling his company to Gene Hurtz, who in turn sold it to J. Hungerford Smith in 1963, the company responsible for making A&W root beer concentrate almost from its beginnings.
Later that same year, JHS then sold A&W to United Fruit Co., whose name soon changed to United Brands Co. Around 1976, A&W formed A&W Restaurants to oversee the company's franchise operations. A&W Restaurants was sold to A. Alfred Taubman in 1982, to Sagittarius Acquisitions in 1994, to Yorkshire Global Restaurants in 2000, and in 2002 along with Long John Silver's to Yum! Brands (the owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC). Most recently Yum! had divested itself of A&W Restaurants and LJS, which are consequently seeking new owners. In 1989, A&W struck a deal with Carousel Snack Bars to convert that company's 200 stores, mainly kiosks in shopping malls, to "A&W Hot Dogs and More."
One thing we should not forget about this company, whose name comes from the initials of Allen and Wright, is its root beer. It should be noted that sales of their root beer did not see a transition from just their restaurants into grocery stores until 1971, when a division called A&W Beverages was created (and enlisted for this occasion the help of either Dr. Pepper or 7UP to do so; the two companies merged in May 1986 as Dr. Pepper/Seven-Up, Inc.), and even so, only in AZ and CA at first. After taking off in these two states, A&W expanded its retail program to the rest of the U.S., and in 1974, along with the introduction of their mascot the Great Root Bear, brought out a "sugar free" (later "Diet") version of their product. 12 years later, A&W brought out its cream soda in both regular and diet versions.
A&W restaurants are characterized by their unique drive-in theme where there are car hops ("tray boys") outside, a trend many of its competitors have abandoned after about the mid-1960s.
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