Bobbin' for Burgers

by Susie Hodgson

Itís the classic American success story. A young man named Bob graduated from high school and quickly went to work at a coffee shop as a dishwasher, the lowest job there was. But he was happy to get it and worked hard. He worked so hard, in fact, that he was promoted to fry cook and eventually manager. That would thrill anyone, right?

Not Bob.

Bob actually quit to take another entry-level job at a different restaurant that had carhops. He was determined to learn every aspect of the restaurant business. His goal was to open his own place. In 1936 he finally found a little place that he could actually afford to buy. First he had to sell his car, then borrow $50 from his Dad and soon he was walking to work to his very own eatery. It was called The Pantry and was really nothing more than a shack with ten stools. Bob called it Bobís Pantry, but that name didnít stick.

What DID stick was the appearance almost daily of a chubby little boy named Richard Woodruff. Richard loved the burgers and would do odd jobs to ďearnĒ his burgers. Bob couldnít always remember Richardís name, though, and took to calling the pudgy child ďBig Boy.Ē It wasnít long before Bob invented the double decker cheeseburger Ė and the rest is history. Can you guess the name of the now-famous restaurant?

You got it Ė Bobís Big Boy. The first location Ė the shack Ė no longer exists but the restaurant built in Burbank lives on. The Burbank location on Riverside Drive was built in 1949 and is the longest running Bobís there is.

But did you also know:

Bob Wian was voted ďLeast Likely to SucceedĒ in high school. (Boy, did they get that wrong!)

Bob hired the man who employed him at the second coffee shop to be Bobís VP and General Manager.

In 1965, during the HELP! tour, the Beatles ate at Bobís in search of the quintessential all-American diner. They found it! The booth they ate in is marked with a special plaque. Good luck getting a seat in that booth. People travel the world over to eat there!

Bobís Big Boy was sold to the Marriott Corporation in the 1960s. Later, Marriott got out of the restaurant business and Bobís was sold again. A series of sales ensued. Plus the restaurant chain was franchised, so youíll find other Big Boys across the nation. They are similar but not replicas. In the Midwest, for example, are Frischeís Big Boy, and over the years, there have been dozens more.

Famous comic strip editor Stan Lee wrote a Bobís Big Boy comic book. It lasted for many years.

Richard Woodruff went by ďBig BoyĒ his entire life. He grew to be 6í6Ē and 300 lbs. He died at 54.

A 1995 crime movie called Heat was partially filmed in Bobís. The film starred Val Kilmer, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

Every Friday night, Bobís Big Boy hosts a classic car night. Jay Leno is known to come by.

During the height of the pandemic, Bobís had to close the dining room, but reinstated carhops!

There are more than 200 Big Boys in Japan. They donít eat their burgers on a bun, though. Itís more like what we would call a Salisbury Steak.

Bobís Big Boy in Burbank came very close to being razed and replaced with office and retail space. Luckily, preservationists halted this move and, in 1992, the Burbank Bobís was named a California Point of Historical Interest.

Want to learn more? We have a statue of the Bobís mascot (Richard Woodruff) and lots of Bobís Big Boy memorabilia in our museum. Come see us!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site:

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