The year 1957 was pivotal for two very different A&W franchisees.
A&W got its start when Roy Allen and Frank Wright (“A” and “W”) partnered in a Sacramento root beer stand in 1922. Allen bought out Wright and then began franchising the brand in 1925.
Two years later, in 1927, newlyweds J. Willard and Alice Marriott partnered with Hugh Colton to open Washington, DC’s first A&W. Hot summers in the capitol created demand for the signature “frosty mug” of root beer, along with the hot food items at the aptly-named “Hot Shoppe”. One year later, Willard and Alice open two more Hot Shoppes, one of which was DC’s first drive-in. Adding to their string of firsts in 1937, the Hot Shoppes expanded into catering by delivering box lunches to travelers at nearby Hoover Airport. In 1953, Hot Shoppes stock went public and sold out in two hours of trading.
Who was this savvy couple? Their business minds came up with an entirely new venture in 1957 – motor hotels. Arlington, Virginia was the first site of many to come, bearing the family name, Marriott. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Two other couples followed in the first steps of the Marriotts by franchising an A&W in 1957. Mick and Nancy Ridenour, along with Jim and Catherine Clark – Nancy’s parents – opened Sharonville, Ohio’s A&W Root Beer Stand on the outskirts of Cincinnati. Their location on one of the main north-south routes from Michigan to Florida guaranteed them a steady string of thirsty truckers and drivers, along with local residents. Since Mick was a school teacher, the stand was a summer-only operation. Catherine’s chili recipe led the hot offerings ferried to waiting customers by the black and white-clad car hops.
In 1982, the Ridenours and Clarks let go of their franchise identification. “The Root Beer Stand” remained a summer season favorite at the original, only slightly expanded location. In 1990, the Clarks had both passed away and the Ridenours were ready for retirement. Scott and Jackie Donley purchased the stand. Today, Cincinnati Magazine’s “best place to quaff a root beer” and number 12 on the list of “Top 100 Places in Cincinnati” is run pretty much as it always has by the Donley’s daughter Abby and her husband Eric. You’ll need to stop by soon – before the summer season is over – to sample their small-batch root beer with a side of Catherine’s chili.
World-wide domination versus small-town favorite. Either way, success can taste “frosty” and sweet.
Image Credits: Marriott International; The Root Beer Shop