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Lovie Yancey: The Black Woman Who Created The World-Renowned Fatburger
There’s a reason Fatburger is a household name. Yes, it’s the burgers, but it’s also because of Texas native Lovie Yancey.
Many are unaware that the woman who created the brand was Black. Yancey broke borders and founded the eatery, which was originally called Mr. Fatburger, in 1947.
Nearly 75 years later, it is still one of the longest running successful franchises to-date.
Lovie Yancey Early Years
Lovie Yancey was born on Jan. 3, 1912 in the small rural town of Bastrop, Texas. In 1931, she welcomed a daughter named Gwendolyn, and soon after moved to the big city of Los Angeles.
The Creation of Fatburger
Yancey collaborated with Charles Simpson, a construction worker and longtime friend, on a business venture that would mark the beginning of the franchise’s story.
Simpson built a three-stool hamburger stand on Western Avenue in South Central Los Angeles in 1947. They called it Mr. Fatburger, a play on words using the 1950s lingo “fat” meaning the best, supreme, or top of the line. In keeping with the theme, the hamburger stand featured retro-styling, from the menus to the jukebox’s music collection.
The Western Ave. location became an overnight success, giving Yancey and Simpson the leverage to open three more locations from 1947 to 1952. In 1952, the two decided to end their partnership, and Yancey retained ownership of the original location. She dropped the “Mr.” from the original name and went on to create the blueprint that is still being followed today.
The Rise Of FatBurger
Yancey was very hands-on in the business, sometimes working 16-hour shifts to ensure things ran smoothly, and burgers were cooked to perfection. Her hard work and dedication paid off in 1973 when she opened a Fatburger on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
The location often drew in celebrities including comedian Redd Foxx and singer Ray Charles, who deemed Fatburger their favorite burger chain.
By 1985, Yancey expanded the business to franchising, opening over fifteen franchise locations throughout southern California. In 1986, the chain was named the fifth ‘fastest growing burger franchise chain’ by Entrepreneur magazine.
The Later Years Of Lovie Yancey’s Life
In 1990, the Texas native sold the company’s rights to a group of investors while still maintaining control of the original location on Western Ave.
In Oct. 2001, Magic Johnson’s Johnson Development Corporation, along with a few other investors, bought Fatburger. Yancey eventually sold the original location under the condition that it could never be torn down.
The first Canadian Fatburger opened in the popular English Bay Area of Vancouver, BC in 2005.
Four years later, the burger chain saw its first international location in Dubai, which was so successful that it led to seven more locations in the United Arab Emirates.
Sadly, Lovie Yancey died of pneumonia on Jan. 26, 2008, at the age of ninety-six in Los Angeles, California.
Fatburger Today and Lovie Yancey’s Legacy
There are now more than 150 locations worldwide, following Yancey’s original business model and theme. Current owners plan to open 300 more in the next 10 years.
The original Western Ave. location is still operating.
The burger chain has grown to become a California staple, and was mentioned in Ice Cube’s It Was a Good Day. Talk show host David Letterman even named it one of the ‘Top 10 things he would miss when leaving Los Angeles.’
Decades later, entrepreneurs worldwide are using Yancey’s blueprint as inspiration to create their own business.
Lovie Yancey, thank you for breaking borders when many didn’t even see US.
To learn more about the Fatburger story, visit: www.fatburger.com/ourstory.