Without a doubt, the most famous and memorable fast food establishment in the Magic City is JACK'S. It began in 1960 by Mr. Jack Caddell with a single location in Homewood. From there it eventually grew into a sizeable regional chain, becoming so popular by the mid '60s that it managed to delay the inevitable growth of McDonald's in Birmingham.
Jack's was probably the first fast-food restaurant to cash in on the
bonanza to be had by ignoring the adult market and aiming all of its advertising
at the kids. Get the kids hollerin' to Mom and Dad about eating at
Jack's, and they'll eventually cave, right?
THE CLASSIC JACK'S JINGLE (mp3 file, ~47 KB, 32
Initially, the menu consisted of 15-cent hamburgers, shakes, fries, Coke, and a 20-cent "Fish-On-A-Bun." Jack's locations really stood out among the landscape with their distinctive signage and the slant-roofed walk-up stands with orange and yellow vertical stripes on each side.
This is a "picture of a picture"; the print is at the Jack's restaurant in Dora, Ala. I took a shot of it, hence the faint reflection -- and if you look closely, you can make out the top of my head!
|YOU WILL EAT THESE JACK'S
HAMBURGERS OR ELSE I'LL HAVE TO HAUL YOU IN!
One of the earliest publicity photos for Sergeant Jack, ca. 1966. Cousin Cliff might've been the name most closely associated with Jack's, but Neal Miller -- as a sworn Jefferson County deputy (so he could legally wear the uniform) -- also acted as a TV spokesman.
(collection of Jean Miller)
|Barely five years after Jack's began serving its hamburgers, they had more than a half dozen locations in the Birmingham metro area: the original Homewood store, Roebuck, 3rd Avenue West, Bessemer, Five Points West, Vestavia, Eastwood Mall, Alabaster and Center Point. In addition, people in Huntsville, Anniston, Auburn and Montgomery also had Jack's. What's more, there were two other Jack's Hamburgers locations outside of Alabama in far flung places like Jackson, Mississippi and Charleston, South Carolina!|
|Here's some holiday advertising, featuring a Santa likeness
which I dare say would feel at home on a '40s Coca-Cola billboard.
This appears to be a slide which displayed on TV during live commercials on Cousin Cliff's afternoon program on WAPI Channel 13.
(courtesy of the Cliff Holman archive)
||A Jack's grand opening was akin to opening night of a
new Broadway production. Pictured is the new Jack's Hamburgers in
Jasper. circa 1967. On the marquee: "GRAND OPENING WELCOME
(courtesy of Tim Hollis)
|Toward the late '60s, the walk-up stands were all gradually
converted into larger buildings with inside dining rooms. The architecture
was dominated by faux stone walls. This defined the Jack's look well
into the 1980s.
Here is the Jack's in Dora as it appeared in 1973.
As you might imagine, hamburgers now set one back a few cents more than
15. The little round sign now carried part of the jingle/slogan:
"Good GOOD Good" The Dora Jack's is my favorite, for one big
reason, seen below.
|In the mid '70s, Jack's changed its logo -- now the letters
no longer appeared in separate white rectangles; they were now diagonal
inside a large red circle. One by one, the old five-post signs were
dismantled and replaced with the new ones, which resembled giant lollipops!
That is, except in Dora. This Jack's is the only
one in the chain with a portion of the old sign, and one of only three
specimens of the old Jack's signage anywhere. (the other two -- as
we'll see shortly -- haven't been part of Jack's in many years)
|In the mid to late 1970s, Jack's began an aggressive
expansion, adding stores in south Alabama, in addition to the Florida panhandle,
and even in southwest Georgia towns like Bainbridge.
This is the Jack's in front of Bainbridge Mall, as it looked in 1984. It's from an ad in that year's Bainbridge High School yearbook, the Purango. (My wife grew up in SW Georgia, and remembers this Jack's)
The expansion didn't work too well -- suddenly all of
these Jack's stores began closing up, including locations in Troy, Union
Springs, and other south Alabama towns. Jack's soon rebounded, but
as a smaller chain confined mainly to the Birmingham area.
|GHOSTS OF MR. CADDELL, PART
2 of 3
Here is the second of three old Jack's signs. now being used by TYLER'S RESTAURANT in Phenix City, Ala. on old US-80. I'm not sure if Jack's ever expanded across the river into the larger city of Columbus, Georgia.
Curiously, the little circle was replaced by a square backlit sign pointing to the drive-thru.
There's another Tyler's Restaurant location in Opelika, also a former Jack's and with a modified "old school" Jack's sign.
|And this is the Tyler's building in Phenix City as it
looks in the present day. It appears little-changed from the old
'70s Jack's architecture ... except for the addition of a dining room expansion.
It's very much Jack's right down to the rooftop sign support. Compare it to the 1973 Dora restaurant above.
(both Tyler's pictures by Russell Wells, 02/06/2005)
|GHOSTS OF MR. CADDELL, PART
Now THIS one is downright spooky! We're back in Birmingham, on 3rd Avenue west (US-11/78).
The story, as told to me by Tim Hollis: Jack's didn't keep this store open for too long -- it closed before the renovation of all the stores in the early '70s, so the old slant-roofed stand was untouched. It's served in many capacities over the last 35+ years, today as a house detailing business.
(photos by Russell Wells, 01/23/2005)
And here we have specimen #3, the only one left with all its original features, including five-panel top, intact.
And here's the old Jack's walk-up stand.
What a horrid shade of tan and green!!!
Jack's Hamburgers in the
|You can find out more about the chain today on their website: www.eatatjacks.com
The restaurant today pays loving homage to its past, with many locations
featuring vintage pictures in the dining area (such as the Miss Jane commercial
still). I have to eat there for one meal every time I'm in the area.
Even though red meat is something I really should be cutting back on (gout
issues), I cannot resist Jack's "Big Bacon" cheeseburgers.
My only gripe is Jack's recent change in their logo, a drastic reworking which did away with the unique lettering. I can easily deal with the "50s diner wings" styling of the 'red circle' logo, but I'm not too crazy about the new lettering. At least (for now) the exterior signage still sports the classic, skinny-style font.
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11/01/2011 -- 1238 AM EDT