Friday, April 24, 2009

A Historical Note on the Trenton Roy Rogers

TR Reviewer Questions

“Roy Rogers ain’t just a cowboy anymore.”

-Peter Marriott

Actor Leonard Franklin Slye endeared himself to an entire generation of Americans as Roy Rogers, the quintessential cowboy. Along with his horse Trigger, Rogers dominated every form of media in his salad days of the early years after the Great War. In those days, screen stars often took to lending their names and faces to advertising campaigns for popular products (e.g., Brylcreem, Haagen-Dazs, Renault automobiles, etc.), but with over 100 movies to his name, Rogers speculated he was sufficiently beloved to found and carry his own product rather than hawking someone else’s. After seeing the immediate boom in McDonald’s franchises in the Southwest, he seized the opportune climate to start a fast-food chain on the other side of the country and name it after himself to build on his name recognition.

Rogers spent the first half of 1956 traveling up and down the eastern seaboard trying to gain a feel for the places that best fit the “Roy Rogers” profile of down-home charm with a mischievous edge. New York City (quirkily urban), Wilmington (hidden allure), Georgetown (uppity), and Palm Beach (diverse) were all candidates for the first Roy Rogers wave, but none seemed an appropriate flagship location. During his final drive from Philadelphia to New York, Rogers stopped the convoy off Route 1 to take a break and have lunch and found himself in Trenton, the capital of New Jersey. While taking his lunch in a small café on the second floor of the Trenton railway station, Rogers admired the blue-collar industry around him and knew he had found his spot. The restaurant construction created jobs both temporary and permanent. Upon the grand opening in 1957, the Trenton Roy Rogers brought a simple hamburger quickly prepared with a variety of self-serve sauces and condiments to the people of central New Jersey. When the restaurant fared favorably with the nearby Philadelphia cheese steak outposts, Rogers expanded the menu to include fried chicken and roast beef sandwiches and proceeded with expansion of the other planned branches. Roy Rogers Family Restaurants brought their namesake’s cheer and cowboy good will to the entire east coast for the next 40 years until being bought out by the Pizza Hut-Wing Street consortium in 1999. The Trenton Roy Rogers remains among the last of two distinct groups: 1. the 50 Roy Rogers locations that haven’t been converted to Pizza Hut-Wing Street franchises and 2. good things in Trenton.

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