Roy Allen @ Mr. A&W

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In the year 1919, an entrepreneur from California named Roy Allen purchased a root beer formula from a pharmacist in Arizona, mixed up a batch of creamy root beer and sold the first frosty mug of this delightful beverage for five cents. Now, eighty-six years later, A&W Root Beer is still made fresh daily and sold at hundreds of A&W Restaurants in USA as well as other countries, with an international headquarters in Malaysia. The A&W initials stand for the company’s founders, Roy Allen and Frank Wright. His blend of herbs, spices, barks and berries remains as much a secret as Colonel Sanders 11 herbs and spices and the makings of Coca Cola. It is the world’s number one selling root beer today.

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Root beer is a beverage made from a combination of vanilla, cherry tree bark, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, sassafras root bark, nutmeg, anise, and molasses among other things. Each root beer has a unique recipe. Root beer constitutes about three percent of the American soft drink market. Many local brands of root beer exist and home-made root beer is made from concentrate or (rarely) from roots.

In fact, even prior to this period, root beer was served, and it was then called ‘Black Cow Mountain’ inspired by a moonlit view of Colorado’s Cow Mountain with snow on top. Kids later shortened the drink’s name to Black Cow. For those not on a diet, recipes add chocolate syrup, whipped cream and a cherry on top. But for those on a diet, ice cream can be partially replaced by skim milk and root beer with diet root beer. Root beer itself has a history that relates to the ancient practice of brewing native plants (twigs, bark, roots) as healing herbal teas.

However, that fateful drink put a delighted smile on Allen’s customers’ face and put him into business. But Allen’s drink or mix was unique – blended from the juices of 14 herbs, spices, barks and berries – and it proved very popular with the thirsty public and in 1922, Allen started a number of outlets to sell it. With the success of his first root beer stand in place called Lodi, Allen soon opened up a second stand in nearby Sacramento. It was there that what is thought to be United States‘ first ‘drive-in’ featuring ‘tray-boys’ for curb side service opened up.

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Later, Allen teamed up with Frank Wright, one of his employees, and the name A & W was born. New items were added to the menu and A&W became well. Known as a fast food restaurant offering good food at low prices, and served up fast. Before long, the chain restaurant had spread out beyond the boundaries of California and soon, there wasn’t a state in America where you couldn’t find an A&W restaurant. It had become part of the American way of life.

In 1924, Allen bought Wright’s share of the business to actively pursue a franchise sales program. He had the name, A&W Root Beer and the A&W logo legally trademarked with the U.S. Patent. By 1933, the creamy beverage was such a success that Allen had over 170 franchised outlets operating in different places. To ensure uniform quality for the namesake beverage, Allen sold A&W Root Beer to concentrate exclusively to each franchise operator. His profits were derived from the sale of the concentrate and a nominal license fee.

During World War II no new restaurants were opened. Despite governmental sugar rationing (this affected supplies of bottler’s sugar, a necessary ingredient of root beer) and employee shortages (also a result of the war) most A&W units remained successful. After the war the number of A&W restaurants tripled as loans were available for private enterprise to flourish.

In 1950, with over 450 A&W’s operating nationwide, founder Roy Allen retired and sold the business to an aggressive Nebraskan named Gene Hurtz who formed the A&W Root Beer Company. The post war era – the rapidly recovering economy and popularity of the automobile provided the right environment for Hurtz’s company to prosper. Drive-in was becoming increasingly popular and A&W had the privilege of being one of the few nationally established drive-in restaurant chains. By 1960 the number of A&W’s had swelled to over 2000.

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The popularity of A&W soon spread to other parts of the world and Asians had their first taste of it in 1963 when Malaysia opened its first outlet at Batu Road (now known as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman) where it still does brisk business today. In Malaysia, there are more than 26 A&W restaurants and the company has plans to open more. The opening of new stories not only brings the great taste to more Malaysians but also provides employment as well as management opportunities to people. In fact, A&W has become a household name among Malaysians and its menu offers a wide variety of items to suit every member of the family, including the refreshing A&W Root Beer, the ever popular Coney Dog, Waffle, Curly Fries, Onion Ring and Mozza Burger which are unique products of A&W.

It was the first food chain to be opened in Malaysia. It has also gained a mention in the Malaysian Book of Record to that effect. A&W (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd was awarded the “Golden Mug Award” in recognition of its achievement for being the best managed franchisee in the world in 1996.The award was presented by A&W International President/CEO in Las Vegas, USA.

America loved the taste of A&W Root Beer. So, in 1971, United Brands formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, A&W Beverages, Inc., for the purpose of making A&W Root Beer available on the grocery shelf. First introduced in Arizona and California, the cans and bottles of A&W Root Beer was an instant success. Retailers nationwide were soon carrying the product.

Several ownership changes took place during the sixties and seventies. In 1971, United Brands formed a wholly owned subsidiary, A&W Distributing Co., for the purpose of making A&W Root Beer available on the grocery shelf. In 1974, A&W sugar-free was born along with “The Great Root Bear,” a mascot that served as a goodwill ambassador for the brand. Though the purchases and mergers plagued the expansion efforts of A&W restaurants, the root beer remained the category leader.

In October 1993, the A&W brands, excluding the restaurants, became part of Cadbury Beverages Inc. Today, the A&W brands continue under the ownership of Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc., the largest non-cola soft drink enterprise in North America and the largest subsidiary of London-based Cadbury Schweppes plc.

Much has changed since Roy Allen first sold root beer from his roadside stand on that hot summer day in 1919. Yet, the one thing that hasn’t changed in 85 years is that people over the world love the rich, smooth, thick-headed taste of A&W Root Beer. Clearly, A&W Root Beer has stood the test of time. And, all the credit for that goes to the genius of Roy Allen.

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