Big Boy is one of the most iconic mascots in America. The chubby lad in his familiar red and white chequered overalls has been the face of the Big Boy franchise since 1936. The mascot is based on the likeness of Richard Woodruff, a chubby child who occasionally worked at Bobs’ Pantry sweeping the floor after school. One day Bob Wian (the owner) noticed Ben Washam; an animator from Warner Brothers who was doodling on a place-mat and he asked him to sketch a caricature of Richard in exchange for a free meal. Wian then developed the caricature into a cuter version and used it as the logo for the restaurant chain. The Big Boy character soon started appearing on the menus, signage and television adverts.
As the empire grew, Wian began to introduce the big boy brand to the American people. Outside each restaurant he placed a fibreglass mascot to appeal to children. Another clever idea that made the brand even more appealing to kids was to give away a free big boy comic which was also a menu. Kids ordered from the back then began reading the cartoons. The early issues were written by Stan Lee and drawn by Bill Everett. You can read more about the history of the big boy comic here.
Franchising of Big Boy started in the 1940’s but in 1967 Wian sold the franchise to Marriott who in turn sold it to the Elias Brothers in 1987. The history of the brand is fairly complex but I recommend reading tesg’s guide to big chain road food consumption for more information. Basically there are two chains of Big Boy in operation today which have rights in different territories and both chains have different versions of the Big Boy mascot. There’s the original Big Boy which is run by ‘Big Boy Restaurants, LLC’ and Frisch’s. Frisch’s Big Boy has some noticeable differences from the pose, to the uniform and face. Tell us in the comments which one you prefer.
Not only did the Big Boy brand conquer America it also made it’s way to Japan, opening it’s first restaurant in Osaka in 1978. One noticeable difference between the Japanese and American mascot is that in Japan the Big Boy doesn’t have a burger on his plate, instead he has what the Japanese call a hamburger steak, which is basically a burger topped with sauce and minus the bun.
The last image I’ve included show’s a character named Big Nick in Burbank Illinois who is surprisingly similar to Big Boy. Debra who took the photograph notes; “This is either a Big Boy statue that was heavily adapted or just a clever imitation. Note how the eyes are turned the other way, the different hair, and a plate of ribs instead of the burger.”