Fox Valley still carries the ghosts of its fast food history


    Fast food comes. Fast food goes.

    The Fox Valley landscape proves that fast food facilities last forever.

    As the region awaits construction of Chick-fil-A and Popeye’s, fast food structures of yesteryear continue to serve us well and in a variety of ways. Those trademark buildings — back from the days when buildings were key pieces of brand identity —  remain a point of interest and curiosity. Well, mostly, because their newer uses just don’t look quite right.

    Websites such as “Used to be a Pizza Hut” and “Not Fooling Anybody” highlight how familiar designs have forged new paths across the country.

    They were meant to be uniform and go up fast. Apparently, they were also never meant to come down.

    We decided to take a little tour and check out how our fast food history lingers on in the Fox Valley business community.

    I’ll have the $5 chalupa, home, auto bundle …

    Taco Bell

    Today, its clientele comes through the door seeking affordable options for auto, home and life.

    Decades ago, they stumbled through the threshold jonesing for an Enchirito and a bag of Cinnamon Crispas.

    Built in 1973, Joe Porter’s American Family Insurance agency serves today a beacon of fast food architectural preservation; the last Fox Valley example of Taco Bell’s early iterations. The mission-style brick buildings come from an era when tacos only came in hard shells and they’re notably smaller than the Taco Bells of today.

    One can still imagine the bell proudly hanging at the roofline and the aroma of tacos and tostadas wafting Richmond Street.

    Kentucky Fried Chicken

    Today, it’s a place to get a quick loan.

    But that iconic roof still whispers to the buckets and all the herbs and spices for which the building was originally erected.  

    Located next door to the former Valley Fair site, Wisconsin Auto Title Loans is one of a few local examples of the classic 1968 Kentucky Fried Chicken building design. The buildings were noticeable by the eyes before the smell with the red-and-white-striped mansard roof topped with a cupola. We can’t forget the spinning chicken buckets that completed the package.

    Another former Kentucky Fried Chicken lives on as Domino’s Pizza in Neenah.

    Though the chicken came from Kentucky, the iconic metal roof is pure Wisconsin. It was a product of Trachte Metal Buildings Co. out of Sun Prairie.

    The modern business leaves us with another bit of curiosity: Does the sign for Wisconsin Rocket Ship Title Loans have a car on it?

    Boston Market

    There’s a reason that window on the side of Kessler’s Diamonds looks a bit like a drive-thru.

    It used to be one. And though a drive thru on a jewelry business might work in Vegas, it’s a sign of some creative repurposing here in Appleton.

    Boston Market no longer serves up its rotisserie goodness north of Milwaukee, though for a time, it was a prime stop in Appleton for those who wanted to do a little better than a burger.

    Today, they want to be your jeweler. Back then, they wanted to know what sides you’d like with that.

    Long John Silvers

    Did you ever crave a fried fish dinner, but didn’t feel like heading to any one of hundreds of excellent Wisconsin fish fries?

    Us neither.

    Perhaps our fish fry tradition played a hand into why the Long John Silvers on Northland Avenue didn’t make it.

    Cellcom took over, and today, the building is serving up unlimited data plans instead of hush puppies.

    For those longing for a return to the days of fast, drive-up seafood, former Packers coach Mike McCarthy would have one word for you: “challenge!”


    It’s for decades been known for hearty breakfasts and affordable, home-cooked dinners. But, yes, before it was the Golden Basket, it was the Golden Arches.

    It’s had some addition in recent decades, though the brown brick and mansard roof give away the basket’s earlier life as McDonald’s. The trapazoidal sign post also harkens to its origins.

    Property records show the building was put up in 1963. A 1965 Appleton business listing refers to it as “McDonald’s Carry-Out Restaurant.”

    To put Appleton’s first dance with McDonalds into perspective, 1963 was the year McDonald’s one billionth hamburger. The filet ‘o fish was invented that year in Cincinnati, though was yet to become the food item no one orders on a national scale. McDonald’s went public in 1965.

    Another McDonalds in the Fox Valley, albeit one more recent, has also taken on a new life.

    The former Kimberly McDonalds on Maes Avenue is now the McDonalds-looking Hong Kong Buffet.


    Hardee’s was the Kwik Trip of its time in the Fox Cities, meaning a person couldn’t walk eight feet without tripping over one.

    One could go to the Hardee’s outside of the Fox River Mall, then head inside and get some more Hardee’s.

    Though the region has decidedly fewer outlets today, “the Time that Hardee’s Ruled the Valley” lives on in the structures the chain left behind.

    Hardee’s buildings, identifiable by their signature, shingle mansard roofs, stand proud throughout the region. Most carry on the food service tradition for which they were built.

    One continues on in original form. Neenah’s classic Hardee’s structure amazingly remains a Hardee’s.

    In nearby Menasha, the former Hardee’s, built in 1985, today is a … McDonalds?

    Many have moved onto ethnic fare.

    Little Chute’s El Jaripeo on E. Main Street, circa 1974, is affectionately known as El Hardees.

    The former Hardees at Calumet and Oneida in Appleton, built in 1982, is Emperor’s Buffet today.

    Java Warung on Richmond Street in Appleton is regrettably leaving us. They, however, left the 1974 building with a great reputation for traditional Indonesian fare rather than the roast beef and California Raisins figurines it once peddled.

    The valley recently lost perhaps its most interesting re-use. The W. College Avenue Hardee’s, one that once gave the valley an opportunity to crush the hot ham and cheese sandwiches amid Polynesian decor, was razed in 2017. It spent years as Les Stumpf’s used car center before their construction of a more modern facility. The new construction also claimed Appleton’s former Ponderosa Steakhouse as a casualty.

    Tom’s Drive-In

    Today, it’s a place for a clip and some color. For our purposes, it should be a historical landmark.

    Salon Central’s building, located just outside Telulah Park, has the distinction of having served as the very first Tom’s Drive-in.

    It’s significance may be lost to those even just an hour outside the Fox Valley, but whether it’s the family-sized curd or the double pizza burger, the natives understand.

    In recent years, the local chain has taken on some impressive digs whether its their midway themed Appleton west location or the glass wall and tall, sloping ceiling at its central Appleton restaurant.

    The original Tom’s opened its doors in 1960 in a building that’s, ahem … a hair less awe inspiring than more recent facilities.