Howdy folks, and welcome to HHR! Today we’re taking a break from H-Town and its affairs to check out a now rare eatery, that was once a common combo in Texas. A&W and Long John Silvers. Today we’re skipping the formal stuff, and skipping straight to the nostalgia. Well, most of the formal stuff at least, a little bit of history first. The food franchising giant “Yum Foods” which famously operates KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, actually started off as a merger between two existing conglomerates. Tricon Global (which ran the three aforementioned restaurants and had been spun off by Pepsi) was merged with Yorkshire Global Restaurants (which was a merger of A&W and LJS) creating Yum as we know it today. The existing LJS/A&W partnership had shown A&W’s ability to prop up the ailing Long John Silvers from bankruptcy. Flush with cash from their merger, and seeking to better their chance for survival, the co-branding scheme went into hyperdrive. Texas had already been a test market for Tricon/Yum, with the debut of the failing Wing Works/KFC locations, throughout Houston, Austin, and Dallas. As for LJS, Texas had been a market of stagnating growth. The chain had ridden an early wave of expansion into Texas in the 1970s, and rarely rebuilding its locations. By the time of the merger, the newest LJS locations in Texas were from the late 90s. Yum would use this opportunity to remodel the Texas locations, and by implementing these new cobrands they would achieve “corporate synergy” (whatever that is…). Well, I guess the formality dragged on a bit more than I meant it to.. check out the photos and then we’ll get to the nostalgia in the second paragraph!
So, let me explain why I’m all about greasy nasty, LJS and A&W. It is comfort food, plain and simple. For years and years, Long John Silvers was Sunday “after church” food for my family. It was a treat as a kid, but it required a bit of planning, as long as I could skip breakfast without complaining, everyone would end up saying “well let’s go ahead and do Long Johns!” Any before church food would delay lunch until late in the afternoon. However, those days we got to head to Long Johns were incredible, usually, my grandparents would tag along, being fans of fried fish themselves, as a kid I much preferred the Chicken Planks and Hush Puppies! The little bits of batter that were always generously dumped onto the plate were a favorite of my grandmother who called them “grinsleys”. The nautical decor of Long Johns was on another level to a kid. The sword door handles, the dock pilings, netting, and rope all helped to sell the illusion that Long Johns was some sort of fine dining. However, as the restaurants deteriorated with age, the illusion began to fade. I remember the conversion of “our store” into an A&W. I was much older by this point and was relatively unfamiliar with the A&W brand. The conversion ripped out all of the Long John’s Nautical elements and replaced them with what seemed to me like a 1950s diner motif, with a few sly nods to Long Johns. It was pretty well executed to me, and I discovered I really liked A&W root beer in a frosty mug, especially with their fish. Under Yum past the conversion, the LJS/A&W stores were very unloved, further deteriorating. Our location began falling apart in the heat and humidity, but the constant traffic helped keep good staff, and fresh food. Until traffic began to slow down, the quality of staff dropped, and the food got worse and worse. It came to a point where if you ordered a burger without cheese from the A&W side, you were going to get the cheesiest burger you’ve ever seen, seeming almost malicious.
Eventually, our LJS/A&W closed in the mid-2000s, becoming the first of many to shut down nationwide. The store counts would shrink so low, that Yum would sell off the companies in 2011. Sold to separate owners, most of the stores left by this point were cobrands. However, they were sold to separate ownerships, with LJS attempting to build new stores on their own, even to this day they remain independent over 10 years later. Somehow though A&W and LJS continue to cling together for dear life for the most part. One of our only remaining Houston area stores in a cobrand, and a low-rated one at that. I give it a stop every once in a while to see if things have changed, and they mostly haven’t. That’s why saving a well-rated Long Johns like the one at 1910 W Ben White Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 was a vacation goal. If you’re up in Austin, go somewhere else, this place is for locals only!