King Olaf’s Roast Beef

King Olaf’s Roast Beef was a short-lived “convenience restaurant” based in Houston. The birth of the restaurants comes with the start of the National Convenience Store company. The company hails back to 1959 when F. J. Dyke, Jr., an executive at the U-Tote-M convenience store chain, left his job to begin franchising locations. He purchased five existing C-Stores named Stop n Go in San Antonio, converting them to U-Tote-M. Dkye would continue to grow the company, eventually purchasing all of U-Tote-M’s operations in California. This would start an acquisition spree, which would net over 600 locations across 12 states by 1964. To hold all of these stores, Dyke created the company National Convenience Stores Inc., reflecting on his desire to expand to a national presence. With NCS’s growing scale, the U-Tote-M name was dropped, and locations were converted to the old Stop n Go name. This push also reigned in many chains purchased through a merger agreement that had initially kept their old name. With the sudden formation of a huge C-Store chain across the Southern United States, investors were well ready to line up and buy their way into National Convenience Stores. With this new investment round came new leadership, specifically C. Olaf Talla, a former Vice President of Kroger.

The Webster King Olaf’s is still mostly intact, including the sign. The current restaurant King Food serves Asian dishes.

As was traditional for companies of the era National Convenience Stores Inc. looked to diversify its operations. Some of the plans for diversification likely came from Mr. Talla, as Kroger was quite familiar with the diversification process. The first acquisition by NCS was Sanitary Farm Dairies, a Houston-based dairy that was also the master franchisee for Baskin-Robbins, which operated about 60 stores in Texas at the time. NCS would also purchase hundreds of Kwik Change Oil franchises. Finally, in 1969, NCS entered the fast food industry with a concept of its own. King Olaf’s Roast Beef was revealed to have three locations under construction in Houston in early 1969. The company outlined big plans for King Olaf’s. At the time, NCS stated they had seven other properties located, bringing the total up to a projection of 10 stores. The restaurants were to serve Roast Beef, Turkey, and Danish Ham sandwiches along with a compliment of unnamed sides. The name was referential to the VP of NCS, pointing to his involvement and the historical figure King Olaf. Playing on the Dutch connection, King Olaf locations were to feature Danish Decor, painted blue and green, with the roofs using vibrant green tiles. The buildings would be about 3000 square feet, with plenty of focus on the dining area and no drive-thru abilities. The locations would also receive a distinct “notch” along their back end for power supply.

This King Olafs on S. Shepherd is covered in shrubbery but remains much the same otherwise on the outside. Photo: Google Streetview

The King Olaf’s concept was considered a test from the very start, and after constructing three locations in Houston, the test would mostly be put on pause. Pinemont and NASA Blvd. would open around the same time in mid-1969. Shortly after, C. Olaf Talla resigned from NCS and King Olaf’s. By the start of 1970, the final location on S. Shepherd had also opened. While most of the investments NCS had made were sound, and would likely pay off in the long run, a recession starting in 1969, and lasting through 1970, put the still-new company on shaky ground. In reverse of their previous directive, NCS was advised to focus on their core Stop n Go Market and ditch their subsidiaries. The first to go would be Sanitary Dairies and the Baskin-Robbins franchises, which, while profitable, distracted from the main business. The first King Olaf’s to close would be the S Shepherd location which made it just about a year. It would be leased out to Prince’s, who would operate a Coffee Shop out of the space rather than a Drive-In. The next to close was the Pinemont store, which would be leased to Village Inn Pizza Parlor. It seems that the W. NASA Blvd location operated for at least a year, under a franchisee, before finally becoming a Chinese restaurant in 1974, making it the longest last of the chain.

This Pinemont location was the first King Olaf’s and also the first to be demolished. It was later used as a Stop n Go location before being sold to other operators. Photo: Google Streetview

With all three locations closed, the buildings would find many different uses over the years. While the fast food industry had not been for Stop n Go then, the locations they had selected were successful. Over the years, S. Shepherd has continuously hosted a handful of staple restaurants in the River Oaks area. The W. NASA Blvd location has stayed with Chinese fare and has largely kept the building as it was initially built. Eventually, switching their name to King Foods, using King Olaf’s original sign. The final location Pinemont was so good that Stop n Go would actually take it over to operate as a store for many years. By the 1990s, through a series of sell-off and buyouts that transformed NCS, the store ended up under Handi-Stop, which as of 2022, closed. As of 2023, King Olaf’s building has been demolished and awaits redevelopment by a new gas station. Stop n Go, in its newer forms, would begin experimenting with fast food again in the 1990s. However, this time it would be through dedicated in-store counters, again not making it out of the test phase. While King Olaf’s is a distant memory, the experimentation provides the foundation for the familiar modern-day crossover of a fast food restaurant and gas station—an idea which a couple of Houston based chains would help to bring into the mainstream years later.

The original King Olaf’s Sign is still in use in Webster, with a few modifications to the text.


Location List

1295 Pinemont Dr, Houston, TX 770181969-1972 Closed for Village Inn Pizza, Later Stop n Go, sold to Handi Plus and later Handi Stop, Demolished 2023 for Swift
704 W NASA Pkwy, Webster, TX 775981969-1974 Later House of Chan, King Foods Chinese & Vietnamese as of 2023
2316 S Shepherd Dr, Houston, TX 770191970-1971 Closed for Prince's Coffee Shop, Later Hickory Farms BBQ, Captain's Anchor, Luke's Hamburgers, Schlotzky's, Cioa Luna, Andrettis, Currently Red Lion as of 2023